Bishop Jaime Soto's reflection from World Youth Day events in Lisbon, Aug. 5

In photo above, Pope Francis, accompanied by Cardinal Manuel Clemente of Lisbon, Portugal, arrives at Tejo Park in Lisbon for the closing World Youth Day Mass Aug. 6, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

One of the environmental blessings of these few days in Lisbon has been the cool coastal breezes. These refreshing currents have made walking a much easier and more preferable to driving. Due to the arrival of the Holy Father, street closures have frustrated vehicular movement, while the crowds of youth waving all kinds of flags and banners conquered the streets with their growing numbers.

Thursday evening, young Catholics gathered at the main park of Lisbon. It is a large slope looking over the city. It sweeps down into one of the principal avenues of the Capital, Avenida Liberdade (Liberty Avenue). The Avenida is a beautiful tree-lined street with cobble-stoned sidewalks upon which one can stroll down to the bustling harbor promenade.

The organizers of World Youth Day used this marvelous harmony of urban design and geography as the meeting point for the Pope Francis and Catholic youth from around the world. On Thursday, the young men and women filled the park and flowed down the avenue. The main stage was set-up at the highest point of the park.  A series of huge jumbo-trons and speakers were positioned down the park and along the avenue, all the way to the harbor.  

As the Pope-mobile began to wind its way through the streets, a multitude of cameras scattered across the campus of the park and floating overhead in drones transmitted to the jumbo-trons the approach of the Holy Father as well as the plurality of faces and festivities, restless with anticipation.  

The energy in the crowd mounted as Pope Francis drew near to the park. The enthusiasm created its own electricity that sparked spontaneous cheers and songs throughout the crowd.  Different sections attempted to out-sing, out-cheer, or out-wave the others. This only encouraged more of the same.

All this culminated with the Holy Father taking his place on the main stage and on all the jumbo-trons arrayed down the park, along the Avenida, all the way to the harbor. With his quiet, calming voice he united the boisterous multitude “Em Nome do Pai + e do Filho + e do Espírito Santo.  Amém.” (The sign of the cross in Portuguese.)

The welcoming ceremony was a simple prayer service, enriched with song and dance offered by diverse youthful ensemble. As the opening theme was concluding, along the front of stage, sharp bursts of colored paper streamers were released into the afternoon breeze. The kaleidoscopic flurry of streamers were caught by the breeze and carried away. Some floated over Holy Father on the stage. Others fluttered over the outstretched arms, waving, clapping, and praying.  Some tangled with towers holding speakers and jumbo-trons, wiggling and snapping in the open air. The constant breeze kept some of them afloat during the ceremony, swooping up and down over park, providing a vivid testimony to nature’s harmony with the assembly’s prayers.