Pope Francis gave his first speech at World Youth Day 2023 during the Welcoming Ceremony held on Thursday 3 August in Lisbon’s Eduardo VII Park. In his remarks, the pope reminded young people, ‘You are not here by accident. The Lord has called you … Indeed, he has called you by name.’

The 86-year-old pope arrived at the ceremony in his popemobile, welcomed by joyous crowds of young people, waving flags and cheering. ‘I am pleased to see all of you,’ he said, ‘and also to hear the delightful noise you are making! This makes me share your infectious joy!’

Highlights of the ceremony included a choreographic performance showcasing Portuguese music, song and dance. There was also a procession in which people waved the flags of their home countries, representing more than 190 nations. During this procession, some young people performed a skit, reading letters to Pope Francis. These letters spoke about what it was like to be Catholic in their home countries, their concerns and questions, and asking for prayers and advice.

The nearly two-hour ceremony also included a Liturgy of the Word in which Pope Francis reflected on St Luke’s gospel account of Christ sending forth the 72 disciples (Luke 10:1–22).

In his homily, the pope reminded young people of how much they are loved by God. ‘The Lord does not point his finger but opens his arms, embraces us all, as we see with Jesus on the cross, who opened his arms so wide to be crucified and die for us,’ he said. ‘Jesus never closes the door, never, but invites you to enter; Jesus receives, Jesus welcomes.’

When Jesus calls us, he went on, he calls us ‘as we are’. ‘We are called as we are—with the problems we have, with the limitations we have, with our overflowing joy, with our desire to be better, with our desire to succeed …

Think about this. Jesus calls me as I am, not as I would like to be. We are a community of brothers and sisters of Jesus, sons and daughters of the same Father.

The pope said that it is precisely because God loves us that we are able to come to him with our questions. ‘Asking questions is good … those who ask questions remain restless, and restlessness is the best remedy for mere routine, for that flat normalcy that dulls the soul.’

He encouraged people to take up the call to share the good news of God’s love. ‘In these days, let us pass on his message of love that frees our hearts and leaves a joy that never fades. How can we do this? By calling others by name. Ask the names of those you meet and then speak others’ names with love, adding fearlessly: “God loves you. God calls you.”’

Remind each other that you are truly valued. Don’t be afraid to say to each other: ‘Brother, sister, it is good that you exist.’ Do you believe this?

He cautioned those listening about the ‘illusions of the virtual world’, of the false promises of happiness it offers and the false relationships, ones that can ‘leave us empty inside’.

‘But Jesus is not like that ... Dear friends, there is a happiness that Jesus has prepared for you, for each of you: it does not come from accumulating things but from putting your life on the line,’ he said. ‘The Lord also says to each of you, “Go, for there is a world that needs what you, and you alone can give it.”.’

On Wednesday 2 August, Pope Francis’ first day in Lisbon, he celebrated vespers with Portuguese bishops, priests, deacons, religious, seminarians and other pastoral workers at Jerónimos Monastery, where he also spoke about the importance of being ‘restless’ for evangelisation.

While there are many reasons to feel a certain ‘weariness’ in the Church, especially as countries with rich Christian history experience increasing secularisation, he encouraged them, ‘Now is the God-given time of grace to sail boldly into the sea of evangelisation and mission.’

Banner image: Pope Francis arrives in Lisbon (photo courtesy WYD Facebook page).