LISBON, Portugal (CNS) — Over a three-course meal with young people, Pope Francis cracked jokes and talked soccer but also addressed the tough topics that young Catholics are grappling with today, such as abortion and euthanasia.
“I expected to be more nervous, but it was all very calm,” Joana Maria Fialho de Andrade, 24, told Catholic News Service after eating lunch with the pope at the Vatican nunciature in Lisbon Aug. 4. “We all felt at home, very welcome.”
The Portuguese woman was one of 10 young people from various different countries –including a 17-year-old from the United States — who joined Pope Francis for lunch along with Cardinal Manuel do Nascimento Clemente of Lisbon and Cardinal-designate Américo Aguiar, an auxiliary bishop of Lisbon and executive secretary of the local organizing committee for World Youth Day 2023.
She said she was struck by the pope’s comments on coherence. “It’s important to be coherent, for us to be firm in our faith and to bring this faith into all parts of our life,” she said.
“Some of us asked for advice on how young people today can face some issues that are difficult, that are very talked about — we talked about euthanasia, abortion,” Clara Yacolca Farfan, 24 from Peru told CNS. In response, she said, the pope told them to “defend life.”
“We know that there are people that go through very strong situations, but the pope invited us care for life, because it is sacred and to do it from wherever we are,” she said. “We don’t have to do big things; simply, if you work in politics, defend life in politics, in whatever job you have defend life in whatever your position is.”
Other young people at the papal table were from Brazil, Philippines, Palestine and Equatorial Guinea. The lunch guests said the conversation took place primarily in Spanish.
Luis Cruz Duarte, 31, from Colombia said that the pope also encouraged them “not to leave grandparents on their own,” and, making a joke about soccer, compared life’s challenges to soccer balls shot toward a goal.
The pope told the young people to “be goalkeepers in life, and to prevent the bad things in life from scoring goals on you,” he said.
After the meal –pasta first, followed by meat and vegetables with ice cream for dessert — the pope jokingly asked Duarte for some Colombian coffee, he said.
Asked whether she told Pope Francis that the next World Youth Day should be in Africa, Maria Magdalena Ondo Mayie, 30, from Equatorial Guinea, took a small pause before saying, “It’s our secret.”
“It’s important to have a World Youth Day wherever it may be,” she said, “as long as the youth comes together in the name of Christ and that Mary our mother accompanies us, whether it’s here, in Japan, in India, in Africa, in the United States, as long as we are together as the family that we are.”