Fratello at JMJ : Fratello’s Pilgrim Mother’s Travel Diary

The Fratello group at the Cambo-les-Bains stage in the Basque Country

Fratello at JMJ Day 7 – 5 August 2023

Lisbon is definitely not wheelchair-friendly. Between cobblestones, climbs in all directions and high steps in the pavement, Julien artfully steers the ladies’ bicycles through the crowd of young people heading for the “Campo da Graça” (Campo de Graça), where the vigil with the Pope will take place. In the end, the vehicles proved invaluable in making their way through the crowd: Fratello’s group put them in the lead to move forward more quickly. It has to be said that the 35 degrees, the heat of which I can feel in my rucksack, make this walk of several hours feel like an exodus.

Besides the meeting with the Holy Father, my flock has a special mission: to get his blessing for my statue. While the statue was being made, Fratello sent a letter to Pope Francis, introducing me and asking him to bless me during WYD. And you know what? Pope Francis replied in his own handwriting that he would. My children are delighted that the 10 VIP seats – the ones closest to the Pope – offered to them will allow them to fulfil this wish. Moved by their zeal, I gave them an extra boost: another 10 seats became available! In a deep moment of recollection, they decided to invoke the Holy Spirit to tell them which of them should go. Peacefully, a few hands were raised in turn, while some pointed to others.

I’d like to point out that the VIP seats were given to the Fratellis, thanks to whom the other young people were able to spend the vigil as close as possible to the Blessed Sacrament and the Pope. So if you still don’t believe that the poor, my dear children, bring you closer to Christ at the speed of light, here’s concrete proof!

This was only the beginning of their celebrations, which continued with the Pope’s address. In particular, he reminded them that “we have roots of joy in others” for which it is good to get into the habit of giving thanks. But how can we become those roots of joy? By learning the “art of walking” with… myself! Patiently practising the art of walking together is the programme I propose to my children. “Nothing in life is free, but the Love of Jesus is free”: that is why, before my Son who offers himself, so vulnerable, in the Host of the Blessed Sacrament, bishops and young pilgrims, cardinals and Fratelli, kneel together in absolute silence.

The Holy Father blesses the Pilgrim Mother in Fratello

Fratello at JMJ: Day 6 – 4 August 2023

Hoy es un día típToday is a typical day for my young people in Lisbon: conferences of all kinds, mass with other dioceses, cultural visits… and the traditional food queues!

But Fratello does not abandon his uniqueness for long: the group introduces other young people to the little way of love by leading a vigil around the relics of St Teresa of the Child Jesus. Two original approaches are proposed to put the communion of saints into practice: writing a letter to St Teresa – to be returned to the writer in a year’s time – and washing the feet of others, as Jesus did with his disciples. In the warmth of the little church, various fraternal bonds are forged or strengthened before my tender eyes. Diane becomes Cindy’s scribe. So it is only natural that the other offers to help her write her letter, bringing the souls of the two young women closer together on the path to holiness.

In the little church of Saint-Louis-des-Français, in Lisbon, my Church militant and my Church triumphant respond to each other.

Fratello at JMJ: Day 5 – 3 August 2023

I am delighted to see my pilgrims living their day under the seal of friendship. In the morning, the catechesis led by the Bishop of Soissons enlightened them on the meaning of social dialogue, in the light of Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti. It was the perfect occasion to involve one of our Fratelli. Ludo, who has been living in a shared flat for some time now after months of hardship, shared his story with the 400 young people gathered in front of him. He explained how he gradually recovered, guided by the love and presence of his flatmates.

Then they all go to mass, before my flock heads off to Lisbon, where conferences, concerts and shows of all kinds await them. In the evening, friendship is again the protagonist, this time in practice. A large banquet organised by Fratello in collaboration with the Conférence des Evêques de France brought together guests from all walks of life, both socially and geographically. The Congolese were seated next to the pilgrims from Panama, and conversations soon flowed. But already the songs of adoration were resounding in the neighbouring church, where a magnificent Mercy Vigil gathered all our guests around my Son. Eucharistic adoration and the sacrament of reconciliation close the day, renewing our friendship with God.

