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8 unique things to know about World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon

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After four years of waiting — one year longer than expected due to the pandemic — and fears that the pope’s health issues would force another postponement, World Youth Day (WYD) 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal, will finally take place in a few days, from Aug. 1–6, and it promises to be unique in many ways.

This is the first time WYD will take place in Portugal, the westernmost country in Europe with the oldest borders on the continent. It will be the second time that Pope Francis will visit Portugal; in 2017, he went to Fátima, one of the most visited Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world, for the centenary of the apparitions there. He will pay another visit on this trip.

As a small country of 10 million inhabitants, Portugal will welcome pilgrims from every country around the world for WYD, except for one: the Maldives. The United States is the country with the largest number of participants from outside Europe: More than 27,000 Americans will cross the Atlantic for the five-day event.

Here are 10 things the pilgrims — and all participants near and far — should know before the gathering begins.

1. This will be the most “sustainable” WYD to date.

The organizers of World Youth Day 2023 committed to promoting sustainability from the outset and are striving to fulfill this pledge. But it needs the help of all participants. For this reason, one of the first challenges posed to everyone will be to use the first carbon footprint calculator in the history of the WYD, which will be included in the WYD Lisbon 2023 app that participants must install on their mobile phone when arriving in Portugal.

The calculator works on the basis of a questionnaire. By recording their activities from their points of departure for WYD to the last day of the event, pilgrims will be able to discover their estimated carbon footprint (the total amount of greenhouse gases — including carbon dioxide and methane — generated by their actions) by the end of WYD, and with the help of an associated manual, they will learn how to reduce their impact.

One of the initiatives carried out to offset part of WYD’s environmental footprint is the planting of trees, which has been taking place all over the world in partnership with the Global Tree Initiative. According to the organization’s latest balance sheet, close to 17,000 trees have already been planted.

A reusable water bottle will also be included in the “pilgrim’s kit” to discourage the use of plastic and promote more sustainable water consumption.

2. Music, art, and culture will be on display throughout Lisbon.

WYD is much more than the main events with the pope. Throughout the week, Lisbon will be the stage for the Youth Festival, which includes more than 500 events spread over 100 spaces with free admission.

Music will have the greatest prominence at this festival, with 290 performances scheduled to be performed by more than 100 bands or solo artists from the five continents with various musical styles. Efren Rivera, PJ Anderson, Ivan Diaz, Ryan Tremblay, Communion, and JoEmma are just a handful of the names from the United States who will be present on the different stages of WYD.

Cinema lovers will be able to choose from 27 screenings of documentaries about the life of those who dared to follow Jesus, feature films, and other movies about relevant figures in the life of the Church. They can also watch Pope Francis’ favorite films in a special rotation prepared by the Cinematheque. Those who love theater will have the opportunity to watch seven different shows, including musicals that star young pilgrims.

Lovers of new technologies can take a trip to Martim Moniz, one of the largest plazas in Lisbon,  which will be called Criston@utas (Christon@uts) Park during WYD, with an interactive digital circuit that will culminate every night at 9:30 p.m. in a video-mapping show dedicated to the history of salvation and WYD.

Throughout the city, there will also be traditional, contemporary, and street dance performances, and 17 exhibitions displayed simultaneously dedicated to themes such as ecology, peace, and Fátima.

3. The first WYD beach volleyball tournament will be held, along with other sports opportunities.

For the first time at World Youth Day, registered pilgrims will be invited to participate in a beach volleyball tournament, played at Carcavelos Beach on Aug. 2, the second day of WYD2023.

This tournament is in addition to the usual soccer tournament held in past years, and both events will be open to mixed teams. However, those who haven’t previously signed up will only be able to watch it in the stands.

Along with these tournaments — and inspired by Pope Francis’ belief that “sport can be a symbol of unity for a society” — WYD Sports will include other sports opportunities.

During the afternoon of Aug. 2 in Pavilion 2 of the University Stadium, pilgrims will be able to participate in several sports stations such as blind soccer, walking soccer, and korfball (a mix of basketball and lacrosse).

“The main objective is to provide pilgrims from all over the world with a sharing of the Christian experience and a meeting of cultures through a universal language: sport,” WYD organizers said.

