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Pope vows to keep ‘stirring things up’ as young Catholics gather in Lisbon (Updated)

pope francis arrives in lisbon for world youth day 2023
Pope Francis arrives at Figo Maduro Air Base during his apostolic journey to Portugal on the occasion of the XXXVII World Youth Day, in Lisbon

Pope Francis promised on Wednesday to continue to “stir things up” in the Church as he arrived in Portugal to preside at a mass gathering of young Catholics aimed at energizing a new generation of believers.

Francis has enacted numerous changes in the Church since his election in 2013 and has been pushing on with a series of reforms he hopes could leave a lasting legacy.

But he faces a delicate balance between appealing to more liberal believers and upsetting conservatives by giving women more roles and making the church more welcoming and less judgmental towards some groups, including the LGBT community.

Francis landed in Lisbon to a sea of young Catholics who have poured into the city from around the globe for World Youth Day, the world’s largest Catholic festival, held every two or three years in a different city. It is the fourth such event Francis will preside over since he became pope.

“We will continue to stir things up,” Francis told reporters on the plane from Rome, after being reminded of when he urged young people during an earlier World Youth Day in Brazil to not be complacent but to make noise and instil change.

The 86-year-old pope, who is making his first trip since intestinal surgery in June and uses a wheelchair and cane, appeared in good form said he hoped to return to Rome on Sunday “rejuvenated by his encounter with young people.” He is due to spend five days in Portugal.

In Lisbon, young believers jumped and sang as they proudly waved their country’s flag outside the Vatican embassy, where the pope is residing. Young Catholics from nearly every country in the world have registered for the event.

World Youth Day “is a sign of faith and union in which all of us get together for a cause,” said 20-year-old Carlos Hernandez. “It’s very emotional.”

But for others, a shadow had been cast over the event by Portugal’s huge clergy sexual abuse scandal.

At the opening Mass on Tuesday before the pope arrived, Australian Andrew De Santos, 35, expressed hope the next generation would be able to move on from “errors” of the past.

The event in Portugal comes less than six months after a report by a Portuguese commission said at least 4,815 minors were sexually abused by clergy – mostly priests – over seven decades.

“There will be young people from all over the world and the reality (of abuse) is present in all continents,” said Filipa Almeida, 43, who was abused by a priest when she was 17.

Francis is expected to meet privately with abuse victims. A huge billboard raising awareness of clerical sexual abuse was put up overnight in Lisbon hours before Francis’ arrival.

PEACE IN UKRAINE

In his first speech, to President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and diplomats at a cultural centre, Francis said the world was currently “sailing amid storms on the ocean of history”, including the tempest of the war in Ukraine, and urged Europe to find the resolve to help end it and other conflicts.

He said Europe should divert money spent on armaments and use it to boost education and fund family friendly legislation to help reverse a falling birth rate aggravated by prohibitive costs of housing for young couples.

He also urged Europe to rise to the challenge of “welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating” migrants, both for humanitarian reasons and as a means of boosting dwindling populations.

He decried “massive numbers of deaths at sea and empty cradles”.

Francis will also visit Fatima, the town north of Lisbon where the Church believes that the Virgin Mary appeared to three poor shepherd children in 1917.

Some Portuguese have criticised the event’s costs in one of Western Europe’s poorest nations where millions are struggling to make ends meet due to low salaries, inflation and a housing crisis.

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