By Charles Igwe
Amidst sweltering heat in Lisbon, an estimated 1.5 million young people gathered for Pope Francis’ World Youth Day vigil, braving scorching temperatures to secure a spot for the evening prayer and camp out overnight ahead of the final farewell Mass on Sunday morning. As temperatures soared to 38 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) and a forecast of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for Sunday, pilgrims sought shelter under makeshift shades and umbrellas. Crews sprayed misters to provide some relief, and organizers arranged more than 400 faucets around the field to help the attendees stay hydrated.
Despite the challenges, the event proved to be a remarkable display of faith and devotion. The smoke from the wildfires that occurred during a weekend spike in temperatures added to the atmospheric haze as pilgrims arrived from all over the city to partake in the Catholic youth festival. The Vatican reported that approximately 1.5 million people attended the vigil.
During the vigil, Pope Francis surprised the attendees by opting to speak casually to the crowds in his native Spanish, ditching his prepared speech and formal prayer for peace. Instead, he prayed silently with deep emotion while meditating before a statue of the Virgin Mary. The prayer was later shared on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
Earlier, Francis visited Fatima, a significant site where Portuguese siblings Francisco and Jacinta Marto and their cousin Lucia claimed that the Virgin Mary appeared to them six times in 1917. The apparitions conveyed messages about apocalyptic visions, the end of World War I and the start of World War II, and the rise and fall of Soviet communism. The visit to Fatima held profound significance, especially considering the assassination attempt against St. John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981, which was foretold in one of the secrets revealed during the apparitions.
Throughout history, Fatima has captivated Catholics due to its blend of mystical visions, prophetic messages, and unusual weather phenomena known as the “Miracle of the Sun.” During the event on October 13, 1917, witnesses reported seeing the sun “spinning” in the sky and zigzagging toward Earth, resulting in tens of thousands of people flocking to the site.
During his time in Fatima, Pope Francis offered prayers for peace, especially in Ukraine, and consecrated the church and the world to the Virgin Mary, seeking solutions for conflicts and self-centeredness.
Despite the grueling day of his five-day visit to Portugal, Pope Francis’ unwavering dedication to the pilgrims and his shepherd-like approach touched the hearts of the attendees. His spontaneous and heartfelt gestures continued to reinforce the bond between the Pontiff and the people he meets.