News 09 Aug 2023

Portugal: ACN gives a voice to the persecuted Church at WYD in Lisbon

Tens of thousands of young people took part in a variety of ACN initiatives during World Youth Day in Lisbon (WYD).

The pontifical charity ensured that persecuted Christians from around the world were not forgotten, reminding those present of these brothers and sisters who are, so often, true Heroes of the Faith.

Exhibitions, conferences, documentaries, calls to prayer and sharing. These were some of the many proposals that Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) had for the hundreds of thousands of young people who turned Lisbon into the capital of the Catholic World during WYD, thereby providing a platform for the reality of persecuted Christians in the world. The initiatives and events were very well received by the pilgrims, especially the booth at the City of Joy, which proved to be one of the most popular among visitors, as was the exhibition in the cloisters of the old Graça Convent, where the reality of the persecuted Church was translated into first person accounts of people who, in different countries, are examples of fidelity to Christ. Another event that proved popular with young people, receiving thousands of visits every day, was the exhibition of religious artefacts damaged by ISIS during the years when it controlled large areas of Syria and Iraq, which was held in the Martyrs Basilica, in Chiado. 

The importance of these exhibitions and the realities they tried to pass on to the young people from around the world was highlighted by the director of the Portuguese office of ACN during a briefing with journalists, on Saturday morning. “Despite the fact that we are experiencing a moment of joy, faith and sharing, we must not forget the places where the Church is persecuted”, said Catarina Martins de Bettencourt. The director also stressed ACN’s commitment to the countries where Christian communities face difficulties, and reminded journalists that in countries such as Lebanon and Syria, young Christians who were unable to attend WYD in Lisbon held parallel events. “There are many young people in the world who could not be here, and whom we are supporting”, Catarina Bettencourt said, adding that they had been able to “celebrate in an atmosphere of faith and joy”, and gathered for a vigil and missioning Mass at the same time as those events were taking place in Lisbon. 

Also present at the briefing was Joaquin Javaloyes, a Spaniard who volunteers with ACN. The young man highlighted how important it was to stand in solidarity with persecuted communities, and said that he found it a privilege to be in contact with those who live in countries where there is no religious freedom, or where Christians face great difficulties. In his opinion, “the testimonies of our brothers and sisters are comparable to pages from the Gospels. God speaks to me very clearly in the field of cooperation, he calls me to love, to the cross and to resurrection. He fills me with youth, joy, courage and care”, the young Spanish volunteer explained. 

ACN also participated in Lisbon’s WYD through a series of documentaries that were exhibited in the São Jorge Cinema, followed by short conferences, highlighting the experience of priests and laypeople who are committed to the work of the Church. Two Christians also spoke about their own experiences. Joseph Fadelle, from Iraq, talked about the difficulties he faced when he converted to Christianity. Having been born and raised in a Shia Muslim family, he was arrested and tortured in Iraqi prisons after coming to Christ. He later managed to escape to Jordan with his wife and two children, where an uncle and one of his own brothers tried to murder him, while the highest religious authority issued a fatwa against him. The hundreds of young Catholic pilgrims who packed the conference hall also had the opportunity of hearing Rafi Ghattas, a young Palestinian Christian, tell them what it is like to live in the Holy Land, the land of Jesus, where Christians currently form less than 1% of the Population. 

ACN’s presence at the WYD was also marked by the message sent to the foundation on the very first day by Bishop António Juliasse, of Pemba, about the conflict in Cabo Delgado. Even though the issue is no longer being spoken of in the press, the war is causing untold suffering to young Mozambicans. The bishop issued an appeal, through ACN, for the young people in Lisbon to denounce the situation and express their solidarity with the people of Mozambique. 

“Dear young people, WYD pilgrims. In Cabo Delgado there is a war that the world does not speak of. We have already counted around one million internally displaced, and around five thousand dead.”

A young girl from Cabo Delgado also shared her testimony with the world during the Saturday night vigil, telling the Pope about how she and her family had to escape into the bush when terrorists attacked their village, twice. 

ACN also created a virtual chapel during WYD, inviting young people to pray and light a candle in memory of all those who suffer around the world for their faith. Over 1,600 candles were lit during the WYD week.

- By Paulo Aido 

Featured Image: ACN Portugal staff at World Youth Day Lisbon 2023. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.

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