Brothers and Sisters, last Sunday, I was in Lisbon with the Holy Father for the final Mass of World Youth Day. I was there for the full week leading up to that. And the group from our diocese, which came to almost 70, were in Portugal for two weeks. Some of them are here at this Mass – do ask them about it! And so, at that Mass last Sunday, were some 1 ½ million pilgrims from all over the world.
It is an awesome thing. It is for 18- to 35-year-olds. And if one is beyond that upper limit, it can be testing. The weather was hot, the crowds were huge, there were distances to cover. I had good accommodation, much better than that of our group, but I still found it gruelling. Our group, like many others, stayed in a school on the outskirts of the city. For them, that meant sleeping on mattresses in a gym. Some got colds, even Covid. There are always organisational blips and human tensions. The event was a whole new experience for many of the young. But at the same time there’s a grace to overcome all that. One small story to illustrate their spirit. They had to go somewhere by bus. Along it came. Only half could get on. The other half were told there’d be a bus in 5 minutes. In fact, they had to wait for 45 minutes. They didn’t complain. They took the chance to get to know each other better. Someone said, let’s tell jokes. And so everything was turned to good.
‘Heartening’ would be the word.
It was heartening to see so many young Catholics from all over the world – proud and happy to be Christian and Catholic. They were Full of joy and enthusiasm and song; close to their bishops and priests and religious; responsive to the Pope. Here was the Church before one’s eyes: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. It moved me to see the number of national flags: couldn’t this all turn into a prophecy of peace in the world?
The Pope was present. had a simple and inspiring message for the young people. The key biblical text was Luke 1:39: “Mary arose and went with haste.” It’s what she did immediately after the Annunciation, straight after conceiving God’s Son in her womb. She didn’t sit in a “dwam”. She didn’t curl in on herself. She arose and went with haste to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth, who was also unexpectedly pregnant. She went to share their common joy. She went to help an older person. The Pope called the young to live their faith in this joyful, dynamic and outgoing way, supporting one another and aware of God’s personal love. And the Pope lived what he taught. Here he was at the other end of life, 86 years old, often in a wheelchair, spending 4 days in Lisbon, with some 20 meetings, events, visits, including a visit to Fatima: meetings not just with the great crowds at the big events, but with smaller groups too, with gypsies, victims of abuse, his fellow-Jesuits, political figures, leading the Rosary with sick youngsters, hearing confessions. He met a 106-year-old lady who was born on the first day of the Fatima apparitions on 13 May 1917. The Pope was a living image of pastoral generosity. He too, arose with haste to visit the young, and others, and to sing a Magnificat with them.
And then there were the Volunteers, some 25,000 of them, young people mainly from Portugal, wearing yellow tops with a large ‘V’’ on the back. They were a delight: gracious, friendly, competent, helpful, cheerful. A credit to their country, a testimony to its continuing Christian tradition. “Mary arose with haste”. They did too wherever there was a need. On the evening I flew into Lisbon, I was walking to Baggage Reclaim, and ahead I saw a young man in a yellow top running to meet and greet me. Running… That was their spirit.
So much that was heartening. And not least our own group: led by Fr Piotr, Sr Angela Marie, Joe Kelly and Sr Francesca, with other helpers too. It wasn’t always easy for everyone, but they rose to it all magnificently, overcoming the setbacks and coming together in faith and in care for one another and in joy. One evening, we had a happy ceilidh and Evening Prayer with pilgrims from the other Scottish dioceses, and on the last evening a joyful time among ourselves.
God is not dead and the Church is not dying. These few days were a snapshot of her vitality. Christ walks on the waters of time. The still small voice of faith keeps speaking in the hearts of so many people.
And then there was the miracle: the 16-year-old Spanish girl, Jimena, who regained her sight in Fatima, after a novena to our Lady of the Snows, after receiving Holy Communion and during the Pope’s visit to the shrine on the 5th of August.
On Monday 7th of August, some 100,000 young people of the Neo-Catechumenal Way met together. And at that meeting 2,000 young men came forward to say they were willing to begin a discernment for a priestly vocation, and 1,500 young women the same for the consecrated life.
“Reverence older people, love the younger”, said St Benedict. Let’s do that. Pope Francis calls it social friendship. Let’s nurture the young in the faith: parents especially, but grandparents too, teachers, clergy, all of us. It’s good to know how to clean your teeth, but better still how to pray. Faith is the greatest gift we can pass on; it gives a future.
And so, heartened by the Holy Spirit, let us run in the paths of God’s commandments.