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After closing Mass, pope ends World Youth Day trip by meeting volunteers to say thanks


LISBON, Portugal — Pope Francis wrapped up his World Youth Day visit with one word, rendered in Portuguese as “obrigado,” thank you – literally, “I am obliged.”

The Holy Father closed the international celebration at a Mass celebrated with an estimated 1.5 million pilgrims earlier this morning, but before leaving Portugal, his last public address was for the some 25,000 volunteers from 130 countries who kept the massive event running.

At the Passeio Marítimo outdoor festival center in Algés, on the outskirts of Lisbon, the pope arrived a little after 4 p.m. local time to temperatures of 99 degrees.

Despite the heat and the long hours of the last several months and days, the volunteers excitedly cheered the WYD shout used since the days of Pope John Paul II: “These are the young people of the pope!” adding: “Long live Pope Francis!”

Three of the young people gave their testimonies to start the meeting: from Portugal, Francisco, 24; Filipe, 33; and from Germany, Chiara, 18. The three of them spoke of how fulfilling these days of service have been and the enriching experience of serving with people from around the world, as well as the chance to grow in their faith and love for Christ. 

“I have realized that life with God is not boring; it is pure adventure,” Chiara said, bringing cheers from her fellow volunteers. “I want to be a saint,” Francisco assured the pope and the crowd. Filipe said there are many young people who know that in Christ we find peace.

Cardinal Manuel Clemente, patriarch of Lisbon, gave words of thanks to the pope and his collaborators before the Holy Father took the microphone.

Speaking in Spanish, and often adding off-the-cuff comments and emphases during many of his addresses during the five-day trip, Pope Francis referred to the theme of this World Youth Day – “Mary arose, and went with haste.” 

She went to share joy and service, “service in joy,” he said. Francis told the sea of yellow-T-shirted young people that he had seen them also “running about” during these days, moving in haste to help others. “You ran a lot,” he said, as the crowd acknowledged him with cheers.

“But I always noted one thing,” the pope praised them, “that your eyes shone brightly, shining with the joy of service. Thank you.”

“You made this World Youth Day possible. You did great things with the smallest of gestures,” he added. “You have done much running about, yet never in a frenetic or aimless way that sometimes our world asks. You ran a race that brings about an encounter with others. To serve others in the name of Jesus. You came to Lisbon to serve, not to be served. Thank you. Many thanks.”

The bishop of Rome left the volunteers with an image taken from his host country, pointing out that north of Lisbon, at a place called Nazaré, waves as high nearly 100 feet high attract surfers from all over the world.

“In these days, you also have faced a real wave,” he told the volunteers, “not of water, but of young people, young people like you, who have poured into this city.”

Indeed, the estimated attendance at World Youth Day in Lisbon was as much as 50 percent higher than expected. While only about 350,000 pilgrims had registered, organizers expected a million for the vigil and the final Mass. Estimates suggest, though, that as many as 1.5 million youth were actually in attendance. 

“With God’s help, with a lot of generosity and helping each other, you have ridden this great wave,” he told the volunteers as they cheered. “You’re brave!” he assured them, urging them to continue riding the waves of love and charity. “Be surfers of love. This is a task I give you today.”

Some of the young volunteers then greeted the pope personally. Shortly before 5 p.m., the encounter wrapped up with the pope leading the youth in praying the Our Father and then giving the apostolic blessing. “And now to ride the wave!” he said as a last encouragement.


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