Our Lady of Fatima statue in Fatima, Portugal. Photo courtesy of Shrine of Fatima
Our Lady of Fatima statue in Fatima, Portugal. Photo courtesy of Shrine of Fatima

4. If you can’t visit Fátima while in Portugal, Fátima will come to you in Lisbon.

The image of Our Lady of Fátima, which has been venerated since 1920 in the Little Chapel of Apparitions in Fátima, will be on the altar in Parque Tejo in Lisbon for the final celebration of WYD2023, a Mass presided over by Pope Francis the morning of Aug. 6.

This will be the second time the image will be with the pope outside the Little Chapel of Apparitions, having already been present, at his request, in Rome, on Oct. 12–13, 2013, on the occasion of the Marian Day promoted within the scope of the Year of Faith.

The pope will be able to pray in front of this special image two days in a row: on Aug. 5, when he goes to Fátima, and again on Aug. 6 in Lisbon.

The image has only left Fátima 12 times; it will return in the afternoon of Aug. 6.

5. John Paul II will be there in a special way, along with other great saints.

St. John Paul II was the founder of this powerful meeting of young people from across the globe with the pope — and he won’t be missing this one.

Participants in WYD2023 will be able to pray next to relics of St. John Paul II along with relics of St. Mary Magdalene, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and Blessed Carlo Acutis.

6. There will be various opportunities to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis.

This will be the longest visit by a pope to Portugal. Francis arrives on Aug. 2 in the morning and returns to Rome on Aug. 6 in the afternoon. Over these five days, some of the events he will attend are public while others will be more institutional or by invitation only.

In the case of his public events, everyone — young or old, enrolled in WYD or not, Catholic or non-religious — can participate, which means that seeing the pope up close might not be easy. Either way, it’s worth a try, and there will be giant screens.

So where can you see Pope Francis at WYD2023?

First, you can see him at the welcome ceremony on Aug. 3 at 5:45 p.m., which will take place in the center of Lisbon, in Eduardo VII Park (now called Colina do Encontro).

The following day, Aug. 4, Stations of the Cross at 6:30 p.m. will be in the same park with the pope.

On Aug. 5, those who are in Fátima will be able to pray the rosary with the Holy Father. Later, at 8:45 p.m. in Parque Tejo/Campo da Graça, the vigil with young people will take place.

The last event open to everyone with the pope will be the Sunday Mass, presided over by Francis at 9 a.m. on Aug. 6 in Parque Tejo/Campo da Graça.

Outdoor Mass with volunteers before pilgrims arrive from around the world for WYD Lisbon 2023. Photo courtesy of Ana Branco
Outdoor Mass with volunteers before pilgrims arrive from around the world for WYD Lisbon 2023. Photo courtesy of Ana Branco

7. The first world meeting of evangelizers and digital missionaries will take place.

WYD2023 will be the location for the first world meeting of evangelizers and digital missionaries. On the night of Aug. 4, the Festival of Catholic Influencers will take place, organized by The Church Listens to You project.

The festival will take place right after the Stations of the Cross with the pope, and “it will be a moment to celebrate together, share testimonies and experiences, pray, and sing,” the Vatican’s note to the media said.

Among the digital missionaries present will be Hakuna Group Music (Spain), Father Rob Galea (Australia), Pitter Di Laura (Brazil), Pablo Martínez (Argentina), Missionaries Shalom (Brazil), and many others, accompanied by Cardinal Óscar Maradiaga and Father Lucio Adrián Ruiz, secretary of the Dicastery for Communication.

Other Catholic influencers and digital missionaries can still sign up to participate in the event in person or follow the festival online through the website www.influencerswyd.org. Participation, as is the rest of WYD2023, is free.

8. If you can’t be there in person, there are other ways to participate in WYD2023.

For those who can’t travel to Lisbon and want to participate in WYD2023 virtually, there will be various ways to do that.

Vatican News YouTube channel will be following all the events with the pope live. (Be aware of time zone differences.) WYD2023 social networks will also show, at every moment, everything that is happening. Be sure to follow the hashtags #WYD, #Lisboa2023, and #WYD2023.

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8 unique things to know about World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon