Portugal ‘prepared for one of largest operations ever’ in hosting World Youth Day

Pope’s visit to Fátima will be most complex moment in six-day event

Portugal is prepared for one of the largest operations ever in hosting World Youth Day, which begins on Tuesday in Lisbon.

With the Pope arriving on Wednesday and staying in Portugal until Saturday, these four days within the six overall will be the greatest challenges for the country’s logistics. 

Minister of Interior Administration José Luís Carneiro has overseen planning and insists the thousands of GNR/ PSP agents drafted in for the occasion will not compromise security cover elsewhere in the country.

Plans are in place to ensure supermarkets are kept supplied (at night, to reduce traffic congestion); to ensure planes are fuelled on time; to ensure enough water is available (as temperatures will be in the mid to high 30ºCs, certainly towards the end of the week); to ensure health cover is available, and in 69 languages – in short everything has been done to try and cater for any eventuality.

Potential threats to the Pope’s safety have been dealt with in minute detail: the Pontiff’s movements will be covered by ‘snipers’, flanked by specially-trained police (from the Vatican the Swiss Guard, Europol, Interpol and various other European countries as well as Portugal). Behind the scenes, security services are ‘prepped’ for possible terrorist attacks/ protests (the World Youth Day in Madrid suffered a number of complicated demos, including those from ‘anti-Catholics’) – and of course we have already been told of the protests to be mounted by police, teachers and health professionals.

The understanding is that this Pope is a far less ‘contentious Pope’ than his predecessor, and therefore may have far less in the way of ‘antagonists’. 

But the overriding message is that security forces are ‘prepared’.

As to the schedule, this is going to be such a massive affair that thousands of Lisbon residents have decided it is an experience best appreciated from ‘as far away as possible’.

Well over a million pilgrims are expected (Expresso explains that experience has shown that for every pilgrim ‘inscribed’ for the event – in other words, expected – there are another two who travel without notifying that they will be attending. This is how the numbers have been multiplied up to ‘over a million’: there are 300,000 pilgrims inscribed, thus the understanding that “there could end up being more than a million”). They will be staying in all kinds of venues, including school buildings and in 8,700 private homes – to converge on the days of activities scheduled along the Lisbon/ Loures riverside locations.

Tuesday August 1 sees the official ‘opening’ of World Youth Day by Lisbon’s Cardinal Patriarch D. Manuel Clemente in a Mass to be celebrated for an hour and a half in Parque Eduardo VII (from 7pm-9.30pm). Various restrictions will be in place (Metro stations/ roads closed) – and this is the day for the launch of Belém’s Cidade de Alegria (City of Joy) in Jardim Vasco da Gama, in which there will be religious/ social stands and no less than 150 confessionals, constructed by prisoners, in which 2,000 priests have signed up to hear confessions in 55 languages.

Wednesday is the moment of the Pope’s arrival (His Holiness is due to arrive at Figo Maduro military airbase at 10am to spend the day in contact with “high figures of the State and Catholic Church”). As such it is a day with less restrictions, in terms of traffic, because there will be limited contact with pilgrims. But the Pope’s itinerary will run over many hours, ending with a homily in the Jerónimos Monastery.

Thursday August 3 will be the moment of the first ‘major meeting’ between the Pope and the thousands of pilgrims who have flocked to Portugal, writes Expresso. In the morning he is scheduled to give a speech at the Portuguese Catholic University (9am), followed by a trip to Cascais, where Pope Francis is due to visit an educational programme (Scholas Occurrentes) which was started in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2001 by the country’s then archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, the man now known as Pope Francis. The afternoon will see the ‘major meeting’ – at 5.45pm in Parque Eduardo VII, baptised the Colina do Encontro (Hill of Encounter) for the event, to which at least 400,000 if not more pilgrims are expected. This will be an occasion of intense traffic/ transport restrictions, explain reports.

