Pope Francis meets with Portugal President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa at the Belém Cultural Center in Lisbon upon his arrival for World Youth Day on Aug. 2, 2023. / Credit: Daniel Ibañez/CNA
Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 2, 2023 / 07:36 am (CNA).
Arriving in Lisbon for World Youth Day, Pope Francis on Wednesday called on Portugal’s leaders to promote peace, families, and environmental stewardship, policies he said would help light “lamps of hope” across Europe.
In his first hours in Portugal’s coastal capital, the Holy Father met with President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Assembly President Augusto Ernesto dos Santos Silva, and other civil authorities at the Belém Cultural Center in Lisbon.
In his address to the dignitaries, Francis described Lisbon as “a city of encounter which embraces many peoples and cultures,” one that is “grounded in a desire to be open to the world and to explore it.”
“Lisbon, as an ocean city … reminds us of the importance of the whole, to think of borders as places of contact, not as boundaries that separate,” Francis said, claiming the current historical moment calls for “courageous courses of peace.”
Describing the world as “divided” and “insufficiently cohesive,” the pope argued that Lisbon — the country’s capital and largest city — can “suggest a different path.”
“A sea of young people is pouring into this hospitable city,” Pope Francis said, referring to the upcoming World Youth Day festivities. “Young people from around the world, who long for unity, peace, and fraternity, urge us to make their good dreams come true.” The week of events, the pope said, “represents a chance to build together” and “to put out into the deep and to set sail together towards the future.”
Touching on his familiar theme of environmental stewardship, the pope said that despite major progress toward environmental renewal in Portugal and Europe, “the problem remains extremely grave.”
The oceans, Pope Francis said, are becoming increasingly polluted; it “reminds us that human life is meant to be an integrated part of an environment greater than ourselves … How can we claim to believe in young people if we do not give them healthy spaces in which to build the future?”
The pope also touched on what he called “the fear of forming families and bringing children into the world” that he said has gripped much of the younger generations.
Like most of Europe, Portugal has for decades seen a birth rate significantly below the “replacement rate,” with the country’s population essentially flat since the turn of the century. Demographers have warned that sharply falling fertility rates in Europe and elsewhere pose a significant threat to the stability of nations, with many Western countries facing the near-future prospect of decline and insolvency with fewer and fewer citizens and workers to help build their respective economies and maintain their national identities.
Francis argued in his speech that the crisis “calls for reversing the fall in the birth rate and the weakening of the will to live.”
The pope challenged political leaders “to show foresight by investing in the future, in families, and in children, and by promoting intergenerational covenants that do not cancel the past but forge bonds between young and old.”
Pope Francis further urged Portugal and the world to focus on “fraternity, which we Christians learn about from Jesus Christ.”
Globalization, the pope said, has “challenged [us] to cultivate a sense of community, beginning with concern for those who live close by.”
“How beautiful it is to realize that we are brothers and sisters and to pursue the common good, leaving behind our conflicts and differing viewpoints!” the pope said. He expressed hope that World Youth Day would generate an “impulse towards universal openness” in its participants.
The Holy Father urged the assembly to “feel called, as brothers and sisters, to give hope to the world in which we live, and to this magnificent country.”
“God bless Portugal!” he said.
The pope will be in Portugal until Sunday, during which he is scheduled to attend several events at World Youth Day and elsewhere in the country; he will depart for Rome after offering Mass at Lisbon’s Tejo Park.
The Portugal event is the 17th global World Youth Day; the first took place at Vatican City in 1984.