By Raymond MWANGALA, OMI
After our pilgrimage, I find myself reflecting on the experience with utmost gratitude. Nevertheless, I am left wondering how this experience will be carried forward by the young people and by us Oblates so that it becomes an ongoing living reality in our lives.
The Superior General, Luis Ignacio AlONSO ROIS, the General Councillor for Africa-Madagascar, Kapena SHIMBOME, and I joined more than a million young people from around the world for the 2023 World Youth Day celebrations in Lisbon, Portugal, from August 1-6, 2023. After completing our pilgrimage, I find myself reflecting on the experience with utmost gratitude. Nevertheless, I am left wondering how this experience will be carried forward by the young people and by us Oblates so that it becomes an ongoing living reality in our lives.
We began our pilgrimage in Pozuelo, Spain, where we gathered with a group of about 270 young people from Spain and Italy who share the Oblate charism. Hosted by the Oblates of the Mediterranean Province, we gathered at the Spanish Martyrs’ House for a time of fraternity and prayer. Fr. Gennaro Rossato, OMI, Provincial of the Mediterranean Province, joined us for this part of the journey. The time we spent together was an important part of the preparation for the Lisbon experience. It included moments of prayer and feasting, a pilgrimage to the cemetery of the Spanish Martyrs, a via crucis and Mass, a conversation with the Superior General, and several catechetical workshops. The experience helped the groups from the 2 countries to get to know each other. Personally, it allowed me to experience first-hand the joys and hopes of the young people.
Journey to Lisbon
On August 1, we took a nine-hour trip to Lisbon, aboard five buses. There was a lot of excitement and a bit of apprehension in the group. We were leaving familiar territory, heading into the unknown, where we could easily get swept into the massive crowd. When we finally arrived at our destination and while we waited to be taken to our accommodation facilities, the leader of the Spanish group, Fr. Javier Montero Infantes, OMI, reminded us of four important things we should keep in mind in the coming days. He asked us to practice patience, flexibility, gratitude, and a spirit of joy. We were privileged to be part of this experience! Many people wanted to be with us, but they couldn’t. We had to consider ourselves as representing them as well.
Our accommodation facilities were basic: a school in which classrooms had been converted into dormitories. Each one of us was allocated a portion of the floor to lay our sleeping bags. This included the Superior General! He had a small portion on the floor in a room with about 30 or 40 others. This was a humbling experience for many of us. The nights brought their unique experience of the great symphony of voices as we rested in the Lord. It didn’t take long for many of us to get used to the sounds.
Meeting of Oblate Youth from around the world
On the morning of August 2, we convened at the Parques de Jogos for a gathering of Oblate youth from various parts of the globe. More than 1000 young people and Oblates attended the meeting. The meeting was also attended by Bishop Beto Huaman Camayo, OMI, of Peru. We not only prayed together, but we also got to listen to the Superior General and interact with him. More importantly, it was an important opportunity for the Oblates working with youth to meet and network. During this meeting, several young people expressed their desire to be closely connected in some form of a global network. This is a challenge that we will have to reflect on as we go forward: how do we build communion among the many and varied groups of young people who are accompanied by Oblates across the world?
The young people really wanted to pray, and pray they did!
The opening Mass, the welcoming of the Holy Father, the Stations of the Cross, and the closing vigil and Mass were high points of the experience. With each experience, the young people were given something to reflect on as they continued their journey.
The opening Mass, on August 1, presided over by D. Manuel Clemente, Patriarch of Lisbon, was beautifully celebrated. The prayerful and solemn atmosphere created by the estimated one million young people in attendance was remarkable. The young people really wanted to pray, and pray they did! The welcoming ceremony of the Holy Father was an emotional experience for many of the young people. One could see the tears rolling down their faces as he spoke to them.
The highlight of the experience was the Saturday night vigil. More than a million people gathered to pray in the open space that was transformed into a sanctuary. Then there was the festival of music and the millions of young people who slept out in the open. The closing Eucharistic Celebration brought our week of encounter to a close.
Looking back, moving forward
As I look back, I hope that we can keep moving forward. The challenge is how to tap into the energy and the experience of Lisboa 2023. As Oblates, how are we going to continue accompanying young people in their pilgrimage as they celebrate life and search for meaning? Fr. Chicho has shown us one way of doing this – being close to the young people. By walking closely with them, we can, together, begin to discern the movements of the Holy Spirit among us and, with courage, respond to the call.
I am deeply grateful to the many Oblates who accompanied groups associated with the Oblates or their dioceses, for the units that made resources available, for the Church and the nation of Portugal that made it possible for us to make Lisbon our home during WYD 2023!
To all, many thanks, obrigado! Let this be the beginning of something new!