“Be not afraid,” Pope Francis told young Catholics Sunday at the closing Mass of World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal, echoing the well-known call of his predecessor and the founder of the international youth gathering, St. Pope John Paul II.
“Dear young people, I would like to look into the eyes of each one of you and tell you: be not afraid, be not afraid,” he said Aug. 6 on a sunny morning in what organizers dubbed the “Field of Grace.”
“I tell you something very beautiful: it is no longer me, it is Jesus himself who is looking at you in this moment, he is looking at you,” the Pope continued. “He knows you, he knows the heart of each one of you, he knows the life of each one of you, he knows the joys, he knows the sadness, the successes and the failures.”
Jesus, Pope Francis told young people, “knows your hearts. He sees our hearts. And he tells you today here in Lisbon, on this World Youth Day: ‘Be not afraid, be not afraid, take heart, be not afraid.’”
Francis celebrated Mass on the Feast of the Transfiguration for an estimated 1.5 million people in Parque Tejo, where young people and their leaders had camped out overnight following a prayer vigil. Around 10,000 priests and 700 bishops concelebrated.
The Mass marked the official end of the international youth gathering, which drew hundreds of thousands of teenagers, young adults, and their leaders from almost every country in the world to the Portuguese capital Aug. 1-6.
The week included prayer, Mass, music concerts, religious talks, and cultural events, among other activities.
Luis Graca, 23, from Portugal, told CNA Sunday morning that a highlight of the week for him was visiting the “City of Joy,” where there was a vocational fair and park with priests hearing confessions.
“We could see a lot of different people all trying to seek Jesus and that was really amazing to see,” he said. “It was also amazing seeing the amount of people going [to the reconciliation park], the amount of priests there. It was beautiful.”
He said the prayer vigil the night before was also a good experience: “It was really calm, everyone could pray… everything was beautiful.”
Graca and his wife Leanor, also 23, got married just 18 days ago. Graca described World Youth Day as “another bomb of the Holy Spirit after our marriage. One bomb with our marriage and now another bomb, so let’s live the Holy Spirit from now on.”
“‘Lord, it is good that we are here!’ (Mt 17,4),” Pope Francis said in his homily, quoting from the day’s Gospel reading. “We also want to make these words that the apostle Peter said to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration our own after these intense days.”
“It is beautiful what we are experiencing with Jesus, what we have lived together, and it is beautiful how we have prayed with so much joy in our hearts. And then we can ask ourselves: what do we take with us when we return to everyday life?” he said.
Marina Aleykseyeva, 31, from Kiev, Ukraine, was also present for the vigil and Mass with Pope Francis.
“We are here to pray for the country, to pray for peace,” she told CNA. “This World Youth Day is very, very special because all [of us] Ukrainians came here to pray for peace, to pray for the soldiers and for our families.”
Aleykseyeva, a Latin Catholic, said she and the other members of her group were checking their phones during the vigil to follow the news of another air raid on Ukraine overnight. The Ukrainians were joined in prayer by some young women from Italy who were nearby them in the field.
She said she was touched by how many people came up to them during the week to say they were praying for Ukraine.
“Now we can return to our country and tell everyone that so many people who believe in God are praying for us from all over the world,” she said.
Pope Francis also made an appeal for peace in the world and in Ukraine during a short address before the Angelus at the end of Mass.
“Let us accompany with our thoughts and prayers those who could not be with us because of armed conflicts and wars,” he said. “Indeed, there are many of them in our world. In thinking of this continent, I feel great sorrow for beloved Ukraine, which continues to suffer greatly.”
“Allow me, as an older person, to share with you young people a dream that I carry within me: it is the dream of peace, the dream of young people praying for peace, living in peace and building a peaceful future,” he continued.
“As we pray the Angelus, let us place the future of humanity into the hands of Mary, Queen of Peace. As you return home, please continue to pray for peace.”
Francis told young people: “You are a sign of peace for the world, showing how different nationalities, languages and histories can unite instead of divide. You are the hope of a different world. Thank you for this. Onwards!”