On Tuesday 1 August 2023, the 16th international World Youth Day officially began in Lisbon, Portugal, with nearly 400,000 young Catholics from around the world gathering to celebrate their faith. In his homily for the Opening Mass, Cardinal Manuel Clemente, Patriarch of Lisbon, said he truly felt a ‘haste in the air’, an air in which ‘the Divine Spirit himself circulates, with the readiness that only God has and communicates.’

The Opening Mass was celebrated in the Colina do Encontro (Eduardo VII Park), and the Cardinal welcomed pilgrims from around the world, saying, ‘I desire for you all to feel “at home” in this common home where we will live World Youth Day. Welcome!’

Reflecting on the gospel passage of Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth—the theme of this year’s World Youth Day—Cardinal Clemente said, ‘From near or far, you all set out. It is very important to set out. This is how we should face our own lives, as a journey to be travelled, making each day a new segment.’

A particular challenge people face today is life lived on and through a screen, he went on, and Mary’s ‘going out’ offers an antidote to this.

‘Virtual reality keeps us seated in front of things that easily use us when we think we use them. Quite to the contrary, reality consists in going out to encounter others and the world as it is,’ he said.

He encouraged pilgrims to see in Mary the model of Christian life.

Mary carried in her womb the blessed fruit that was Jesus. Christians also carry him, spiritually and actually, because they receive him in the Word, the sacrament and in charity, where he offers himself … We walk with him to bring him to others.

‘Let us learn from Mary to greet each and every person. Let us intensely put it to practice this World Youth Day. The new world begins in the newness of every encounter and in the sincerity of the greeting we exchange, so that we may be people among people, in a mutual and constant visitation!’

Tuesday afternoon also featured a special ‘Australian gathering’ for pilgrims from across the Great South Land. During this gathering, Archbishop Peter A Comensoli officially invited them to Melbourne in 2025 for the Australian Catholic Youth Festival (ACYF), the largest gathering of young Catholics in Australia.

He also reflected on what a momentous occasion World Youth Day is, calling it ‘an opportunity to go deeper with Christ, to be empowered to be disciples in the world today, ready to go back and follow him in all the circumstances of our daily lives.’

‘What a joy to be together as the holy people of God, here and now, in this place. Jesus never tires of welcoming us and of desiring a relationship with us,’ Archbishop Comensoli said. ‘He has called each of us here, individually and together in our groups and dioceses. Never forget that: Jesus has called you here.’

On Monday 31 July, the statue of Our Lady of Fatima arrived in Lisbon, a ‘special pilgrim’ carried by scouts from around the world. The final stage of Our Lady’s journey was taken by boat, and she disembarked at the Cais das Colunas, greeted by applause, songs, and music.

Throughout the week ahead, pilgrims will have the opportunity to visit sacred sites around Lisbon, attend formative workshops, talks and praise rallies, and experience the sacraments.

Among the highlights of World Youth Day 2023 will be the Rise Up Preparatory Encounters, a new model of catechesis that is designed to challenge young people to reflect on the ‘big themes’ of Pope Francis’ pontificate, including integral ecology, social friendship and mercy.

Pilgrims will also be able to visit the ‘City of Joy’, a space that includes the Vocational Fair (where young people can become acquainted with various movements and religious orders), a chapel for personal prayer and silence, and Reconciliation Park, where the sacrament of Reconciliation will be available.

On the eve of his apostolic journey to Lisbon, Pope Francis went to the Basilica of St Mary Major, which Melbourne pilgrims also recently visited, and paused in prayer before the icon of the Virgin Salus Populi Romani, entrusting her with the journey and the many young people attending the event.

Join the journey online! Make sure you follow us on our socials to stay up to date with our pilgrims and stay connected in prayer as they travel to World Youth Day Lisbon.