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Portuguese expect Pope to bring a “message of confidence in the future,” says ambassador

Domingos Teixeira de Abreu Fezas Vital


Domingos Teixeira de Abreu Fezas Vital

Isabella H. de Carvalho - published on 07/31/23

The Portuguese ambassador to the Holy See shares how the Portuguese population and its Catholics are preparing for this event and Pope Francis' visit.

From August 2 to 6, 2023, Pope Francis will embark on his 42nd apostolic journey abroad — to Portugal to attend World Youth Day in Lisbon. In addition to taking part in various events with young Catholics from all over the world, the Pope’s busy schedule includes meetings with representatives of the Church in Portugal, society, and government. Portugal’s ambassador to the Holy See since 2022, Domingos Teixeira de Abreu Fezas Vital, spoke to I.MEDIA about how the Portuguese population is preparing for the event, and what the country’s Catholics are expecting from Pope Francis’ visit.

What does WYD mean for Portugal? What do the Portuguese people expect?

Ambassador Fezas Vital: These days represent a huge logistical challenge, as hundreds of thousands of people have to be welcomed. But it’s also a great opportunity to put the country in the spotlight, as the media will be talking about it for a long time. The country will be living through a festive atmosphere, with an obvious spiritual connotation, but it’s a celebration all the same.

Welcoming hundreds of thousands of young people for a week means having the opportunity to welcome a spirit of renewal, of hope, of faith in the future, of willingness to act for a better world. Every person brings that with them, so it’s extremely positive.

The Portuguese are also a people who are very curious about foreigners, as anyone who visits our country can see. They are considered as bridge-builders. During WYD, interacting with young people from such different geographies will be an opportunity for the Portuguese to satisfy their natural appetite for building bridges, listening to others and welcoming diversity. So, I think we will live through a period in Portugal that no one will forget.

How has the country mobilized to organize WYD?

Ambassador Fezas Vital: The Church and State structures have been working together for a long time on the organization of these days to ensure their success. The government is involved, as are the municipalities, such as Lisbon and Loures, as well as Leiria-Fatima, Cascais and Oeiras.

But the main element that I would like to underline is the search, by all those involved in the Church and the State, for an ever more intense and fruitful cooperation. In an undertaking of this scale, there has obviously been a period of effort and learning, as is normal that it should be so. But I would say it is an important contribution of WYD, because it has brought all the actors to work with one another, while respecting each other’s identity, skills and responsibilities.

The Pope has often said that one of the great challenges of these days was to learn to work as a team, to do a ‘lavoro di squadra.’ Today, I think things are more in sync, collaboration is closer, more fluid and easier.

And how is Portuguese society contributing to the organization?

Ambassador Fezas Vital: Both structures and people are getting ready to welcome those who will arrive. There’s the army, for example, through its military facilities, or schools, through their teaching facilities, but also families. There are many families that will be welcoming people into their homes. Many people are involved in the volunteer structures that have been set up, which are sometimes little talked about, but which have been fundamental to the preparation of WYD. The vast majority of these structures are made up of Catholics, which means that for them the effort also has a very strong spiritual aspect. This is a very important contribution to the strength of this commitment.

I recently heard an extraordinary story. One of my sisters told me about some young newlyweds in the north of Portugal that, instead of going on their honeymoon, went to Lisbon to work as volunteers for WYD. In the press, we have seen multiple stories of people who have given up important possessions and moments to contribute to the success of WYD. This effort is all the more notable and valuable as the WYD is taking place during a week that is traditionally of vacation and rest for the Portuguese. 

What do Portuguese Catholics expect from Pope Francis?

Ambassador Fezas Vital: I think the Portuguese expect the Pope to bring a message of hope and confidence in the future. The world has been and is going through some very difficult times, and Portugal has also felt and is feeling the impact. We have experienced the economic and financial crisis, the pandemic and now war. This meeting of all these people from so many different origins is like the belief in the future coming here, streaming into our country. The future will come through our doors, and we want to believe in the future with them.

The Pope has a very demanding and generous schedule, which testifies to his affection for Portugal and the Portuguese people. He is also scheduled to visit Fatima, which is a universal reference point for Catholics and beyond. As we often say, Fatima is the world’s altar. As Portugal is also the country of Fatima, the Pope’s visit to this shrine is a recognition of this characteristic.

The issue of abuse in the Church in Portugal has been a major topic of discussion over the past year, following the revelations of the independent commission mandated by the bishops. How have the Portuguese people reacted to these revelations? Will they have an impact on the WYD?

Ambassador Fezas Vital: The Portuguese people as a whole were shocked; that was the first reaction to the revelations. Then they had a sense of expectation regarding the response, and the Church responded.At this stage, the Portuguese society expects that this response given by the Church has a follow-up.

The Portuguese Prime Minister himself mentioned that there is an awareness that this gesture by the Church should be followed by the society in its entirety. The question of abuse is not limited only to the Church’s reality, even though it has a particular gravity within it. The initiative of the Church is an opportunity for the country to examine this question as a whole. As we know, most abuse takes place within the family, which is horrible. That is what the Prime Minister meant in his first reaction when he welcomed the Church’s initiative but reminded that the problem did not concern only the Church. 

As far as WYD is concerned, the Holy Father is due to meet people who have made complaints and denounced abuses. It is thus an important moment, but it’s being handled with the utmost privacy and discretion because we owe it to these victims. You have asked me how the victims may feel about this gesture; I cannot speak for the victims, I can only hope they will see in the Pope’s attitude a sign of comfort and an opportunity for reconciliation.

Is the Church still listened to on the political and social scene, at a time when the country has just legislated on euthanasia?

Ambassador Fezas Vital: Of course it is. Portugal is a democracy, so all opinions must be taken into account when decisions are made, including those of the Church, with its specific and particular weight. 

There are aspects where convergence with the Pope’s agenda is very present, for example in what concerns the environment. Everything the Holy Father has said on this subject, contained in the encyclicals Laudato Si‘ and Fratelli Tutti, are aspects of obvious convergence with Portugal. The Pope’s vision on the need to pay special attention to the most disadvantaged is another dimension very dear to the Portuguese.

Pope Francis has just announced the creation of a new Portuguese cardinal elector. What do you think of the Argentine pontiff’s decision to name 6 cardinals, including 4 electors, from your country?

Ambassador Fezas Vital: I think it’s a great joy for us. It’s a sign of recognition and appreciation for Portugal and the Portuguese Church, which we received with joy but also, in particular in the case of the Catholics, with humility, because, like the new cardinal, Mgr Américo Aguiar, himself said, this decision implies increased responsibility for the Portuguese Church, as a whole.

Pope FrancisPortugalWorld Youth Day
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