Young Christians afflicted by war and poverty in Syria and Lebanon will be able to participate in this year’s World Youth Day (WYD) at local events in parallel with the main gathering in Lisbon, Portugal.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) will be helping to create a WYD experience as close to the main event as possible for those unable to travel to Lisbon because of financial and other difficulties.
More than 1,000 young people will be attending the gathering on Mount Lebanon at the same time as Pope Francis is meeting pilgrims in Portugal.
Roy Jreich, a representative of the Youth Department of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops and Patriarchs of Lebanon, told ACN: “This event symbolises optimism, continuity and joy, along with unforgettable experiences which will allow the young people to continue the Church’s mission and develop in different ways.”
Xavier Bisits, ACN head of Syria and Lebanon projects, said: “Young Lebanese Catholics are enduring poverty, unemployment, and suffering from the collapse of their country’s political system.
“Today, most young Catholics graduating from university immediately leave the country.
“Our goal in this project is not only to unite the different Catholic rites – Maronite, Melkite, Syriac, Armenian, Chaldean and Latin – but also to encourage young people as they make difficult decisions and figure out their future in a country that is falling apart.”
Around 1,000 young people are expected to take part in the first meeting of its kind in Saidnaya, southern Syria – home to Saidnaya Monastery, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, which has been an important Christian pilgrimage site for more than 1,500 years.
Mr Bisits said: “Given the many jihadist attacks suffered by Saidnaya during the civil war, the fact that this event is able to take place at all is a small miracle.”
He added that young people from Orthodox backgrounds are also welcome to attend the events.
Both festivals will include workshops, catechesis sessions, adoration and liturgical celebrations, mirroring the traditional WYD format.
Some of the main events in Lisbon will also be broadcast live at the meetings in Lebanon and Syria.
In a message to those attending the Syrian gathering, Pope Francis said: “I call on the young people in Syria to carry Jesus like Mary and bring him to everyone, so that they, in turn, can be bearers of his love.”
The Pope added: “I also invite them to persevere in their faith, their hope and their love for one another and for their country, and not to lose hope in a better future.”