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Beloved saints relics bring thousands to a Lisbon church

An exhibition at the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima in Lisbon, Portugal, displays relics of St. John Paul II, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, and Sts. Jacinta and Francisco Marto for veneration by pilgrims Aug. 1-4, 2023, at World Youth Day. (OSV News photo/JPII Project)

LISBON, Portugal (OSV News) — If one was to line up some rockstar saints loved by the youth, certainly the founder of World Youth Day, St. John Paul II, and vivid Italian hiker Pier Giorgio Frassati would be first in the line.

Their relics were available for veneration across four days of events, liturgies and speakers hosted by the JPII Project at Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima in Lisbon during World Youth Day, Aug. 1 to Aug. 4.

A vial of blood from the cassock that St. John Paul II was wearing when he was shot in 1981, the pickaxe and rosary of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati used on his deathbed, and a part of the coffin of the Sts. Jacinta and Francisco Marto, the young Fatima visionaries, brought thousands of pilgrims to pray in front of them.

Motivated to share the inspiring stories of the Polish pontiff and Blessed Frassati, who is also one of WYD Lisbon’s patron saints, JPII Project founders Corinne and Joe MacDonald coordinated one of the most popular, and lengthy, series of events for pilgrims at World Youth Day.

Even though there were dozens of churches open to visit, and other events scheduled around the Portuguese capital city, no other location featured such a unique opportunity to personally encounter, and touch, artifacts from the two saints.

Even though just 2,000 pilgrims had pre-registered for the event, organizers estimated at least 20,000 pilgrims came through the church doors, or at least tried to; at times the parish reached capacity and forced pilgrims to wait in lines outside.

The MacDonalds, who now live in Poland, said they were thrilled and excited to shine a light on the stories of John Paul II and Blessed Frassati for both pilgrims who knew well who they were and those who had never heard of the patron saints of young people.

“We wanted to bring the young people so they could pray for their vocations through the intercession of these two awesome saints that are role models for youth,” Corinne said. “We want to help young people through this prayer experience to grow and mature in their vocations and be prepared for what God wants them to do in their lives, and to become builders of a civilization of love and truth.”

At one point, as lines grew outside, the organizers made a decision to bring out the relics to the crowds, so that they could pray even as sessions continued within the church.

Volunteers with the program, including Corinne herself, stood outside with each relic, offering pilgrims the chance for a quiet moment to pray, reflect and simply be with each relic during what can be a chaotic World Youth Day experience. Pilgrims paused in meditation, others kissed the relics, while some chose to touch their holy articles, like prayer cards, rosaries and the like, to the relics.

With each visit, one by one, volunteers quietly explained the story behind each relic: Blessed Frassati’s pickaxe pointed to the Italian’s passion for adventure and mountain climbing; his rosary was a clear sign of his devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Another relic on display was also an image of Our Lady of Czestochowa that had belonged to the Polish pope. Several rosaries were led and prayed in the presence of the relics.

Across three days, a trio of bishops presided over Holy Hours, including Bishop Philip A. Egan of Portsmouth, United Kingdom, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver and Auxiliary Bishop Robert J. Lombardo, CFR, of Chicago.

During his Holy Hour, Archbishop Aquila encouraged the attendees of the overflowing church to quietly meditate on a crucifix in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

“Jesus has given his body and blood he has laid down his life for you,” he said. “Gaze on that crucifix and receive the truth that Jesus has died for you personally. He has died for every human being, and we must receive that gift every time we gaze upon the Eucharist.”

He told the young people to ask for that gift from the Lord, so that they could come to know His love.

“Jesus knows you with all your sins with all your wounds, with all that has happened to you in your lifetime,” he said. “Bring that to Him, and know that He desires to heal you, He desires to restore you, He desires to make you saints.”

Friday, Aug. 4 featured addresses by popular Catholics speakers, including Chris Stefanick and Jason Evert.

In his message, Evert said: “We are not having a crisis in our world of politics and ideology, we are in the midst of a crisis of saints. In this room there should be not one or two venerables. There should be saints flowing forth from this room — this is what the church needs more than anything.”

Stefanick urged the pilgrims to do as Pope Francis said, to not be afraid to talk about the issues and to proclaim the Gospel to every person, but to “always talk about them” in the context of the love of God the Father in Jesus Christ.

“Sometimes the eternal destiny of other people, and them finding the hope that Jesus gave to you, hinges on your courage on your being willing to step outside of your comfort zone,” he said.

A series of exhibits accompanied the events and brought to life the backgrounds and history of the beloved saints for youth.

James Ramos is a photojournalist for the Texas Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

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