by Grace Challies - Catholic Youth Team
The Diocese of Christchurch has a long history of sending young adults to World Youth Day, and Lisbon 2023 was no exception. More than 30 young people from six of our parishes undertook this pilgrimage, as part of a Kiwi contingent. We spent 17 days touring holy sites throughout France. Of these sites, some of the favourites of the pilgrims were Le Puyen-Velay, where we visited the large statue of Mary. We then visited St Michael's Chapel in Ars, where we learnt about St John Vianney, and had the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. At Lourdes, we walked through the life of St Bernadette. There, with hundreds of others from around the world, we enjoyed a time of prayer to Mary, our Blessed Mother. When visiting these places, our accommodation varied between the occasional hotel and sleeping on classroom floors.
We were fortunate enough to celebrate daily Mass, sometimes in the chapel at the places in which we stayed, as well as in the chapels and basilicas we visited. Some of the most memorable Masses for us as pilgrims were in the crypt of St Therese of Lisieux's basilica, in the side chapel at the Basilica of Fourvière, and a Mass at the Grotto in Lourdes.
On concluding our time in Lourdes, we took an overnight bus through Spain to Portugal to begin our 'days in the Diocese' experience. We stopped en route in Fátima to join the evening candlelit rosary, and spend some time visiting the Sanctuary and various other sites. As there were so many pilgrims at the Days in the Diocese in the small town of Pampilhosa de Serra, we were not able to stay with the host homes, so it was back to classroom floors. We tackled this challenge and the challenging rise in temperature incredibly well.
During the Days in the Diocese, Pilgrims prayed Lauds and Vespers each day, as well as celebrating Mass and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Other events included a sports tournament, a testimony from a Muslim convert, a performance from a Portuguese reggae band, and a traditional Portuguese Festival, which got everyone out on the dance floor.
We travelled on to Lisbon and joined with the Pope and millions of others in the World Youth Day celebrations. Taken from the first chapter of Luke's Gospel, the theme of this year's event was "Mary arose and went with haste." Pope Francis observed that this scripture calls young people on “the path of proximity and encounter.”
Pilgrims could choose from the many events on offer each day, after attending the morning 'Rise Up' led by different English-speaking countries including New Zealand. Highlights included a gathering for America (which New Zealand and other countries also joined) to hear from Bishop Robert Barron before an evening of Adoration, a day session with Jason Evert (who himself gave talks in Christchurch some years ago) and Chris Stefanick, and an evening event at the Stadium of Lights which included a talk from Jonathan Roumie and a performance from Catholic contemporary composer and musician, Matt Maher.
The major World Youth Day events included the opening ceremony on Thursday, where we first saw the Pope, the Way of the Cross on Friday, the overnight sleep-out and Vigil led by the Pope on Saturday, and the final Mass on Sunday.
“There's something so incredibly special about being able to see how large and diverse the Catholic Church is. Being able to celebrate Mass with 1.5 million people was a spectacular way to grasp this,” reflected one pilgrim.
As the World Youth Day pilgrimage came to an end, the pilgrims left feeling physically very tired but spiritually filled. There is already a lot of interest in World Youth Day 2027 in South Korea. The pilgrims are so grateful to all those who supported them, both financially and through prayer for this amazing trip.