Pope Francis

Pope announces World Youth Day to return to Asia in 2027, urges young people ‘not to be afraid'

He made the announcement Sunday at the end of his five-day trip to Portugal

Pope Francis waves to the crowd during the 37th World Youth Day
AP Photo/Armando Franca

Pope Francis told young people on Sunday 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 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.

Francis largely stuck to script Sunday 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 even huge crowds of people. In more recent years, he largely stuck to script especially when visiting places where Christians are a minority or where his audiences might not appreciate his informal style.

But in Lisbon, he’s been back on comfortable turf, with many people who can easily follow his native Spanish and seem to appreciate his conversational way of communicating. They also seem 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.”

On Sunday, Francis urged the young people to follow their dreams and not be afraid of failing, reprising a theme that St. John Paul II frequently repeated during his quarter century of World Youth Days.

“As young people, you want to change the world and it is good that you want to change the world and work for justice and peace,” Francis said. “The Church and the world need you, the young, as much as the earth needs rain.”

“Do not be afraid!” he said.

Francis gave a special shout-out to John Paul, recalling that he launched the World Youth Day events in the 1980s to inspire the next generation of Catholics. It was John Paul who presided over one of the largest-ever Youth Day gatherings, in Manila, Philippines in 1995, the last time the festival was held in Asia.

After Francis announced Seoul would host the 2027 edition, South Korean youths bearing a huge national flag jumped on the stage in glee. A half-century ago, Catholics represented about 1 percent of the South Korean population; today they represent 10 percent of the population of 50 million, and Vatican statistics show that more than 100,000 people are baptized every year.

Usually, faith festivals are held in August, the hottest month in South Korea. Even this year, there were calls to cut short a big international scout festival because of excessive heat.

Notably, Francis didn’t promise to be in Seoul – he will be 90 in 2027. But he noted there will be an earlier occasion for a youth jamboree in 2025 when the Vatican hosts a Jubilee year expected to draw more than 30 million pilgrims to Rome.

Over the last few days, Francis has ditched speeches in favor of off-the-cuff conversations with young people and substituted a formal prayer for peace in Ukraine at the Fatima shrine, long associated with exhortations of peace and conversion in Russia. The Vatican later published part of the prayer on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

Responding to questions about whether the pope’s health is the reason behind his ignored speeches, the Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, said Francis is in good shape and isn’t suffering any eyesight problems that might make reading his remarks difficult.

The young people seemed thrilled with all that he’s been saying. They braved a searing temperature of 38 degrees C (100 F) on Saturday to be in place for his evening vigil service.

They woke Sunday as the sun rose over the River Tagus. Many had slept on mats, cots and the bare ground to be in place for Francis’ Mass, scheduled for early to avoid midday temperatures that were expected to hit 40 degrees C (104 F). Starting at dawn, a priest-DJ started spinning thumping reggae and Christian hymns from the sound system.

Francis’ message this week has been one of inclusivity, insisting that “everyone, everyone, everyone” has a place in the church. That is consistent with his message that the church isn’t a place of rigid rules where only the perfect can be let in, but rather a “field hospital” for wounded souls, where all are welcome.

Lisbon Cardinal Manuel Clemente said the pope wanted the event to be “open … to everyone, showing the breadth of the Gospel, which excludes no one and is open to all.”

“It’s something really important in today’s world to accept us as we are, and to know our place as Christians, and to validate it,” said Doriane Kilundu, a 23-year-old pilgrim from the Democratic Republic of Congo. “We really support the message of the pope and we are happy to be here.”

Kilundu said the experience of spending the night on the field, with 1.5 million other people of faith, was a first for her and other Congolese pilgrims.

“I’m in the company of young girls from my country that for the first time are confronted with people from other places, and to understand that we are one nation, and for us is beautiful,” she said.


Filipe Bento and Jorge Jeronimo contributed.


Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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