Pope Francis waves from the popemobile as he arrives at the welcoming ceremony for the official launch of the 34th World Youth Day at Campo Santa Maria La Antigua in Panama City on Jan. 24, 2019. (Photo: AFP)
The crowd-pulling World Youth Day that the Vatican organizes every three years is battling the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic to celebrate its next edition.
Lisbon, the Portuguese capital, is set to host the 36-year-old Catholic pilgrimage, the world's largest gathering of young Catholics. It was scheduled for August 2022 but Pope Francis postponed it last April to August 2023.
While the Vatican went online with many liturgical and papal events, it had adopted a wait-and-watch approach when it came to the gathering that attracts millions of youth from all continents.
The Holy See also put on hold the World Meeting of Families in Rome from June 2021 to 2022 — another mega-event that sees the papal presence and gathering of hundreds of thousands of people.
The Vatican press office said these events were put off due to the ongoing precarious health situation and its impact on the movement and the youth and their families.
The Vatican does not want to reduce the World Youth Day to a virtual event as its previous editions show youth strength.
The 1995 event in the Philippines set a world record for the largest number of young people assembled for a single religious event with 5 million attendees. The 2019 gathering in Panama City saw 700,000 taking part.
Lisbon, a city of 505,000 people, is about 75 miles from Fatima, the world's largest Marian pilgrimage site, and preparations for the World Youth Day have begun.
Theme song and logo
The organizers released the theme song Ha Pressa no Ar (There Is Urgency in the Air) for the international youth conclave on Jan. 27.
Penned by 51-year-old Father Joao Paulo Vaz, the music was composed by 41-year-old Pedro Ferreira, both hailing from Coimbra Diocese in Portugal.
The song is available on the website of the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life (www.laityfamilylife.va) and that of the organizing committee (www.lisboa2023.org).
The lyrics reflect the Lisbon event theme, "Mary arose and went with haste" — a passage from the Gospel of St. Luke. The song is meant to urge young people "to identify themselves with Mary."
The logo, released in October last year, depicts the cross, a path, the rosary and Mother Mary. The rosary stands for the experience of pilgrimage.
Through an international contest with hundreds of participants from 30 nations, the logo was chosen and organized by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.
The World Youth Day cross was handed over to the Portuguese youth from Panama, which hosted the 2019 edition. It was done after a Mass by Pope Francis on the occasion of the feast of Christ the King on Nov. 22 in St. Peter's Basilica.
"This is an important step in the pilgrimage that will lead us to Lisbon in 2023," Pope Francis said.
The ceremony was slated for April 5, 2020, Palm Sunday, but was delayed because of Covid-19 lockdowns and curbs on international travel.
St. Pope John Paul II in 1984 gave the cross at the end of the Holy Year of Redemption.
He urged the youth to "carry it throughout the world as a symbol of Christ's love for humanity and proclaim to everyone that it is only in Christ, who died and rose from the dead, that salvation and redemption are to be found."
The youth took the 4-meter cross to various parts of the world during pilgrimages and processions and to all the international World Youth Day celebrations.
World Youth Day, held on a different continent every three years, was the brainchild of St. Pope John Paul II.
Lisbon, which has the highest level of weekly Mass attendance among young people in Europe, is waiting to see the pandemic wane before it spreads its wings in 2023 before the popemobile.
In this pandemic year, organizers have taken special care not to make World Youth Day a kind of rock festival, as warned by Pope Benedict XVI.