“Our Lady of the Visitation, through your inspiration,
this World Youth Day, will be a shared celebration of Christ, just as you did.
Please make this a time of testimony and sharing, of fraternity and thanksgiving, with each of us looking for opportunities to give to those who are waiting to receive.”
These words, taken from the official WYD prayer, truly remained with me throughout my WYD experience with the Mission Jeunesse Montréal delegation. Now that I am back, I can testify to that! It was so intense, vibrant, touching and transformative, that I could not give you news from day by day, focused on living the present moment with the young people of the WYD Montreal delegation and the plethora of pilgrims arriving from the four corners of the world.
After five or six Zoom meetings as of October 2022 (formation and preparation meetings for living these days), we left on July 30 with nearly 65 pilgrims. Of the 400 people registered via the Diocese of Montreal, most (around 335 people) had already left to experience “Days in the Dioceses” in Algarve and Portimão in Portugal. Therefore, we were the last group to leave Montreal.
It came as no surprise that on the plane, I could not sleep much! The excitement, the restlessness of finally arriving in Lisbon and beginning this pilgrimage dwelled in me. Yes, I said this pilgrimage because that is what I understood while experiencing it; it was not a journey but a pilgrimage. As for me, I can say that it was my first experience. How beautiful it was! We were all going to meet Christ; we were all on the move, together and yet, in the hearts of each one, different and mysterious things were happening, specific to the spiritual process.
Monday, July 31:
After a very short night, we landed at the airport at 6:30 a.m. We set up a meeting point with Anne from the travel agency. She welcomed us warmly! Throughout WYD, Anne took care of the various major trips, ensuring the reservation of buses and hotels for those staying in Fátima. So, it was around 8 or 8:30 a.m., with all our luggage, that we boarded a bus to Belas, 45 minutes from Lisbon. That was where we stayed for the next eight or nine days.
The arrival in Belas was done calmly and very patiently because we had to wait for the arrival of the other coach buses full of pilgrims coming from the dioceses where they had just spent the week before distributing the kits. Major logistical work was involved because we had to ensure that the 400 pilgrims all had a place to stay. The team of volunteers who welcomed us was very young and adjusted at the same time as us. Finally, thanks to their flexibility and understanding, we were able to distribute the WYD kits to all group leaders so that they could distribute them to their pilgrims. What was this kit? It was a backpack with the WYD logo that contained a hat, a bottle of water and a wooden rosary. Once all the kits were distributed and the luggage was brought to the accommodation facilities (school, parish hall, community hall, and host families for some pilgrims), we participated in an open-air Mass. It was beautiful to see the sun set on the bell tower of this church in Belas. When we arrived at the school, needless to say, after a quick cold shower, my floor mat and sleeping bag unrolled, I fell asleep right away!
Tuesday, August 1:
For pilgrims from different countries, August 1 was the day of national gatherings. Therefore, we also had a Canadian gathering. A small group of coordinators, led by Isabella and accompanied by Isabel and Holly (the leaders of the delegation), prepared a wonderful program.
Danielle and Mario, a couple very much involved in the Diocese of Montreal, provided facilitation in French and English. There were songs of praise, moments of reflection on the Church of today, prayers guided by our bishops, two young people who testified to their recent commitment to marriage, traditional dances from different regions of Canada, a prayer led by the Ukrainian Eparchy and Indigenous dances shared by a mother of Indigenous origin and her daughter. It was so emotional, when all of us, the 3,000 to 4,000 people present, entered in the circle dance to the sound of First Nations drums. Wow! This gathering was a real success! We felt the unity of the Church of Canada, the beauty of the different ways of expressing faith and the joy of recognizing ourselves as Christians.
For some of us, this memorable gathering was followed by a meeting with Canada’s Ambassador to Portugal. Once again, there was national pride, generosity, deep discussions on faith and the Church of today with young people from different corners of Canada. I was especially touched by the testimonies and sharing that we had with some employees. I felt that our joy, our enthusiasm called them.
After this visit to the embassy, Isabella and I went for a short worship and rest in a chapel where the relics of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Mary Magdalene were exhibited. After this “bath” of silence, both peaceful and invigorating, we headed toward Eduardo Park, called Colina do Encontro (Meeting Hill) for the circumstance. The Opening Mass took place there, presided over by Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon, Manuel Clemente. After a few fruitless attempts to meet up with our group, Isabella and I stopped near a group of pilgrims from Ireland. What grace of Visitation! We both experienced heart-to-heart encounters with them. As for me, I was initially surprised to be invited to express what mercy meant to me. Wow! This is what is fascinating about these WYDs; there are no superficial conversations, and we manage to open up to each other in complete trust. As the Eucharistic celebration began, I shared with my Irish neighbour, Roisin, my little radio where we could follow the Mass in English. Deep joy, feeling of communion, yes, we are truly all brothers and sisters. After this Opening Mass, we returned to Belas with happy hearts and in thanksgiving.
