Pope: WYD as universal opening for Europe; environment, future, fraternity, sites of hope

Pope Francis began his visit to the World Youth Day with a meeting with Portuguese authorities. In his address to the country’s leaders, he focused on life, slammed euthanasia laws as copouts, and expressed concerns over military spending. Borders must be transcended, in his view, and be “places of contact” instead. He calls on the Old Continent to provide an impetus for a "diplomacy of peace".

Lisbon (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis today arrived in Portugal for the 37th World Youth Day, scheduled from 2 to 6 August, his 42nd international trip. In the first of many public engagements, the pontiff met with Portuguese authorities at the Centro Cultural de Belém in Lisbon.

In his address, Francis said that WYD must provide the "Old Continent” with “an impulse towards universal openness. For the world needs Europe”.

He used the visit, which was postponed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, to highlight many of the issues dear to him, such as the environment; caring for creation, our common home; openness and outreach to others to tear down walls and open borders that must be “places of contact"; investing in children, not weapons. To this end, he pointed to “three construction sites of hope in which all of us can work together: the environment, the future, and fraternity.”

Before leaving Rome, as he has done for some time, Francis greeted a group of people who came to his residence at Casa Santa Marta, accompanied by the papal almoner, Card Konrad Krajewski. The visitors included young people, reads a Vatican statement, from a rehab centre “unable to participate in World Youth Day".

In his address to the authorities, the pope said he was "happy" to visit Lisbon, the city of the 2007 EU treaty, which he describes as a "city of encounter which embraces many peoples and cultures", a global centre, and “in a certain sense, [. . .] the capital of the world [. . .] display[ing] the cosmopolitan face of Portugal, grounded in a desire to be open to the world and to explore it, setting sail towards ever new and vaster horizons.”

Speaking in Europe’s westernmost country, the pontiff explained that, “the world needs Europe, the true Europe. It needs Europe’s role as a bridge and peacemaker in its eastern part, in the Mediterranean, in Africa and in the Middle East.”

Thus, “Europe will be able to make its own specific contribution in the international arena, based on the ability it showed in the last century, in the aftermath of the world wars, to achieve reconciliation and to realize the vision of former enemies joining together to work for a better future.

“This goal was attained by initiating processes of dialogue and inclusion and by developing a diplomacy of peace aimed at settling conflicts and lessening tensions, attentive to the slightest signals of distension and reading between the most crooked lines.”

For Francis, it is nowadays “troubling when we read that in many places funds continue to be invested in arms rather than in the future of the young.”

“I dream of a Europe, the heart of the West, which employs its immense talents to settling conflicts and lighting lamps of hope; a Europe capable of recovering its youthful heart, looking to the greatness of the whole and beyond its immediate needs; a Europe inclusive of peoples and persons, without chasing after ideologies and forms of ideological colonization” following in the footsteps of “its founding Fathers”.

Francis went on to criticise the “sophisticated laws on euthanasia", which “offer hasty but mistaken remedies: like easy access to death, a convenient answer that seems ‘sweet’ but is in fact more bitter than the waters of the sea?”

The pontiff also directly addressed “Young people from around the world, who long for unity, peace and fraternity ", hoping that they can “make their good dreams come true.”

Unlike those who take to the streets to "cry out in anger", the young men and women at WYD are called “to share the hope of the Gospel. At a time when we are witnessing on many sides a climate of protest and unrest, a fertile terrain for forms of populism and conspiracy theories, World Youth Day represents a chance to build” and “sail together towards the future.

The meeting in Lisbon in the land dear to Our Lady through her apparitions at Fatima – whose inspiration is the Gospel verse “Mary arose and went with haste" – also provides an opportunity to imagine “three construction sites of hope in which all of us can work together: the environment, the future, and fraternity.”

Francis notes that “the oceans are warming and their depths are bringing to light the shamelessness with which we have polluted our common home. We are transforming great reserves of life into dumping grounds of plastic.”

The second construction site, the future, is that of young people who “encounter much that is disheartening: lack of jobs, the dizzying pace of contemporary life, hikes in the cost of living, the difficulty of finding housing and, even more disturbing, the fear of forming families and bringing children into the world.”

What is more, “In Europe and, more generally, in the West,” warns the pope, “we are witnessing a troubling decline in the demographic curve."

Faced with this critical factor, we need "healthy politics" that “can be a generator of hope. It is not about holding on to power, but about giving people the ability to hope. Today more than ever, it is about correcting the imbalances of a market economy that produces wealth but fails to distribute it”.

The third and last construction site is “fraternity”, a topic dear to Francis,  “which we Christians learn about from Jesus Christ." And as "Saramago observed, ‘what gives true meaning to encounter is concern for others, and we have to travel far to arrive at what is near’ (Todos os nomes, 1997).”

“Here too, we can see an example in those young people who, with their pleas for peace and their thirst for life, impel us to break down the walls of separation erected in the name of different opinions and creeds. I have come to see how many young people long to draw closer to others.”

Indeed, “I think of the Missão País initiative, which leads thousands of young people, in the spirit of the Gospel, to share experiences of missionary solidarity in the peripheries, especially in villages in the interior of the country, and to go out in search of elderly people who are living alone.”

The visit to Portugal marks the tenth anniversary of Francis’s first international trip, at the WYD in Rio de Janeiro (July 2013), which he repeated in 2016 (Krakow) and 2019 (Panama).

The pontiff’s schedule, which began with the greetings and address to Portuguese authorities, will end today with vespers recited with local clergy at the Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Belém.

Tomorrow, Francis will meet with university students and bless the first stone of the Campus Veritatis; in the afternoon, he will have his first real meeting with Catholic youth at the Parque Eduardo VII. On Friday, some young people will be able to confess at the Jardim Vasco da Gama, renamed "Park of Forgiveness" for the occasion, followed by the Way of the Cross at 6 pm.

Saturday morning will be centred on Fatima with the visit to the Chapel of the Apparitions, while in the evening’s main event will be the prayer vigil with young people in three parts at Parque Tejo, followed by an address, the exposition of the Eucharist and a blessing.

On Sunday, the final day, Parque Tejo will be the venue of the last Mass with the delivery of the crosses and the announcement of the time and place of the next WYD.