LISBON, Portugal — Pope Francis told young people on Sunday that the Catholic Church needs them and urged them to follow their dreams as he wrapped up World Youth Day in Portugal with a massive open-air Mass and an announcement that the next edition would be held in Asia for the first time in three decades.
News that Seoul, South Korea, would host World Youth Day in 2027 was a reflection of the continent’s increasing importance to the Catholic Church, given that the church is young and growing there, whereas it is withering in traditionally Christian lands in Europe.
Francis made the announcement at the end of a Mass before an estimated 1.5 million pilgrims, many of whom camped out overnight on the Lisbon field so they could be in place for the grand finale of the Catholic festival. Joining them were some 700 bishops and 10,000 priests, the Vatican said.
Later, before departing, Francis went to thank some of the event’s roughly 30,000 international volunteers. They assembled at a riverside site despite afternoon heat that reached around 104 degrees and prompted authorities to issue an extreme weather alert. The pontiff appeared uncomfortable in the heat as he toured the site in an open-topped popemobile, but he was at ease as he gave a speech from a shaded stage.
Francis largely stuck to the script at the Mass but again skipped much of his prepared homily, continuing the improvisation that has characterized his five-day trip to Portugal to preside over the Lisbon edition of World Youth Day.
Early on in his 10-year papacy, Francis would frequently go rogue and ignore his pre-planned speeches, seemingly moved by the moment to engage directly with the crowd. In more recent years, he largely has stuck to the script, especially when visiting places where Christians are a minority or where his audiences might not appreciate his informal style.
But in Lisbon, he was back on comfortable turf, with many people who can easily follow his native Spanish and seemed to appreciate his conversational way of communicating. They also seemed to appreciate the massive turnout.
“I never thought that so many people would come,” said Ana Garcia Prat, a 23-year-old Spanish pilgrim in Lisbon. “In my head, I never pictured a Mass with so many people from so many different countries.”