Wednesday, August 2:
Every day, in front of the church, breakfast was provided to us by a group of young volunteers. A group of French pilgrims also stayed nearby, therefore, once again, it was an opportunity for encounters and discussions. On this day, after a little espresso at the local coffee shop, along with Isabella, we decided to go visit our sisters at the CND kiosk in the City of Joy, in Belém. But first, I will explain a little about the structure of WYDs. Every day, the group leaders and their pilgrims looked at how they wanted to organize the schedule. There was always the morning catechesis sessions (in French, Spanish or English) and in the afternoon, there were multiple possibilities: concerts, plays, youth festivals, etc.
We returned to the program of the day and as we arrived in Belém, there was a surprise! We learned that the Pope would be there within half an hour! Although we were far from him, it felt special to be there, to see him and to feel the joy of the people all gathered in clusters along the road to see him pass by. Filled with the joy of this surprise visitation, we then went to the CND kiosk. Magnificat!
We felt the joy of reuniting with the small group of sisters who were already at work: Sofía, Motoko, Christa and Sophie. I stayed with them to support them and to let them rest a little because the pace was hectic; young people were constantly passing by! I stayed at the kiosk for almost an hour with the young people and the sisters. I felt the joy of the gift, of the gratuitous presence.
The joy of also seeing all of us mobilized and reaching out to these young people! I especially liked the moments when they wanted to get a sticker tattoo of the CND cross. Since we had to wait 10 to 15 seconds with a damp cloth over the tattoo, we took the opportunity to recite the Hail Mary with them, sometimes in Spanish, French, English and Japanese. Magnificat!
After this time, I felt the need to go and stay in the worship chapel for a few moments. I was able to place myself before the Lord, still feeling the fatigue from jet lag along with this heat! After which, I went to experience the encounter with the Lord in the Sacrament of Reconciliation at Reconciliation park. What a beautiful testimony it was to see young people taking the time to experience this encounter with the Lord and all these available and attentive priests.
At the end of the afternoon, after having had the joy of greeting our sisters Sue, Libby and Idalia, who came to take over, Isabella and I left the kiosk to join the other members of the group of coordinators. Direction: the Youth Festival, organized by the Don Bosco Salesian Youth Movement. Wow! What energy, what joy! It was wonderful to see the young people involved and invested in the organization, dances and facilitation. It was also very touching to gaze upon the young people in our group exchange profound questions of faith with each other. Some people were filming videos to share news on social networks to those who were unable to come and experience WYD. Around 9 p.m., we hopped on the train to return to Belas. We welcomed the night’s rest even if it was short!
Thursday, August 3:
After breakfast in front of the church, we all went to morning catechesis, this time led by Archbishop Lépine. The theme: social friendship. The Archbishop spoke to the young people in a simple, natural way and seeing their faces, I felt that he reached them. Especially when he asked us: how do you feel when you step out of your comfort zone? “It’s always a win,” he tells us, “even if it’s demanding, it pays off!”
This moment of reflection was followed by Mass.
After Mass, with the youth mission team, we took a moment to clarify certain things about the upcoming schedule, the importance of staying hydrated and wearing a hat with the current 36 degrees because unfortunately, some pilgrims were unwell due to heatstroke.
In the afternoon, all the groups headed toward Colina do Encontro for Pope Francis’s Welcome Ceremony. I received a beautiful grace! While we were a crowd of people gathered (800,000), all listening to the Pope’s words, I was moved, touched to the heart by his words. I felt that the Lord, through the Pope’s voice, was speaking to me personally. However, it was a message addressed to all of us but also, mysteriously, to each of us. Therefore, I suddenly felt alone with Christ and then, the next moment, very united with the crowd. The Pope reminded us, each and every one, that there is room for everyone in the Church! Everyone! Everyone! Everyone! Joy of redemption and liberation!
After this highlight, we had a meal in an (air-conditioned!) supermarket crowded with pilgrims. Upon our return to Belas, among coordinators, we had a little port wine to celebrate the joy of being together in Portugal😊.
