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World Youth Day pilgrims carry Pope Francis’ message long after pontiff departs vigil

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Pilgrims listen as Pope Francis leads the prayer vigil during World Youth Day at Campo da Graça in Park Tejo in Lisbon, Portugal, Aug. 5, 2023. (OSV News photo/Bob Roller)

LISBON, Portugal — After spending the evening with Pope Francis in a solemn time of Eucharistic adoration and listening to his message during the outdoor vigil, the energy continued to vibrate long into the nighttime at Tejo Park in the Portuguese capital.

A push notification sent at 1 a.m. from the official World Youth Day app politely encouraged pilgrims to “rest and avoid noise. Take time for yourself.”

Tens of thousands of young people then also politely swiped away the notification as they continued to dance and sing underneath the cloudless night sky. The mid-70s temperatures were welcomed after record high 100-degree heat scorched the region.

Divided into sections, 84 in total, Tejo Park was transformed into “Campo da Graça,” or Camp Thanksgiving, becoming an overnight home for 1.5 million pilgrims.

Some young people kicked around a soccer ball, while others eagerly careened between groups to meet other pilgrims and exchange pins, prayer cards, rosaries and medals. Flags were a popular trading item, often signed and passed along to another pilgrim, then another.

In a corner, underneath a set of white canopies, a group of Croatian pilgrims and clergy quietly unveiled a small chapel with the Blessed Sacrament. People of all ages and all vocations were drawn to the chapel, many kneeling in prayer or standing nearby while simply gazing toward the True Presence.

One woman, standing just off to the side, wiped her tears and smiled.

Not far from the chapel, a group of Irish pilgrims from Galway prepared to sleep, or at least try to. Also joining the young people on the particularly rocky ground was Bishop Michael Duignan.

The Irish prelate had been accompanying the youth during their trip to World Youth Day in Lisbon and chose to be the symbolic shepherd amongst the sheep in an actual field.

Wearing a blue shirt with Ireland emblazoned on the back, Sarah Tighe said she enjoyed being in the presence of the Argentinian pontiff. Using a radio headset, she listened to the pope speak.

“Coming here (to the park) is such a trek, but after having that experience, it only made the pope’s message more clear,” the 32-year-old said. “Everything leading up to tonight has had a small part in helping us understand how we are to continue helping each other as pilgrims, especially when we see another’s needs and can help lift them up.”

Earlier in the day, pilgrims made their way to their designated sections to await the pope’s arrival. As crowds met other crowds and intersections became increasingly congested, Father Joseph Dutan eventually made it to his new home alongside his fellow pilgrims from St. Brigid Parish in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Father Dutan said he felt the pope’s message was very impactful, especially the pontiff’s call for pilgrims to meditate about who it was that brought each pilgrim to Christ and his Church.

“It led many into tears in our group,” he said. “For me it was my parents. So many memories came up in my mind of my parents of praying together, they taught me to love Jesus and know who God is and the importance of having Our Lord as the first place in our lives.”

Father Dutan felt the message “that the Lord loves us no matter what, that He looks straight to our heart,” was consistently heard by pilgrims at World Youth Day, and especially at the vigil.

As Father Dutan laid down to hopefully fall asleep, he could undoubtedly hear the consistent drumbeat that reverberated all throughout the park. In what seemed to be nearly every corner of every other section, a loud drumbeat seemed to compete with another set of drums, cheers and songs. Groups shifted between the popular Spanish song, “Resucito,” to a singsong Alleluia, and the unofficial World Youth Day theme song, “Esta es la juventud del Papa!” (“This is the youth of the pope!”), and into nearly every other language present, or that could be heard.

Many formed a circle, with pilgrims slowly making their way around in sync with each other, stepping into a long history of the “danza,” or dance, a well-known part of the Neocatechumenal Way.

For Debbie Pedroza, a recent high school graduate and pilgrim from a Neocatechumenal Way community from Santa Ana, Calif., she said the six-hour trek felt like a very long dance: one step forward, two steps backward.

Eventually they made it, and after praying during adoration and hearing the pope, Pedroza took a long-desired nap. Then, after waking up to that same familiar drumbeat just after midnight, she was up ready to join the other pilgrims who opted out of sleeping and stepped into the circle.

The author, James Ramos, is a photojournalist for the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

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