5 minutes

In early August 2023, beneath a cloudless sky, thousands were gathering at Parque Tejo in Lisbon for Pope Francis’ long-awaited speech, which would be given later that evening. The range of emotions everyone was experiencing is difficult to express in words, but they all had the same root. For Domenica, a Brazilian pilgrim, “faith is like a skeleton, it’s sustenance”. 

Domenica was with Francineide, another young Brazilian woman. They both shared a complicity that seemed like that of long-time friends, but in fact their paths had first crossed just a few days earlier, after they arrived in the city. By coincidence or design, something connected them from the first moment and, probably, forever. 

This powerful, invisible bond was felt by thousands of pilgrims travelling to Portugal from all over the world for 2023 World Youth Day. Although it is a Catholic event, its essence goes beyond religion. It’s about faith as a source of power, love and purpose. 

“Everyone is looking for meaning and direction, so we all believe in something.” 

José Luís Carvalho, Portugal 

An estimated 80% of the world’s population follows a religion, the main one being Christianity, but believing in the existence of divine beings precedes it. In ancient Greece, for instance, there were twelve gods and goddesses to worship. Part of humankind’s cultural identity, faith in religious terms can be a polarising subject, but believing is something most of us share.  

Why is that? “Everyone is looking for meaning and direction, so we all believe in something.” This was the answer given by José, from Porto (Portugal). Whether it’s in the news, in love at first sight or in unlucky number thirteen, everyone relies on something. Not so much a rational choice, it’s a survival tool, a necessity rooted within us for support and reassurance – a need for an anchor in life. And, in a world where uncertainty is the paradigm, “faith is something you can always rely on”, according to Chantelle from Australia. 

Believing that there’s a purpose behind everything that happens makes misfortunes more acceptable and gives hope for light. “It’s about knowing how to suffer and how to rise victoriously”, in the words of María from Colombia. Relying on something greater is also reassurance that we are not alone, that we are being taking care of. If love has many translations, maybe faith is just one of them. At least, it’s just like that for Joana, another Portuguese pilgrim: “There are things that happen that I cannot explain, and then I think it can only be love.”  

Faith brings so many people together because it is an answer in the search for significance. At the same time, believing is a driver for change, for having a horizon in mind is the first step towards creating it. “The importance of belief is being able to focus on a better future; if you don’t believe, you won’t do anything to change today”; this was how Francineide put it.  

No matter how times change, some things in life are constant. Believing, in any way, is one of them. There’s no right answer – it needs to be felt in order to be known. However, the point of view of pilgrims lit the way to a common ground: faith is a source of power available to all. 

A meaningful farewell 

The sunset was already painting the sky in shades of orange when Pope Francis took his place on stage for the vigil, making this divine-like scene complete. One and a half million voices repeated the same words in unison: “this is the Pope’s youth”.  

“Faith is like a skeleton, it is sustenance.” 

Domenica Berlarmino, Brazil

Focusing on faith as a trigger for action, the Pope empowered young people to follow their dreams, take chances on love and be authentic. He reassured pilgrims, volunteers and anyone who needed to hear it that they can change the world and should not be afraid. For those searching for meaning in life, these are not empty words – they are prophecies. 

After the high point on Saturday night – one could call it a true Saturday Night Fever – Sunday dawned peacefully. When Pope Francis closed the Missioning Mass, it was time to go home. More than one million people, together in the same place for a week, would soon be spread across the world again. 

Faith brings so many people together because it’s an answer in the search for significance. 

Hours before, when asked about what made them travel so far, Domenica and Francineide took their recent friendship as an example: “The power of World Youth Day is to demonstrate faith to the world. It’s intended to show that true love exists and unites us. We want others to experience that love too.” By the end of the Pope’s speech, they were probably smiling. 

The Power of Faith: World Youth Day Lisbon 2023