Friday, August 4:
The morning catechesis was on the theme of mercy. Under the olive trees, it was another special moment, both poetic and beautiful, full of humility. Two young people agreed to share on what the Sacrament of Reconciliation meant to them. Then, Archbishop Damphousse of Gatineau (Quebec, Canada) spoke and recalled the beauty of this sacrament, the meaning of mercy. After which, during a time of worship, those who wished got the opportunity to experience the Sacrament of Reconciliation. A beautiful and deep silence reigned. After the Eucharistic celebration, we took the time to thank the Belas volunteers who welcomed us with so warmly and enthusiastically! We gave them some “Canadian” souvenirs.
After, we had a festive meal where we ate Portuguese dishes prepared by our dear volunteers. It was delicious, muito obrigada! We headed toward the Way of the Cross. Such a beautiful moment once again! I was touched by the level of creativity: the idea to use the stage as a platform to raise the cross to the top before each station, the decision to integrate testimonies alternating with the Word of God, actualized the Word. It was touching to hear different people speak about the crosses of their lives and how faith in the Resurrection helped them get back on their feet. Another grace of this Way of the Cross was that I met, at the end, Sely, a young person I met in Honduras in 2017 when I went to Jardín Santa Margarita. Sely has been living in Spain for several years and came with a group from the Diocese of Granada. Magnificat! Joy of Visitation and the communion of hearts. Please pray for this young person as she is discerning her vocational call.
After I left her, I went to meet my CND sisters for dinner before they left. There again, the joy of the encounter, a visitation bringing life and light!
Saturday, August 5:
From 8:30 a.m., the entire delegation went to the location of the Vigil to reserve a place on the site. We all had backpacks, including floor mats, sleeping bags, water and sunscreen. That day, I decided that I will experience joining a group of pilgrims. As I headed toward the buses, I came across a group from the Diocese of Sherbrooke (Quebec, Canada). They welcomed me among them. Joy! I was touched by their way of experiencing this new stage in the pilgrimage. When it was time to leave, the group leader invited us to each share a prayer intention so that together, we carried them throughout the day. How nice it was to feel the support of each other’s prayers. Then, off we went! The streets and trains were crowded. Each group had to find a way to get to the site: some walked for 5 hours, others took the bus and others, the train. Luckily, we had the Canadian flags to help us find our way! Along the way, we did not forget to collect our food bags at the designated locations. Wow! Quite the organization! It took us about 3.5 hours to get to the Vigil location, Campo da Graça. When we arrived, we placed the mats, applied sunscreen, filled water bottles and added electrolytes! The Pope arrived at Campo da Graça at around 4 p.m., great emotion! Encounters, joy!
The Vigil began and the orchestra performed; it was wonderful! The music transported us. Then, the sun set and… the Blessed Sacrament arose… The voice of the singer Carminho illuminated this moment as, facing Host Jesus, she began to sing: “You are the star that guides my heart” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlxyUClGGRQ&ab_channel=Lisboa2023, a moment of grace! It was beautiful; tears flowed from my eyes. He is truly the One our hearts hope for, the One we come to contemplate. The Pope prayed with us… Inhabited silence… Unity of the Church, communion of hearts… After the Vigil, we returned to our mats. There was a screening of a film on migration and climate change, relevant, important, but ultimately, sleep got the best of me, and I fell asleep. Two hours later, I awoke to cover my head more because the wind was blowing, and I heard… nothing, or rather yes, silence! The calm in this multitude was truly impressive!
Sunday, August 6:
The sun rose at 6 a.m.; DJ Padre Guillermo joyfully woke us up to the sound of his music! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nWLUOsFbPA&ab_channel=1RCFBelgique
The young people danced out of their sleeping bags, while brushing their teeth, waiting in line for the bathroom. After eating breakfast from our food bags, we began to collect our belongings to free up space for the time of Mass. Just before the start of Mass, I had a morning Visitation. I met Marie, a young person who lived with us in Vita-Joie on Côte-Sainte-Catherine! Joy! The emotion of the reunion, the grace of both finding each other in this huge crowd!
Then, it was time for the Missioning Mass. We marvelled all over again at this sea of young people in communion with each other, with the Pope who spoke to our hearts once again. At the end of Mass, a long-awaited moment: the announcement of the next WYD, drum roll… In South Korea! Wow! However, the Pope also invited us to meet in 2025 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of WYD together at a gathering in Rome. We are called! Radiant faces, fulfilled hearts! Magnificat!
