Mishal, 26, from Pakistan: “This is the best moment of my life ... Some people don't know there are Catholics in Pakistan, that we survive there."
“Do not be afraid, have courage, […] God loves us.” Pope Francis’ appeal, at the end of a speech largely iprovised in Spanish and marked by his natural spontaneity, galvanized the huge crowd gathered in the center of Lisbon. Flags fluttered in the breeze, including those of unexpected countries such as Israel, Papua New Guinea, and the tiny island of Nauru, demonstrating the scale of this global gathering, which gave hundreds of thousands of young people a deeply moving experience of Catholicism.
Mishal, 26, from Pakistan, explains that her eyes teared up. “This is the best moment of my life and I hope next time I will also be able to come and meet Pope Francis again.” The fraternity with young people from all over the world also overwhelms her. “Some people don’t know there are Catholics in Pakistan, that we survive there,” she remarks, while pointing out that when “we tell them that we are from Pakistan they love us, they share their feelings with us.” She will be returning to her country with a desire to share a message of love and “unity from the whole world.”
The 86-year-old Pope, who had said he would be “rejuvenated” by WYD, clearly touched the crowd, representing 200 countries — human diversity in its entirety. This festive gathering was also marked by colorful activities, songs, and dances.
“You are not here by chance,” the Pope told the hundreds of thousands of young people who have converged on Lisbon over the past few days. “May these be days in which we engrave in our hearts that we are loved as we are. Not as we would like to be, but as we are now. This is the starting point of WYD, but above all the starting point of life,” the Pontiff said. “Friends, if God calls you by name, it means that none of us are a number to God.”
Francisco Fernando, 38, from Angola, remembers Pope Francis’ invitation to “have Christ Jesus as a model and to cultivate solidarity, love and life by giving ourselves to others.” His compatriot Osvaldo Gil, 34, assures us that he will better “respect his brother” and better “serve his community” after this “surreal experience” of meeting young people from all over the world.
Balázs from Hungary explained that this gathering is an inspiration for him to “stand up for Jesus” when he returns home.
Father Bob is accompanying a delegation of 15 young people from Taiwan. Personally experiencing his third WYD, the priest considers that this moment of celebration around the Pope “will give him more motivation to spread joy” around him in his country, where only 1% of the population is Catholic.
Luciano, 28, originally from Reunion Island (an overseas region of France) but a teacher at a high school in the Paris suburbs, is living his third WYD after Madrid in 2011 and Krakow in 2016. He particularly appreciated the “extraordinary welcome” given by Portuguese families. “Pope Francis is profoundly close to the realities of young people; he often tells them to make their dreams come true,” he says, adding that he expects the Pope to explain “that he too is following Christ, and that he invites us to follow him with him.”
By encouraging participants from all five continents to pass on God’s message of love, Pope Francis has sown the seeds of a profound rejuvenation of the Christian faith, of which these hundreds of thousands of young people will be witnesses and ambassadors in every corner of the world.