Fratello at JMJ: Day 4 – 2 August 2023

The Fratello group discovers the message and the shrine of Fatima

Take a look, my children are dazzled! Blinking, they arrive at the great central square of my shrine of Fatima, as if their eyes were not yet ready to receive the light of my message.

Between a briefing and theatrical and sporting activities, everyone went about their business with me. William and a group of other pilgrims walk the Rosary route: they walk to the Chapel of Apparitions on their knees, praying the rosary, up to my statue. With a beaming smile, he says he is touched that so many pilgrims do it.

Father Richard said mass in a chapel that looked like a catacomb, decorated only with a large golden cross. The chapel was immediately filled with the singing of the group, accompanied by Agnès

In the evening, several pilgrims shared their Fratello experience. One of them realised that the Fratellis reminded her that she did not have to “save the world”, as she had simply been given the opportunity to live all these moments with them. For Jeanne, it is the Fratellis who evangelise her, because of their ability to name her weakness so simply and to live with it despite appearances. Astrid underlines that paying attention to the most obvious weaknesses of some people enriches us, because this particular attention extends to the whole group.

Fratello at JMJ: Day 3 – 1 August 2023

My pilgrims are making more and more discoveries. I saw them wake up this morning in Spain, at the seminary in Palencia, where they spent a few hours before setting off again for Portugal. It is quite an adventure when, like some of our fratelli, you have never left France!

Cindy and Doris help to prepare the mass

Preparing the mass with the rest of her team is another plunge into the unknown for Doris, who has come all the way to Lisbon with her daughter Cindy. Doris has never been involved in choosing the songs for a Eucharistic celebration before. I’m a regular at Mass, but organising it is something else. Despite her anxiety at the thought of speaking in public, she agreed to announce the hymn page to the entire congregation gathered in the chapel. “I’m proud,” she says afterwards, “and happy to have overcome my anxiety and to have been part of a group that had to prepare the mass.

Arrival in Fatima!

The arrival in Fatima at the end of the day is an opportunity for new cultural and spiritual discoveries. The spi team explained the message of Mary’s apparitions to the three shepherds, while Father Richard traced the history of Portugal from its foundation to the present day. The vigil revealed the artistic talents of many of my pilgrims, who enthusiastically embodied Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, bringing to life the message of Fatima, whose shrine we would explore the following day.

I am delighted to see that all my pilgrims have a great thirst to discover God and his desires.

Fratello at JMJ: Day 2 – 31 July 2023

How happy I am! My mother’s heart rejoices to see that, in just one day, my fifty or so children, all very different from each other, already feel united by a fraternal bond. Camille, for example, is touched by “the particularly warm welcome, from everyone to everyone, as if we already knew each other and were all part of the same family”. For her, “it reflects the love of Christ for each one of us”. Claire, who arrived alone through a Facebook group advertising the WYD initiative with Fratello, marvelled at her fellow travellers, who were very open to meeting each other and far from forming intimidating groups. Even Anne, who joined a day after the departure, did not feel out of place in the group: “There were many people who did not know each other and that reassured me”.

The group’s multiple talents form a joyful cocktail, infusing the band with a constant cheerfulness. As the sweltering heat greeted us at the Spanish motorway service area, Héloïse wielded her guitar and led a few – whose number quickly increased – in songs of the French variety. In the evening, Jacinthe gave us a hip hop demonstration to kick off the evening, enlivened by the Swiss, who introduced us to their country and their magic tricks to celebrate their holidays.

Jacinthe captivates the group with a hip-hop demonstration at the San José Seminary in Palencia, Spain.
Father Richard tells us about Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the church of Cambo-les-Bains, a stopover in the French Basque Country.

Is it the moments of prayer that unite them? Some of them are encouraged by the daily mass, which puts them in communion with Christ himself and with the whole Church, through my intercession. This morning, four centuries of Basque piety, in particular Marian devotion, precede them in the 17th century church of Saint-Laurent in Cambo-les-Bains. In the richly ornamented baroque choir, where the walls are painted in shades of blue and purple, more striking than the gold, Father Richard reminds them of the proximity of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, whom we are celebrating today. The founder of the Jesuits was born in the Spanish Basque Country, a land that seems to ignore the Pyrenean border. Under my tender gaze, the Jmjistas of Fratello wholeheartedly sing hymns to my Son, as they do during the morning and evening prayers and other blessings that punctuate the different moments of the day, to the delight of some.

