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Pope Francis ends Portugal trip with mass in front of 1.5 million worshippers

by editor

Pope Francis ended a five-day trip to Portugal on Sunday with a massive open-air Mass for an estimated 1.5 million people who camped out overnight on a vast field to attend the grand finale of the World Youth Day festival.

Many of the mainly young people in Tejo Park in the Portuguese capital Lisbon had camped out overnight to attend the open-air Mass on Sunday. 

On Saturday evening, his audience heard a message of hope from Francis. 

“The only time it is legitimate to look down on someone from above is to help them get up,” he told them. “How many times do we see people looking at us like that, from above, it’s sad.”

Francis set out earlier than planned on Sunday morning to loop the field in his ‘popemobile,’ continuing the improvisation that has characterised this trip.

He has ditched speeches in favour of off-the-cuff conversations with young people and substituted a formal prayer for peace in Ukraine at the Fatima shrine, long associated with exhortations of peace and conversion in Russia.

The Vatican later published part of the prayer on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

Early on in his 10-year papacy, Francis would frequently go rogue and ignore his pre-planned speeches, seemingly moved by the moment to engage directly with even huge crowds of people.

In more recent years, he largely stuck to script especially when visiting places where Christians are a minority or where his audiences might not appreciate his informal style.

But in Lisbon, he’s been back on comfortable turf, with many people who can easily follow his native Spanish and seem to appreciate his conversational way of communicating. 

Responding to questions about whether the pope’s health is the reason behind his ignored speeches, the Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, has said Francis is in good shape and isn’t suffering any eyesight problems that would make reading his remarks difficult.

The young people seem thrilled with all that he’s been saying and braved a searing temperature of 38 degrees Celsius on Saturday to be in place for the vigil service to hear him.

Francis’ message this week has been one of inclusivity, insisting that “everyone, everyone, everyone” has a place in the church. That is consistent with his message that the church isn’t a place of rigid rules where only the perfect can be let in, but rather a “field hospital” for wounded souls, where all are welcome.

Pope Francis also announced Sunday that the next World Youth Day will be held in Seoul, South Korea in 2027.

The announcement marks the first time the festival returns to Asia since 1995, when millions of people turned out for one of Saint John Paul II’s biggest events, in Manila in The Philippines.

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