We decided to stay another 1 to 2 hours to allow the groups to leave. The return to Belas was scheduled for 9 p.m. We returned together, stopping to eat in restaurants where free meals were provided. When I arrived in Belas, I fell asleep once again in peace and with a heart of thanksgiving!
Monday, August 7:
A free day! Each group followed its own program. With the group of coordinators, we decided to visit a castle near Belas, then go walking in the small town of Sintra, followed by a quick trip to the beach in Cascais! Wow!
Tuesday, August 8:
Morning Mass was at 7:30 a.m. and then there was the departure for the airport for some and a visit to Fátima for others.
In Fátima, it was a “lightning visit,” but it was such a grace to be in this holy place. I was touched to hear the guide tell us the story of these children who saw the Virgin. What faith!
Another beautiful moment for the delegation was experiencing an international Mass in thanksgiving for WYD at the Basilica of Fátima. The Gospel was read in several languages and the rector of the sanctuary, in his homily, addressed a word to each of the groups of pilgrims in his language. We headed back around 4:30 p.m. When we arrived in Belas, after dinner, we prepared our luggage for departure at 4 the next morning!
Wednesday, August 9: I accompanied the delegation to the airport and then we parted ways. As I watched them walk away, I gave thanks to the Lord for this unforgettable experience of universal fraternity. Goodbye Lisbon! Magnificat! Hallelujah!
After Lisbon, while the Mission Jeunesse delegation returned to Montreal, I was on my way to Belgium. I had the pleasure of being welcomed by Marie… and Sophie! Magnificat! From August 9 to 12, we experienced the joy of visitation at Marie’s at our CND branch in Liège. Marie welcomed us warmly; she even let me use her bed while she slept in the living room on a mattress so that I could properly recover after my 10 days of “camping” at WYD. How thoughtful! Thank you, Marie. During those days, I was amazed to meet the people who lived with Marie in this group housing in Cornillon where the one commonly known as “Saint Julienne of Cornillon” had lived. I was also amazed to see Marie interacting with all these people, always ready to listen to each one, attentive to their experiences. I was also amazed to listen to her neighbours say how happy they were to know her, to be in community with Marie. Yes, there was a strong community spirit, of sharing in this place. Marie was so fulfilled; it was nice to see her like this!
I was also happy to meet Sabine, her faithful teammate at the Diocese of Liège Bible Service. We were able to experience a beautiful walk together during which I had the joy of being moved by Sabine, a woman committed to her faith and to the education of young people as well. I was also moved by what drove them both, personally and together in this project of freeing the word, of creating a network of people who can at times come together and share together what the Word of God makes them experience.
I was also happy to walk with Marie in the streets of Liège, to see and even make her journey to the bishopric, where her office is located.
Finally, during a day when Marie had meetings, she put us in contact with her friends, Cécile and Geneviève, who showed us around Liège, the Saint-Jacques Collegiate Church (where an excellent guide revealed much about the city and its history), and the downtown area where we enjoyed good ice cream. What another beautiful Visitation! Sophie and I returned delighted, with the happiness of having met such precious people.
On August 12, Marie and I brought Sophie to the train station, where she set off toward Lourdes to meet Dominique.
As for us, Marie and I, in the evening, we met with her parents, and together, by car, we went to the village where they reside.
It is absolutely beautiful! It is a small village in the heart of the Belgian countryside. But her parent’s warm welcome was the most beautiful thing! They welcomed me like their own daughter; I am still very touched!
Furthermore, the next day, Marie’s mother organized with Pierre, the parish priest, a meeting-visitation with Mr. Luc, director of a burlesque Christian theatre troupe. And yes! You can mix burlesque with the Christian faith, it is even full of meaning, of Life!
Luc and his wife, accompanied by the associate priest, Pierre, (who is part of the troupe occasionally), came to meet us and had dinner with us. It was another beautiful moment of visitation and rich sharing based on common passions: theatre and faith in God. How thoughtful of Marie’s parents to have organized this meeting. This meeting continues to remain with me and allows me to cultivate this important aspect of my being.
At noon on the 14th, after these busy days of life, Marie and her father took me to the station for my train to the airport. I was smiling throughout my train journey thinking back on these busy and beautiful days. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
So, there you have my journeys to Lisbon and Belgium!
Magnificat and thank you to the Community for allowing me to live these experiences so rich in Life! Thank you to everyone for their communion in prayer. I love you!