Compiled by Dave Jolivet

LISBON, Portugal — Twenty-four young adults and chaperons from the Fall River Diocese attended the recent World Youth Day in Lisbon Portugal. Two young pilgrims together with Oscar Rivera, diocesan director of Youth Ministry and newly-ordained Father John Garabedian were eager to share with The Anchor, the emotions and experiences felt during the spiritual mountain top.

 Rivera told The Anchor, “The week leading to our pilgrimage my coworker asked if I had heard there were wildfires outside of Lisbon. Another asked, ‘Have you heard there are strikes taking place leading up to your pilgrimage?’ Someone else mentioned there were some political statements being made about the pope’s visit. Yet nothing could prepare me for the fire that was going to take place, a fire that would impact 1.5 million  and even touch the Diocese of Fall River. 

Twenty-four young adults and chaperons from the Diocese of Fall River attended the recent World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal.

“When talking to youth throughout the diocese after a Catholic Youth Day or Regional Retreat or speaking to youth beyond our diocese after a national conference, common statements are usually heard: ‘Being around people who share the same faith is uplifting,’ ‘I didn’t know these many of my peers love the faith like I do.’ These statements are made after encountering Jesus with hundreds or a couple of thousand at local or national youth gatherings. What if,  however, an encounter with Jesus transcended national identity, and cultural Catholicism and was felt on international ground surrounded by cultures, languages and customs that were different than our own? The one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church displayed its faith deep in the culture of the Gospel, strengthened and empowered by the Holy Spirit, passed on by 2,000 years of tradition, and handed down by the successors of the Apostles. This faith transcended linguistic and cultural boundaries and was and is always unified into one body by the Eucharist. This encounter took place in Lisbon, Portugal this August 1-7. 

“A group of 18- to 25-year-old pilgrims, joined by Father John Garabedian, and two diocesan employees, David Carvahlo, diocesan Secretary for the New Evangelization and me had planned this pilgrimage with two very important missions. Mission one: a purpose-driven pilgrimage; and mission two: rekindling of the faith of cultural Catholics. 

“The first, a purpose-driven pilgrimage, was designed to allow the pilgrims to take charge of their journey, Therefore leaders were assigned with specific tasks and responsibilities. I wanted the pilgrims no longer to feel as if they were along for a trip about their faith but to take the reins on a pilgrimage for their faith. It was so impressive to see what instilling a little purpose does to the psychological and spiritual development of adolescents, who are attempting to find their place in this crazy world.

“The second was designed by the innovator of World Youth Day: St. John Paul II. This pilgrimage was designed to rekindle and ignite in the young pilgrims a faith that may have been dormant or hidden. Both missions provided the tools and kindling to start a spiritual fire. The tools were purpose and the kindling was all the dry sacrifice the pilgrims made to get opening Mass, welcoming ceremonies, Adoration  and other events. 

“Each journey was met with the sacrifice of personal space and physical, and mental endurance of hundreds of thousands being funneled into two entry points or thousands of people crowding metro cars, and buses. This dry environment of struggle was perfect for the fire of the Holy Spirit felt with each Eucharistic celebration. But there was one specific moment that Sarah and Josiah, our youngest pilgrims, encountered — that was the moment that sparked fire for the rest of the journey that will consume natural, economic and political fires taking place.”

Eighteen-year-old Sarah Moniz from Our Lady of Grace parish in Westport shared, “To draw the flourishing Catholic youth of today towards the Sacred Heart of Jesus, alive in the Eucharist, through inspiring witness, newfound friendships, and transforming worship, encapsulates the beauty and mission of World Youth Day. 

“The 2023 pilgrimage to Lisbon, Portugal began for me as an anticipated journey of potential growth and understanding of the sometimes distant and hard-to-grasp Catholic faith I had been raised in. Young people, estimated at 1.5 million, gathered in one country to worship; some souls on fire with the Holy Spirit and others with dimmed flames of yearning for our Savior. This profound sense of peace and encouragement seemed to embrace everyone as groups flooded toward the daily events and services throughout the city. A real representation of ‘loving thy neighbor’ became present as nations waved and cheered toward the passing youth of all ethnicities, laughing and singing each other’s names.

 “At each destination, filled with thousands of starry-eyed believers, I felt an intense feeling of community, despite the difference of culture and language. 

“One of the biggest highlights from this experience was the afternoon Adoration hosted by Life Teen. Hundreds of people gathered in this local church from across the world to worship Jesus Christ, present in the Eucharist. At this point in the journey, we had already encountered so much beauty, visited countless breathtaking sights, and seen several tourist destinations. The emotions and enthusiasm were high as we sang and praised the Lord, and listened to powerful speakers give their inspiring witness. And amidst the excitement, the moment the Eucharist was exposed, each heart was immediately humbled and silenced before the altar. There in that moment, every person seemed filled with peace and tearful joy, holding the hand of their friends, comforting their weeping neighbors, all deeply moved and touched by His presence. 

“It was clear in that moment for every doubtful heart and firm believer, the real and important reason we had journeyed so far to World Youth Day. And that was for the exultation of Christ and our growth toward the acceptance of His will. It wasn’t about the morning espressos, delicious cuisine, enriching culture or tourist landmarks. We could barely communicate with each other, yet every soul present heard and understood the call of Jesus.

“The pilgrims crawling on their knees toward [the chapel where appeared] Our Lady of Fatima, weeping in prayer during adoration, shouting in joy of the arrival of Pope Francis, and walking miles in the heat to adore the Lord; they embodied the spirit of this [pilgrimage] and captured the intention of St. Pope John Paul II in his creation of this global event. World Youth Day really was a ‘celebration of life.’”

