LISBON, Portugal (21:50 local time) — Today, the World Youth Day (WYD) organization released the official statistics of the event. At the time of the briefing, there were 354,000 registered pilgrims.

Some critics have claimed that this is the lowest attendance since St. John Paul II first began WYD in 1986. This claim, however, is based on an interpretation of incomplete data.

“These numbers can change, since registrations only end at the final day of WYD,” said Jorge Messias, the WYD logistics director. “This is just the first day of the event, there are many pilgrims still arriving.”

The peak attendance of each WYD usually happens at the time of the Vigil and closing Mass, during the last two days of the gathering.

Messias also noted that the data does not yet account for unregistered pilgrims. Citing precedent from previous WYDs, the logistics director highlighted that, for each registered pilgrim, there are usually an additional two or three unregistered pilgrims that attend the final Mass.

Civil authorities are preparing for an attendance of around one million pilgrims. This would place the attendance of this WYD around the median number of participants when compared with past WYDs. Since 1985, there have been six WYDs (out of 15) with an attendance of fewer than one million pilgrims.

This is also the WYD with participation from the greatest number of nationalities in history. “There are pilgrims enrolled from every single country of the world, except the Maldives,” said Messias, quipping immediately afterwards, “If you know anyone from the Maldives who might be interested, please tell us and we will fetch them!”

The organizers of WYD Lisbon have also mentioned repeatedly how this is the largest gathering ever organized by Portugal. Even as a small country, Portugal is no stranger to hosting international events. In 1998, Portugal hosted an international exposition, and in 2004, the 12th UEFA European Championship.

The scope and dimension of this WYD gathering is, however, unprecedented in this country. Taking into consideration solely the number of currently registered pilgrims, the number of WYD attendees is equivalent to 3% of Portugal’s population. If the projection of one million pilgrims holds true, then approximately one out of ten people in Portuguese territory will be concentrated at the closing Mass with Pope Francis.

As of this writing, crowds of pilgrims are flooding the streets of Lisbon, flocking to the opening Mass, and thunderously singing “This is the youth of the pope!” Organizers will continue to update the statistics until the final day of the event.


Photo: ©️ Sebastiao Roxo / JMJ Lisboa 2023. Flickr. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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Pedro Gabriel, MD, is a Catholic layman and physician, born and residing in Portugal. He is a medical oncologist, currently employed in a Portuguese public hospital. A published writer of Catholic novels with a Tolkienite flavor, he is also a parish reader and a former catechist. He seeks to better understand the relationship of God and Man by putting the lens on the frailty of the human condition, be it physical and spiritual. He also wishes to provide a fresh perspective of current Church and World affairs from the point of view of a small western European country, highly secularized but also highly Catholic by tradition.

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