World Youth Day 2023 Chronicles: The Joy and Heart of Pilgrimage

4 reflections on the initial impacts of WYD in Lisbon

Clockwise from left: Kevin and Melissa McCartney enjoy their visit to Fatima, attend the opening Mass of WYD (as Jesus in the Eucharist is brought to the pilgrims), and smile with their parish pilgrimage group in Lisbon.
Clockwise from left: Kevin and Melissa McCartney enjoy their visit to Fatima, attend the opening Mass of WYD (as Jesus in the Eucharist is brought to the pilgrims), and smile with their parish pilgrimage group in Lisbon. (photo: Courtesy photos)

Editor’s Note: Kevin McCartney blogs from Lisbon, where he and his wife, Melissa, are attending World Youth Day with a group of pilgrims from their Colorado parish. You can follow their other marriage-minded travel adventures at Million Mile Marriage.

LISBON, PortugalThe enthusiasm is palpable across the city. Spontaneous songs and chants can be heard reverberating from the streets, in the tunnels of the metro, and bouncing off the nearby hillside. Around every corner awaits another multitude excitedly heading toward their next event. The sea of people moving in all directions is nearly overwhelming, yet there is a unique sense of peace and calm amidst the perception of chaos. With so much happening all around me, it has been profound to sit with a vending-machine espresso to reflect on the initial impacts of World Youth Day. 


1. The Beauty of Patriotism: “Love of country” is abundant among the assembly of nations represented here in Lisbon. Beneath their respective flags, you will find Brazilians dancing; Mexicans belting out the lyrics of their favorite songs; the Taiwanese chanting at the top of their lungs, “Tai-Wan! Tai-Wan! Tai-Wan!” There is also a strong representation from neighboring Spain and the rest of mainland Europe. According to the official social media of WYD ’23, every nation except for one is represented here (apparently nobody came from the Maldives). There is equally a pride of where people come from and an enthusiasm for each other’s motherlands. While the individual pride in a homeland is strong, it has been so evident to me how there is a greater love for one another and the Catholic Church. 


McCartney WYD
Clockwise from left: Melissa and Kevin McCartney are all smiles in Lisbon; they attend Mass in Fatima, with an army of young clergy, a private Mass one morning with their parish group in the hotel, and share a scene from the WYD opening Mass.(Photo: Courtesy photos)

2. There Is Hope for the World Here in Portugal: For every person present, I know there are so many more who couldn’t make the journey. The multitude gathered here in Lisbon is a mere sampling of the billion others who passionately share our faith. In a time where the world can feel dark and hopeless, I see true evidence for hope represented here. While I’m generally aware of the movement in Catholic young people, to see it in action has made me so excited about the future. I have met so many dynamic and vibrant seminarians, religious sisters, newly ordained deacons and priests, and other young adults with an incredible grasp on their own discernment of God’s will in their lives. The formation, catechesis and deep spiritual life of this generation has reaffirmed a strong sense of hope and optimism in my heart. 

3. Be Joyful; It’s Contagious! As we’ve navigated the beautifully tiled streets of old Lisbon, I have been fascinated by interactions between the pilgrims and other tourists blindsided by this week’s events. At first, I felt bad for people inconvenienced by the crowds and closed streets, parks and city squares. But as I’ve paid attention to these encounters, I’ve been shocked by the joy the pilgrims have brought to so many others throughout the city. During lunch at a bistro in the heart of the action, I watched a crowd of French pilgrims sing at a neighboring restaurant. Nearby, an older couple eyed them suspiciously. But over the course of an hour, this couple went from seeming agitated to videoing the events on their phone and eventually joining in a song and getting up to dance with what seems liked their fellow countrymen. As they departed, I learned they were visiting from France and were unaware that WYD was happening this week. They couldn’t help but participate as the joy overflowed from the people around them. 

4. Relinquish Control and Embrace a Spirit of Poverty: During a private Mass in our hotel, our priest, Father Sean Conroy, of Our Lady of Lourdes parish in the Archdiocese of Denver, gave a homily on the spirit of poverty in the heart of a pilgrim. I’ve since recognized this in so many around me as we come together with the mission of harmoniously celebrating our faith and encountering Jesus more deeply in the Eucharist. As pilgrims, we must exercise the virtue of detachment and let go of all need for control. From Day One, very little of our initial itinerary has worked as we planned it. Organizing the movements of a group of 50 among an ocean of pilgrims is nearly impossible to accomplish. Regardless of the ever-evolving calendar, God has continued to come to us in his own way and reward us for showing up. This “poverty of control” and yielding to God’s plan as I work my way towards him has become a priority focus.

As I approach the back half of this packed week, I’m eager to find more tranquility amidst the excitement. I advance with a curious and receptive spirit to all that God has in store. As the sun beats down on us here in Lisbon, the joy of the Son shines even more brilliantly. Please pray for all of us in Portugal. 



The McCartneys were interviewed on EWTN ahead of World Youth Day 2023:

Be sure to watch WYD events on EWTN!