Josiah Girardin, an18-year-old from St. Pius X Parish in South Yarmouth said, “Before I started my journey to Lisbon for this past World Youth Day, there were already several things I was particularly excited for. First, I had never traveled outside of the United States before, and had very much been gripped by a wanderlust to travel abroad to Europe. Also, I had always been fascinated by languages and different cultures, and so I knew that this immersive and global experience would be a really one-in-a-lifetime sort of thing. Upon reflection, however, it is clear to me that the biggest culture-shock was neither linguistic or cultural, but religious. 

“I had, of course, been anticipating some sort of religious experience, but it’s hard really to gauge those kinds of things with nothing else but the imagination, especially on that scale. But by far the most foreign part of the whole trip was just the experience of being surrounded by so many people my age of such devout and uncompromising faith. 

 “For much of my life up until that point I had little exposure to any sort of community of Catholic youth outside of my own family, and had always grown up in non-religious school settings. This sense of spiritual isolation became even more distinct in high school, where I felt more and more in the minority with my personal beliefs. None of my friends was Catholic or even religious, and so for a long time I really had no one my age to connect with on a deeper level about such topics as spirituality or faith. So naturally the first thing that struck me when I began the trip was just the sheer devotion of my fellow pilgrims and the unmistakable depth of their faith.

“I found that this devotion was especially visible during the Mass and Eucharistic Adoration, which beyond any of the other processions or events were by far the most powerful parts of the pilgrimage. The Adoration that we went to near Belem was particularly inspiring and quite a unique experience for a couple reasons. For one, we had traveled for several hours to get to the chapel, much of the transit being in crowded buses and metros with a good deal of walking in between, and so we were already fairly tired by the time we got there. Another reason was that the chapel itself was very hot inside, even more so than outdoors, and also pretty much stuffed to the brim with pilgrims. Despite these conditions, there was an unmistakable air of joy and deep community as we sang for an hour in worship; a joy which surpassed any and every physical trial that we were going through. 

“And in this moment of joy and praise, I saw many of the pilgrims I had already begun to know, now so deeply captivated in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament that I couldn’t help but feel convicted. Mixed together with the joy and peace of being in the real presence of Christ, I also felt a deep unworthiness and a genuine fear of God. And as the Host, being carried and raised throughout the chapel came to me, I could only turn away and tremble at His presence. 

“Coming back from Lisbon I arrived with a new and deep desire to spend more time in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and to further develop a personal relationship with the physical and truly present Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. I hope to continue in my search for a Catholic community while at university, and spread the faith if I can by my witness.”

“Both of these young parishioners were moved by the Eucharistic Adoration, which set their faith on fire in a way that may not be as tangible as actual fire but leaves behind the same effects,” Rivera told The Anchor. “They did not come back the same people. This encounter will live within them for the rest of their lives. And if these are just the stories of two of our 24 pilgrims, can you imagine the movement of the 1.5 millions young  universal parishioners? There is a wildfire, alright, and this all consuming fire is moving in the hearts of the faithful.”

Father John Garabedian, who was ordained as a priest for the Fall River Diocese in June, wrote a reflection on WYD for his parish bulletin.

“Extraordinary, graced, arduous. These three words come to mind when reflecting on my pilgrimage to World Youth Day.

“Extraordinary: It was extraordinary to see the Church fully alive as the streets of Lisbon were flooded by young adults from around the world singing songs to Our Lady, waving flags, and chanting their country’s name. The buzz and joy in the air were contagious, and even locals couldn’t help but stand outside their cafes or on their rooftops to marvel at the crowds who came from the ends of the earth to their city to meet Jesus. I have to say, it is hard to fully process and put into words seeing the Vicar of Christ, Pope Francis, up close, hearing his words of encouragement, being part of a 1.5 million crowd and concelebrating alongside 10,000 priests at the closing Mass. 

“After my time in Lisbon, I was reassured that the Church is not dead but alive, and that many young people are hungering for the truth, love, and happiness that Jesus Christ alone can provide. A hopeful message for all of us indeed!

“Graced: For me, this trip was full of grace. It was an honor to be asked to travel with such a fantastic group of young people from the Diocese of Fall River. I enjoyed being their spiritual support and providing the Sacraments, but also, it was a blessing to share fellowship and many joyful memories with the pilgrims. I felt that God was using me and my life experiences to relate, connect with them and lead them closer to Jesus. I was inspired by them and am grateful for the friendships that were forged.

“On this pilgrimage, one of the main highlights for me was my time at Fatima before heading to Lisbon. When I first turned the corner to enter the square for the Rosary and candlelight procession, I was hit by a prayerful presence and hauntingly beautiful music from the choir. Thousands of people were singing, and many candles pierced the night sky. To be where Our Lady appeared and to honor her with my prayers was unique and memorable. I also enjoyed praying at the apparition site, seeing the graves of Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco, and concelebrating the Mass with many brother priests. Our Lady of Fatima was influential in my priestly discernment and formation, and it was special to be at that place to thank her for all her prayers and guidance.

“Arduous: I’ve heard many stories about how demanding and taxing World Youth Day can be for many reasons, but I didn’t fully know what to expect since it was my first one. As fun as it was, this trip certainly pushed me to grow and move out of my comfort zone. The hardest thing to endure was just the massive amounts of people everywhere. The buses, the metro, the streets, the lines for food, the Masses and the parks were all packed like sardines. Getting anywhere with our group of 24 required lots of planning, communication, and patience. Even though it was tough at some points, our leaders did an outstanding job, always safely getting us where we needed to be. The weather also made things a bit challenging as the temperature reached over 100 degrees the last couple of days. Yet we still trucked on and persisted. 

“Our Lord is always with us, active in our lives, and continuously calls us and the entire Church into a deeper renewal and encounter. These encounters happen in many ways, but one giant way is through World Youth Day.”