The following day (Friday) will see even more traffic restrictions “for those who live and work in the capital” (hence the decision by so many to leave Lisbon beforehand). On this day, 750,000 pilgrims are expected to arrive, throughout the day, to Parque Eduardo VII for what is called the Via Sacra. This is a moment where pilgrims will be received by the Pope from 6pm. (Beforehand, there are “some shows” planned for the altar-stage). But from the arrival of the Pope, this holy communion will begin, with processions arriving and many Catholics lining up for the reported million communion wafers made for the event.

Earlier in the day, there are to be confessions in the Parque de Perdão in Belém, and the Pope is also expected to visit one of Lisbon’s poorest districts (Campolide’s Bairro da Serafina), as he has reportedly insisted on the “importance of looking to the peripheries”. This is actually a contentious point in the programme, inasmuch as Expresso comments that “in spite of expectations, it is highly unlikely that the Pope will make a large tour”. The visit is expected to “concentrate on a visit to the neighbourhood’s Social and Parochial Centre, which gives assistance to local people”. Pope Francis is also expected to make a speech here.

But he is not expected to see the conditions in which citizens of this ‘bairro’ and the nearby Bairro da Liberdade actually live. Expresso has a full page text this week dedicated to life in the Bairro da Liberdade where “not everyone has access to running water” and some “go to the lavatory in a bucket, go into the street, and pour the contents into a hole”.

The Pope will not see any of this.

Father Crespo, the local parish priest, told the paper that he had hoped that His Holiness would at least have the opportunity to meet “many of the people from the bairro (whether they are practising Catholics or not) but the police and Vatican security will only let people who have been authorised. Everything is to be controlled; we will have streets full of police and closed”, he said, adding: “There are so many people here who would have liked to have seen him and welcomed him…”

Saturday is billed as being “the longest day, with most journeys for the Pope”, says Expresso. He is due to give two speeches, one in the morning in Fátima – to which he will travel in a military helicopter, and where he is due to pray with young people who are ill and some who are prisoners. It is here too that His Holiness is expected to say a prayer for peace in Ukraine.

Then it will be back to Lisbon, first for a private meeting with members of the Companhia de Jesus, and finally to the Parque Tejo-Trancão – the slice of riverside shared by Lisbon and Loures municipalities where as many as one million pilgrims could be waiting for him.

This is where the ‘inscribed pilgrims’ will benefit over those that simply decided to turn up without informing organisers: inscribed pilgrims will have a place in the park (dubbed Field of Grace, for World Youth Day) closer to the spectacular altar-stage than the non-inscribed. There will be gigantic screens erected over the 100 hectares, for everyone to at least get of view of what is happening, even if they are a long way away from where it is going on. Because heat on this Saturday is expected to be fairly punishing, the Pope is not billed to appear before 8.45pm. It will be one of those fixtures that goes on into the wee small hours, possibly right up until the final Mass, due the next day at 9am.

Says Expresso, there will be a moment on Saturday evening when the Pope not exactly mingles, but ‘passes through’ the park, “complimenting pilgrims”. Recalling that this Pope has limited mobility, various health problems, and is in his 80s, Expresso adds that there will be a lot of ‘spare time’ in the pontiff’s schedule, but that it is almost certain that some of this will be spent in meetings with victims of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

The shocking picture that emerged from the Independent Commission into Child Sex Abuse within the Portuguese Catholic Church over the last 50 years has, to the lay eye, been largely swept under the carpet for this event. But this may only be to the lay eye: behind the scenes, Pope Francis is understood to be addressing this subject, but “for questions of security and privacy, these (meetings) will not be announced”, says Expresso.

Finally, on the Sunday (August 6), the Pope’s final public appearance will come at 4.30pm, after the official closure of World Youth Day, where he is expected to give a speech of thanks in Algés, Oeiras, to the 30,000 volunteers who contributed to the event (even paying for the privilege).

His Holiness should be back at Figo Maduro airport by 6pm, ready to board the Papal plane and be back in Rome four hours later, says Expresso.

If all goes according to plan, this will be an exceptional PR event for Lisbon, which is already one of the most popular European destinations on many scores. Mayor Carlos Moedas has stressed the return for the capital in terms of revenue from visitors will be worth every cêntimo spent on the planning and infrastructures, most of which will remain in place for use by local people.

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Portugal Resident