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Some 20,000 expected at World Youth Day 2023

Registration for Lisbon gathering revving up in U.S. after four-year gap due to COVID

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MIAMI | Some 20,000 U.S. youth and young adults — including some from the Archdiocese of Miami — are projected to travel to Europe for the 2023 edition of World Youth Day.

The event is set for the first week of August in Lisbon, Portugal, following a one-year postponement due to the pandemic. 

“Our estimates have grown a bit since we last talked as I am hearing from travel companies that there is renewed interest in traveling to WYD next year,” said Paul Jarzembowski, associate director for the laity in the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He communicated with the Florida Catholic by email in early November. 

The WYD events held on the European continent have historically been well attended and popular among North American travelers. But the 2023 numbers are expected to be lower than those of past events.

“I think we are in a reset for WYD and it needs to really discover how it is going to operate in a post pandemic world,” Jarzembowski said.

Much has changed in the world since World Youth Day 1993 in Denver put the event firmly on the map among North American Catholics. Not the least of those transformations is a post-pandemic world still impacted by changed travel, public health and economic realities.

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Established by St. John Paul II in 1985, the international WYD events are weeklong gatherings usually attracting hundreds of thousands of young people. At the closing Mass of the last WYD, in Panama City in January 2019, Pope Francis announced the Portuguese capital would host the next global Catholic gathering of young people.

The four-year gap is the longest between the global celebrations in the history of the event. This means that for many dioceses and parishes, it will have been seven or 10 years since they organized a WYD pilgrimage to the more well-attended WYD celebrations in Brazil (2013) or in Poland (2016).

“That gap is largely due to COVID, as the pandemic caused a one-year delay; preparation for WYD — and likely WYD itself — will be much different in 2023 than it has been for the past four decades of international gatherings,” said Jarzembowski, adding there has been much greater caution in the planning and preparatory process this time around.

“There will of course be safety measures taken, but the whole nature of pilgrimage, large gatherings, and what global solidarity means is shifting, especially as climate issues, cultural and racial reckoning, changing economics and intense polarization became amplified in recent years,” Jarzembowski said.

 

LESS PREP TIME

On a practical level, there may be less time for what used to be a structured spiritual and practical preparation for parish youth and young adult groups attending the gathering in Lisbon. 

“The traditional norm for a WYD is that you need a couple years prior for building a group together, for fundraising, for spiritually and practically preparing yourself, a year or two out for building that community leading into the actual event,” Jarzembowski said.

The pope announced in June 2019 that the theme of the 2023 WYD would be “Mary arose and went with haste,” a verse taken from St. Luke’s Gospel describing Mary’s visitation to her cousin Elizabeth after the Annunciation.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, organizers suggested that youngsters could take part in the mission by calling someone who lives alone, speaking to distant family members via the internet, volunteering with local charities or undertaking acts of service in their parishes.

Despite the slightly delayed registration kickoff, organizers are expected to continue accepting registrants into next summer.

Pope Francis was the first pilgrim who registered for World Youth Day in October, and Jarzembowski said there is strong confidence that he will be present – although he has suffered physical ailments, has been seen at recent audiences giving his remarks while in a wheelchair, and has had a reduced travel schedule.

Normally the pope leads events during the last four days of the festival, culminating in an overnight vigil and closing Sunday Mass outdoors for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.

 

FATIMA AND OTHER SITES

Several factors in favor of a strong turnout for WYD Lisbon are the general accessibility and popularity of the Iberian Peninsula as a travel and tourism destination, and the presence of a major Marian devotional shrine situated in Fatima, only two hours away from Lisbon.

The city also is the birthplace of St. Anthony of Padua — born circa 1191 as Fernando de Martins Bulhoes near the Lisbon cathedral, where a permanent exhibition is kept in his honor.

Portugal also has a plethora of historic monasteries, convents and noteworthy Catholic churches and shrines, and is a popular pilgrimage destination in its own right.

Flights to the Iberian Peninsula and the Portuguese capital are among the most affordable for North Americans arriving to Europe.

In addition, the 2023 WYD may draw many last-minute pilgrims from within Europe and the Iberian Peninsula in particular, as was the case in 2011 at WYD Madrid, when the numbers on the closing weekend swelled to an estimated four million attendees at the Sunday morning Mass with Pope Benedict XVI.

For those worried about the costs of lodging in the Portuguese capital, the WYD registration process can connect pilgrim groups with local options for reduced-cost housing at area churches, schools and in private homes in and around Lisbon.

The target age for the international WYD event is generally 18 to 35, not including chaperones and adult leaders.

Jarzembowski said he has already heard a lot of interest and enthusiasm for the event among U.S. bishops and dioceses. But if the event turns out to be somewhat reduced in size from past international WYD celebrations, that may not be such a bad thing for those who go to Portugal.

“It leaves more opportunities for one-on-one accompaniment and a little more breathing space when we are at WYD — because it can be quite crowded and shoulder to shoulder,” said Jarzembowski, for whom Lisbon 2023 will be his eighth World Youth Day. “This might allow people more space to not feel like they are on top of one another.” 

FIND OUT MORE

  • The Archdiocese of Miami is organizing a World Youth Day pilgrimage for July 28 through Aug. 8, 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal. Pilgrims must register through their parish or school group. There is also a YA Catch All Group for people ages 18-29 who want to join the archdiocesan group.
  • Youth, campus and young adult ministry leaders must register through the Secretariat for Parish Life by contacting Brenda Madhosingh at [email protected].
  • Cost of the pilgrimage is $3,999, including roundtrip airfare, hotel stay, day trips to Fatima, Santarem and Tomar, and almost all meals.
  • If your parish, youth or young adult group is planning a pilgrimage to World Youth Day 2023, please let the Florida Catholic know. Email: [email protected].