Pope Francis’ vigil in Portugal draws 1.5 million pilgrims
LISBON, Portugal – A sea of 1.5 million pilgrims packed a riverside park near Lisbon on Saturday for a vigil held by Pope Francis as part of a global Catholic youth festival.
Worshippers cheered as the 86-year-old pontiff slowly drove by on his “popemobile” to the stage at the Parque Tejo on the outskirts of the Portuguese capital.
“We are the pope’s youths!” they chanted as national flags fluttered in the crowd estimated at around 1.5 million people according to the Vatican, citing local officials.
The Argentine pope urged the crowd to “pick themselves up” whenever they suffer a setback in life.
“Those who remain on the ground have retired from life, have lost their hopes and dreams,” he added.
Drones formed the words “rise up” and “follow me” in the sky above the stage as the pope spoke.
Many waited for hours under a blazing sun for the start of the vigil, singing, dancing, and playing cards to pass the time at the park, which was built for the occasion on a former landfill site.
There was little shade, and worshippers protected themselves from the sun with umbrellas or makeshift tents made from sheets, or tried to cool off by pouring water over their heads.
Portugal’s state weather office has put Lisbon on alert for scorching temperatures that reached nearly 36 degrees Celsius (97 Fahrenheit) on Saturday.
Charlotte Bordas, a 26-year-old who came from Mont-de-Marsan in southwestern France, said she was moved to see people from around the world at the event.
“We hear all languages spoken and we see the same joy on people’s faces,” she told AFP.
“Gathering around the pope and praying together are very powerful moments that give hope and strengthen our personal faith.”
The vigil is part of World Youth Day festivities, which is actually a week of religious, cultural, and festive events held every three years in a different city.
Santi Salvador, a 19-year-old Spanish student, said he walked to Lisbon from Barcelona to attend the event, a distance of some 1,300 kilometers (800 miles).
“We left 40 days ago… It’s a pilgrimage to see the pope,” he told AFP.
The leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Roman Catholics will deliver a final open-air mass on Sunday morning at the Parque Tejo before returning to Rome.
Many pilgrims who attended Saturday’s vigil planned to sleep in the park to be there for the service. | AFP
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