Two amazing weeks with 1.5m pilgrims in Portugal

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Two amazing weeks with 1.5m pilgrims in Portugal

A 57-strong Diocese of East Anglia mostly-young pilgrims spent almost two weeks at World Youth Day in Portugal, having a fun, joyful and faith-enriching time. Keith Morris summarises the whole trip.

World Youth Day – Final report

Before leaving the UK, the group had a Sending Mass at Our Lady Immaculate and St Etheldreda in Newmarket, where Bishop Peter Collins told them: “It is the duty of the young to show enthusiasm, to be filled with vigour, physically and spiritually.

“A pilgrim does not walk alone but always in communion with the church. You have a duty to care for each other, to encourage, to protect, to pray with and for one another,” encouraging the group to support one another other during the coming days.

After flying to Porto, the group started off the Days in the Diocese phase in the most northerly Portuguese diocese of Viana do Castelo where they were assisted by local priest Fr Pablo da Lima, who is currently studying at a Cambridge college, and was a genuine godsend for the whole trip.

The very first event was an international welcome at St Dominic’s church in Viana and, for communications director Keith Morris who was there to provide media coverage, it was the stand-out moment of the whole fortnight: “There was a very special Pentecost moment when over 1,000 pilgrims from the UK, Poland, Portugal and elsewhere filled every inch of the church. We all joined hands across the aisles to say the Lord’s Prayer in our own languages. It brought some, including me, to tears.”

Days of cultural visits, salt-carpet making and traditional Portuguese dancing workshops and times of praise and prayer followed, as well as huge queues for meals.

Fr Pablo told the group of a special connection between the Diocese of Viana do Castelo and the Diocese of East Anglia. Both were founded by Pope St Paul VI in the 1970s, a statue of whom is in the Viana cathedral.

The East Anglia group took a statue of Our Lady of Walsingham with them for the whole pilgrimage, which attracted much interest from fellow pilgrims from all over the world.

The finale was a trip to the historic Ponte de Lima where the group were welcomed by traditional drummers and a 4,000-strong flag-waving Mass (pictured right) inside a huge exhibition centre, followed by rave led by a Catholic priest, Padre Guilherme, playing loud, thumping techno music, complete with stage lights, lasers and dry ice.

A final East Anglia-only Mass was held with an enclosed order of Carmelite nuns, in the Convent of St Thérèse of Lisieux in Viana. They nuns joined the Mass sitting behind a wooden grille which separates them from the outside world. 

Sr Catherine Williams wrote: “We were then privileged to spend some time talking to the sisters, whose joy at speaking to us, again through a grille, was quite evident, with Fr Pablo acting as our translator.  It was an amazing and unique opportunity to meet with these women who live such a radical and unique vocation. They answered a wide variety of questions and left us with much to ponder. It was a poignant meeting and one which left a deep impression on all of us.”

On their way to Lisbon for the main World Youth Day events, the East Anglia group stopped off at the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima (pictured above) . They took part in an international Mass in the 9,000-seat Basilica of the Most Holy Trinity, and then had the chance to visit the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and light candles outside the Apparitions Chapel. 

Some of the young people in the group chose to walk on their knees on a path between the two basilicas on the site as an act of penance and devotion, which is a traditional part of a visit to Fatima. 

Tony Thanickal explained the experience by saying: “I came as a child to Fatima and it was very nice to return as an adult, I think that the experience of walking on my knees felt like a good way to make my prayers known to God and to demonstrate my willingness to endure hardship.” 

Once settled into their central Lisbon hotel, the East Anglia group took part in a reconciliation session in the chapel with the Franciscan Sisters of Maria and evening prayers – Taize style.

Then it was on to the first main event, the Opening Mass at the Parque Eduardo VII (pictured right)  where the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon, D Manuel Clemente, celebrated Mass in Portuguese in front of 400,000 people.

Cardinal Clemente said: “The path you travelled to get here was worth the effort, and during this time you will find, in the variety of who you are and in the quality that you bring, each and every one, from each land, language, and culture. Nothing can substitute this personal path and path together, to encounter the path of all.”

The mornings in Lisbon were spent in large outdoor English-speaking Rise Up catechesis sessions. The group heard first from American Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, currently Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Boston and a Council of Cardinals adviser to Pope Francis.

Jess McCall wrote: “Cardinal O’Malley told us St Paul said that the 10 commandments are written in our hearts and that to live a fully human life we need to follow them.  He went on to say that being part of a worshipping Catholic community is an important part of this and that we are charged with carrying on Jesus’ mission, we do this by being a witness to Him in our lives.” 

