A real awakening, en masse

Bonhomie. Beautiful silence. Young people in exultation and exaltation. The Pope leading a Vigil. Such was the abiding power of World Youth Day.


By Julian Butler SJ

Being woken at 6:30am by a DJ playing beats on a turntable was unusual. Even more so given the DJ was a priest, decked out in Roman collar. More so again given I woke surrounded by a million others who had slept out overnight. As we rose, another half a million people were beginning to join us. We were the Church gathered from across the globe, there to be with the Pope for Mass on World Youth Day.

The day prior our group of 15 Australians had joined some 2,000 members of the global Jesuit community and walked the 12 kilometres from the historic Jesuit church of São Roque in the centre of Lisbon, Portugal to our sleeping spot. The walk had been made challenging by temperatures approaching 40 degrees.

Yet, as people gathered in the vast space set aside to accommodate us, even as the sun continued to beat down on us, there was a palpable sense of joy. Pilgrims delighting in one another. Smiling, hugging, holding one another as the evening cooled. It had been like this throughout Lisbon in the days prior. Young people singing, dancing, greeting one another, laughing. An infectious energy.

Prior to the final Mass of World Youth Day, which is more accurately a week of activities, the Pope led a Vigil and amidst the bonhomie was the most beautiful silence as we knelt before the Blessed Sacrament. All million or so of us. As powerful a moment as I have experienced.

Julian Butler SJ helping restore a chapel as part of his Magis experience. Photo courtesy of Julian Butler.

That’s the power of World Youth Day. The many and varied experiences of what it is to be part of the Church. Adoration, talks on social justice, praise and worship services, confessions, scripture sharing and catechesis, the Way of the Cross and, of course Mass. There is great communal energy and there are tender, personal moments.

I was privileged to accompany a group of young people connected with various works of the Jesuits from Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland first to the Jesuit-run Magis program and then World Youth Day.

In the week preceding the World Youth Day festivities Magis gathered 2,000 young people from around the world for some days of formation in Lisbon before and after pilgrims fanned out across Portugal and Spain for eighty different experiences of faith, service, pilgriming and community.

During these six-day experiences some of us worked on the restoration of a chapel for a small village community; others experienced a pilgrimage culminating in a night spent in a remote cave; others spent time learning about the religious music in different cultures and collaboratively crafting their own music; still others in our group participated in a program of learning about and in turn guiding tours of historical churches.

In each case those from the Australian and New Zealand group were joined by participants from four or five other countries. Each day we began together in prayer, and ended with a Magis circle, a process of communal examen and sharing. This meant that we entered the larger experience of World Youth Day grounded in personal relationships formed with others from across the global community of those involved in Jesuit ministries.

The two weeks in Portugal were deeply consoling. It really was a privilege to be with our group from Australia and New Zealand, part of the wider Jesuit community, part of the wider group of pilgrims from the Australian Church, who numbered over 3,000, and part of the global Church gathered with the Holy Father on that final morning. Gathered with one and a half million of the People of God, most of them under 30, was a palpable reminder that the Church is alive, full of joyful energy and a deep desire to serve.

World Youth Day 2023

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Julian Butler SJ copping a spray in a water fight whilst accompanying pilgrims from Australia & New Zealand at Magis & World Youth Day. Photo: Br Matt Wooters SJ.

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