Nikolai disagrees, however, and says that the prayer times are “a bit too much”, because he is “not used to it”. Less clear, his Swiss friends say they “listen” to prayers they don’t know. They prefer not to go to mass, because church brings back too many painful memories.

In any case, the cohort of fuchsia pink hats, gathered in the silence of the night, merely threw their thanks for the day at my feet.

Fratello at JMJ: Day 1 – 30 July 2023

Here we go! From my perch, I watch the unusual group about to leave for Lisbon. I am the statue of the Virgin Mary of Fratello. Inspired by Our Lady of the Poor of Aubrac, I was sculpted and then cast in white plaster and resin for the occasion. As a pilgrim Virgin, I accompany the Fratello group, facing the congregation during times of prayer or tucked into a bag of my favourite colour during travels. The two editors had fun giving me a voice during the week. They came from all over France (and even further afield! I see a few Swiss people coming through the door) to follow me to Portugal to meet Pope Francis. Some got involved in the project months ago (they are the friends, our friendly organisers), others decided to come just a few days or even a few hours ago.

Before boarding the coach that will take them first to the Basque Country, they get to know each other across social differences and creeds.

I accompanied them to the chapel in Paris, where we stayed until our departure. We attended mass together, carried away by the joyful beauty of the instruments, and were sent on mission by Father Richard, who will accompany us to Lisbon.

His Portuguese mother made him the ideal guide for the adventure that was about to begin.

Once on the road, they chatted a bit before looking for sleep, sometimes in vain, during the breaks that put them in contact with other groups of young people already on their way to Portugal.

Preamble / Opening the Doors of the Church: Fratello in the JMJ

Created in 1984 by Pope John Paul II, World Youth Days (WYD) regularly bring together young people from all over the world around the Holy Father. For a few days, it is an opportunity to meet Catholics from very different cultures and to deepen their faith around a spiritual theme set by the Supreme Pontiff. After the 2019 edition, which took place in Panama, WYD 2023 will be held in Lisbon from 30 July to 7 August. The young people will reflect on this Gospel passage: “Mary got up and set out in haste” (Luke 1:39).

Fratello will take a delegation of about fifty young people to Portugal. Responsible for the material and spiritual organisation, twenty of them will have the privilege of serving the other young people, who are in a precarious situation. The latter will be accompanied by 5 leaders of their association. They will all go on pilgrimage for a week under the guidance of a chaplain, Father Richard Escudier. This initiative responds to the dual message of Pope Francis, who regularly invites the Church to refocus on marginalised people, while encouraging missionary zeal. Proposing to young people far from the Church and disadvantaged by life to join JMJ within an association is a way of proclaiming the message of Christ to those whose material needs are too often prioritised to the detriment of their spiritual quest. The associations joining Fratello for JMJ are diverse and bring together both people who have lived on the streets and people with disabilities: Le Village de François, l’Association pour l’Amitié (APA), Lazare, a group from the canton of Vaud. Each day, we will spend time together in prayer and service, leading a community life anchored in Christ.

Our group will leave Paris by coach on 30 July and will make several stops on the way to Portugal. In particular, we will stop at Fatima, a Marian shrine, where we will meditate on the message of the apparitions transmitted by the Virgin Mary. Once we arrive in Lisbon, we will share several highlights that will give us the opportunity to meet other young people from all over the world. On Thursday morning, we will co-lead a catechesis with Cort and Passy on the theme of social friendship, which will include teaching, sharing and personal prayer. Then, on Thursday afternoon, we will have the joy of participating in the ceremony welcoming the Pope in Lisbon. Then, in collaboration with Jeunes Pros, we will invite several associations of people in precarious situations to a banquet of fraternal friendship. On Friday evening, we will have a moment of Fratello prayer around the relics of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus. Finally, on Saturday we will join 2 million young people for the final gathering, where we will have a large adoration vigil with the Pope until the closing mass of JMJ 2023 on Sunday morning.

Fratello will allow young people from all horizons to share unforgettable moments with many others, centred on the message of Christ and the ecclesial community.

We can’t wait to tell you about our adventures.

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