Later, many of the East Anglia group went to hear Christopher West of the Theology of the Body Institute talk about the Theology of the Body, based on the work of the same name by John Paul II. Beth Desborough wrote: “Christopher explained that when you look at someone you only see their body. You have to see them and see their soul and who they truly are and that’s the love that you must have for people; that they are deeper and more than they appear to be.”

The following day Kerry Barrett wrote: “In our second Rise Up catechesis session we heard from Archbishop Anthony Fisher, of Sydney, who taught us that we need to become great lovers and really live in communion with each other. He continued by telling us that Jesus loved with commitment, reminding us that Jesus said “as I have loved you, you must love each other”.

Then it was off to the King Edward VII park again to watch the welcome for Pope Francis (pictured right). A vibrant spectacle of colour, flags and sound from half-a-million pilgrims greeted the Pope, wrote Kirsten Taylor: “The highlight of the day, after waiting for a long time, was watching the open car of Pope Francis passing close by us. He was welcomed with elation by everyone. His presence did not disappoint and the happiness and friendliness could be felt everywhere. This beautiful experience will be definitely stay with me forever.”

Well-known American Bishop Robert Barron spoke at the final catechesis session (pictured below), wrote Sr Catherine: “In the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, he delivered an inspiring talk on prayer: how God desires and chooses us. He gave us a rather unique analogy of God as a helicopter, ‘who wants to land in our hearts… the only problem is the landing area is all cluttered. Prayer is clearing this landing ground’. He also reminded us that prayer is what we are made for, a conversation between friends.”

An estimated 800,000 people, including Pope Francis, later witnessed a dramatic portrayal of the Way of the Cross in the Edward VII Park.

During his homily, Pope Francis said: “Jesus is the Way. In the Gospels, we most often find him on the road. He never stays put, but goes to the public squares, to the shores of the lake, to the mountains, to the temple… He has nowhere to lay his head.

“He keeps moving; he shows concern for those around him; he stops before those who suffer and yet continue to hope. He feels compassion for the weary, and he reaches out to those in pain. He stops to listen to each person’s story, and tenderly cares for all before resuming his journey. Jesus’ public life is one of constant journeying; indeed, his whole life is a journey.”

Later, some of the East Anglia group managed to get tickets to an evening concert with the likes of well-known Christian musicians Matt Maher and Israel Houghton in a Lisbon football stadium with thousands of other Christians. 

An estimated 1.5 million people attended the final Mass of World Youth Day and the overnight Vigil before it with Pope Francis at the Field of Grace in Lisbon, to bring the event to a close. The East Anglia group, along with many, many others made their way by foot and metro in scorching temperatures.

Pope Francis finished his vigil homily by saying: “There is only one thing that is free, that is the love of Jesus”.  This was followed by a beautiful time of adoration and then a not-so-quiet night of sleeping in the field before being woken up with techno and rave music from Padre Guilherme again.

Pope Francis had left for the night but returned early the following morning for another popemobile tour of four huge fields, stretching for miles and filled with 1.5 million pilgrims.

Jess wrote: “In his final homily, the Pope gave advice on what to do once we are back home after World Youth Day, after we have come down from the mountain. He gave us three verbs to help us; to shine, to listen and to be unafraid. He said we should shine with the light of Christ, listen to him so that we too may become the light of the world and to be unafraid for the Lord loves us and is always at our side.”

Weary pilgrims then made their way back to the hotel, some six miles away and rested in time for a final celebration meal.

On the day of their return flight home, the East Anglia group had a final private Mass in a Lisbon convent when Bishop Peter said: “You have undoubtedly engaged in many conversations with pilgrims from other cultures and that in itself is a learning curve. As well as talking with others in the group, opening yourself up to questions and the search for answers, which perhaps are not easily attained. You will spend a lifetime searching for answers and we need to be exposed to the thoughts of others to help us in our great journey. I hope that you have engaged with many people from around the world at this exciting event.”

Youth Services Director, Hamish MacQueen, who masterminded the East Anglia trip, said: “It was an amazing pilgrimage with an amazing group. From what they have said, I know that faith has been strengthened, a greater sense of vocation nurtured and  knowing more of the unconditional love of God has become a reality…. and that’s what it’s all about.”

Pictured top are the East Anglia group with Bishop Peter before their departure on the pilgrimage walk to the Vigil and final Mass.

You can follow the group’s progress on social media at and

See below for the latest picture gallery:

East Anglia at World Youth Day in Portugal: part 2 Lisbon

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