To Lisbon with St. Anthony

July 10 2023 | by

HUNDREDS of thousands of young people from around the globe are expected to descend upon Lisbon, Portugal, during the first week of August for the days of World Youth Day, a Catholic youth festival that takes place every few years seeking to energize young believers in the faith. Traveling with the young people this year – in a spiritual sense – will also be Saint Anthony of Padua.

Because of the deep connection between this year’s World Youth Day and St. Anthony, I travelled to Padua to interview Fr. Fabio Turrisendo, OFM Conv., who serves as one of the directors of the Center for Youth Ministry in northern Italy and lives in the friary annexed to the Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua.


Patron saint


Born in Lisbon in 1195, and given the name of Fernando Martins de Bulhões, Anthony, who would later become one of the Catholic Church’s most well-known heroes for his commitment to the poor and vulnerable, has been named one of the patron saints of World Youth Day 2023.

While there are officially thirteen patron saints for this year’s gathering – including Blessed Carlo Acutis, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, and Blessed Chiara Badano – Fr. Fabio Turrisendo notes that Saint Anthony is, in some ways, an outlier, as most of the patron saints are young people who were made saints fairly recently.

One of the goals of this World Youth Day, according to Fr. Fabio, is to “help young people discover that St. Anthony is a young saint, too.”

“The core part of his vocation was in his twenties, so he is a youth,” the Franciscan friar added.


Relevant role model


However, it is not just about age for Fr. Fabio, who believes that the Paduan Saint was wrestling with some of the same questions nearly 800 years ago that young people today are seeking to answer.

The goal, said the Franciscan friar, is to try and help young people see the parallels in Saint Anthony’s life to their own lives.

The official motto of this year’s World Youth Day is Mary arose and went with haste.  The motto is taken from the Gospel of Luke.

In the lead up to the August gathering, Fr. Fabio has been reflecting on what moved inside of Saint Anthony’s own life that made him reject the life of wealth and riches that he had been born into, and dedicate his life to missionary work.


Like Mary


When the then-Fernando was still young, he received the news that five Franciscan friars who were evangelizing in Morocco had been beheaded in 1220. The young priest was deeply affected by what he had learned and – like Mary, “arose and went with haste” – soon thereafter joining the young Franciscan order and adopting the name Anthony.

What hastens you to move is a “question for young people today,” Fr. Fabio told me. “With Anthony, it was his encounter with the five martyred Franciscan missionaries.”

“He didn’t say, ‘oh, it’s dangerous out there, I have to close myself up in monastery.’” Fr. Fabio continued. “No, he said ‘I want to go there, I want to spend all of my life and give all of my blood to spread the Gospel.’”

Despite various health impairments, a shipwreck, and other setbacks, Anthony’s zeal for preaching the Gospel never diminished up until the time of his early death at age 35. Less than a year after his death, Pope Gregory IX declared him a saint in 1232, in one of the swiftest canonizations in the history of the Catholic Church. In 1946, due to the theological richness of his sermons, Pope Pius XII declared him a Doctor of the Church, a title given to saints who have made a significant contribution to the Church’s theology and doctrine.

“St. Anthony’s sermons are theological and homiletical texts that echo the live preaching in which Anthony proposes a true and proper itinerary of Christian life,” Pope Benedict XVI said in 2010. “We can still read them today with great spiritual profit.” The late Pope went on to quote from St. Anthony himself, recalling his words that “If you preach Jesus, he will melt hardened hearts; if you invoke him he will soften harsh temptations; if you think of him he will enlighten your mind; if you read of him he will satisfy your intellect.”


Pope Francis


As Fr. Fabio journeys from northern Italy to Portugal in August with some 170 young people from the region and approximately 1,000 from the Conventual Franciscan family, he wants this legacy and example of Saint Anthony to guide their reflections.

In the same way Anthony encountered setbacks – and illnesses prevented him from preaching and celebrating Mass – he did not allow the obstacles and failures to eclipse his faith. What better example, said Fr. Fabio, is there to have in mind en route to World Youth Day.

Established by Pope John Paul II in 1985, World Youth Day was designed for young people around the globe to have an encounter with other youth from the universal Church. Over the last four decades, millions of young people have attended these events, many of whom have gone on to cite these formative experiences as part of their religious vocation, eventual marriage or another significant turning point in their life. 

In Lisbon, during the week of August 1-6, there will be daily catechesis, concerts and other youth festivals, and Pope Francis – who will be present in the Portuguese capital from August 2-6 – will preside over a Way of the Cross, a prayer vigil and a concluding Mass.

On August 5, Francis will also make a pilgrimage of his own to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, the site of a 1917 Marian apparition where visions of Mary were reported by three shepherd children, who claimed that the Virgin Mary told them secrets about the future of the Catholic Church and the world. Francis previously visited the shrine in 2017 to mark the 100th anniversary of the apparition.


Vocations Fair


A May 22 statement from the Portuguese bishops’ conference expressed “great joy” ahead of the Pope’s arrival for World Youth Day, and noted that it will be “the longest stay ever made by a Supreme Pontiff to our country.”

Organizers have announced a series of special events that will take place throughout the city’s parks, museums, theaters and auditoriums, in an effort to show “that the Catholic Church is a living and young Church, able to use the languages and art forms of today without compromising the message it intends to transmit.” 

Among other activities planned during the week will be a Vocations Fair that will introduce young people to various religious movements and lay associations in the Church and a ‘Forgiveness Park’ that will be home to some 150 confessionals where priests will offer confessions in a range of languages.


Experience of encounter


Originally scheduled to take place last summer, the youth festival was moved from 2022 to August 2023 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pope Francis has expressed his desire that this year’s celebration will be a chance for young people to come together after several years of remaining distanced.

“After long periods of distance and isolation, in Lisbon – with God’s help – you will experience the joy of meeting God and your brothers and sisters,” the Pope wrote in a letter to pilgrims planning to attend. “We will rediscover together the joy of the fraternal embrace between peoples and between generations, the embrace of reconciliation.”

For the Franciscan friar, part of the potential power of World Youth Day is the experience of encountering each other.

In the same way that Elizabeth recognized something was happening with Mary, leading her to exclaim “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” Fr. Fabio said World Youth Day might very well prove to be a moment when, through encountering other people, someone from the outside might be able to recognize something that’s happening on the inside of someone else.

World Youth Day, said Fr. Fabio, will be a chance to, like Saint Anthony, reconsider the question “what role does the word of God play in my life?”

Many young people today, he said, are “a little in, and a little out” of Church life. “If you don’t believe in God, who or what do you trust in?” he asked.


New answers


Pope John Paul II believed that this was the essential question that World Youth Day sought to ask and answer.

“It is Jesus you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle,” he told the youth from around the globe who traveled to Rome for World Youth Day in 2000.

“It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal,” he continued.

In Lisbon, this summer, Fr. Fabio believes that young people – following in the footsteps of Saint Anthony and Pope Saint John Paul and many others – will find that answer anew.


Updated on July 19 2023