Pope Francis will visit Portugal for World Youth Day, which is being held in Lisbon from August 1 to 6. The event will be the largest in the country’s history. It has posed a logistical and security challenge for state and local authorities: 16,000 police and emergency personnel will be mobilized, traffic will be cut off on major streets like the Avenida da Liberdade and border control will resume. A city of barely half a million inhabitants, Lisbon is expected to receive over a million people from all over the world this week. The visitors come to participate in the Catholic Church’s largest event. Given the proximity, Spaniards are the most represented nationality and account for almost 19% of the officially registered 313,000 pilgrims.
The preparations have involved much of the country. For instance, young Catholics like Mexican Anahi Lopez and Bolivian Brandon Vargas flocked to Oporto last week. Both belong to the group being hosted by Monica Nogueira’s family, which has opened their homes to some 25 visitors free of charge. “The Portuguese have given us a very warm welcome,” said Vargas, a 20-year-old industrial engineering student. His 23-year-old Mexican companion, who is studying marketing, was excited at the prospect of fulfilling her dream: “meeting the Pope and living with [other] young people.”
The Pontiff will arrive in Portugal on Wednesday, August 2, although his meetings with young people will not begin until the following day. On his first day in Lisbon, Pope Francis will hold institutional meetings with President of the Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Prime Minister António Costa, and the diplomatic corps. In addition to the ordinary excitement generated by the Pope’s trips, this time there is also interest in his health after he spent nine days in the hospital for surgery on an abdominal hernia at the beginning of June; this will be his first international trip after the operation. In March, the Pope was also hospitalized for three days with acute bronchitis, so there is concern about his health. Each time the Argentine Pope was discharged from the hospital, he joked: “I am still alive.” For the time being, the Vatican has kept the three international trips planned for August and September on his schedule; Pope Francis is expected to travel to Mongolia and France after his visit to Portugal.
The celebration of World Youth Day has sparked some controversy because of the public expense to the government and the municipalities where the event is being held: Lisbon, Loures and Oeiras. At the beginning of January, the authorities planned to allocate some €80 million of public funds for the event, which exceeded the €50 million Madrid invested when it hosted the 2011 World Youth Day. For its part, the Portuguese Church planned to contribute another €80 million, for a total expenditure of €160 million.
The main controversy surrounded the cost of an altar-stage, a structure designed to accommodate 2,000 people in the Tagus-Trancão Park, where the final Mass will be held; it initially had a budget of €5 million. Criticism forced a budget change to lower the cost of the work; unhappiness with spending that amount of money also prompted artist Bordalo II to set up his work Walk of Shame on the stairs of the controversial altar, where he spread a carpet with drawings of 500-euro bills last Thursday.
However, the mayor of Lisbon, Carlos Moedas (PSD, center-right), defends the economic and promotional benefits that the event will bring the city. “We will increase our investment by 10 to 20 times,″ the president of the Municipal Chamber said several times. Prime Minister Costa, who visited different event sites on Monday, downplayed the importance of its cost and stressed that it will generate “an immediate return” for the Portuguese economy.
500 events are planned for the week. These include a meeting between the Pope and Catholic University of Lisbon students, a visit to a disadvantaged neighborhood and a trip to the sanctuary of Fatima, where the Pope will pray with the sick and prisoners. The Vatican anticipated that the Pontiff would discuss the war in Ukraine in his prayer, but it did not say if the Pope will speak with the victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
The opening of events on Tuesday will coincide with the first of two days of strikes called by the National Federation of Doctors to protest the lack of fair salaries and the precarious working conditions in the national health system. The physicians have assured the pilgrims that they will have access to necessary care in emergencies and minimum healthcare services “will be scrupulously complied with.” This Tuesday, healthcare workers were also called to an afternoon protest in front of the Ministry of Health.
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