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The 86-year-old underwent major abdominal surgery just two months ago. Image Credit: Reuters

Vatican: Pope Francis heads to Lisbon Wednesday, where a million youngsters from across the world are expected for a major Catholic festival, held as the Church reflects on its future.

The 86-year-old underwent major abdominal surgery just two months ago. That has not stopped him from lining up a packed 42nd trip abroad, with 11 speeches and around 20 meetings scheduled.

The Argentine Jesuit, whose direct and spontaneous style is very popular with young people, is expected to address youth-focused themes, from ecology and social justice to the war in Ukraine.

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The five-day event, called World Youth Day, comes as Francis attempts to galvanise young Catholics at a time when secularism and the priest paedophilia scandal cause some to abandon pews in Europe.

The pope, who is in increasingly fragile health and now uses a wheelchair or walking stick to get around, is expected to arrive at Lisbon's military airport around 10:00 am (0900 GMT).

He will then sit down with conservative Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa at Belem Palace.

Organisers expect a million pilgrims from over 200 countries for the week of festive, cultural and spiritual events, which opened Tuesday with a mass on top of a hill overlooking the city and the Tagus river.

Pilgrims carrying flags throng the streets of the capital, where roads are hung with banners and posters featuring the event's yellow, green and red logo.

With under two months to go before a global gathering in Rome on the future of the Church, the festival also serves as a barometer of young Catholics' opinions on hot-button issues.


Francis has tentatively outlined potential reforms to the Church during his papacy, including on the place of LGBTQ people and women, and whether priests can marry.

The pope, elected in 2013, will spend Wednesday meeting authorities and clergy in the country, where 80 percent of the 10 million inhabitants identify as Catholic.

He may talk about the clerical child sex abuse scandal, which was the subject of a shock report published in February by a commission of independent experts.

It found "at least" 4,815 children were sexually abused by clergy members in the country - mostly priests - since 1950, and the crimes were "systemically" hushed up by Portugal's church hierarchy.

According to the Portuguese Bishops' Conference and a local organising committee, Francis will meet abuse victims privately, though it has not yet been included in the official programme.

World Youth Day, created in 1986 by John Paul II, is the largest Catholic gathering in the world and will feature a wide range of events, including concerts and prayer sessions.

This edition, initially scheduled for August 2022 but postponed because of the pandemic, will be the fourth for Francis after Rio de Janeiro in 2013, Krakow in 2016 and Panama in 2019.