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Portugal is preparing to welcome Pope Francis and around a million young pilgrims for the World Youth Day (WYD) on August 1 to 6, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

Lisbon: The world's largest Catholic event, a week-long religious festival known as World Youth Day, kicks off in Lisbon on Tuesday, a day before Pope Francis arrives on his first foreign trip since recent surgery.

Around 300,000 people are expected to attend the opening mass at 7:00 pm (1800 GMT) at the hillside Eduardo VII park, which offers sweeping views of the Portuguese capital and the Tagus river.

The 86-year-old pontiff is set to arrive in Lisbon on Wednesday morning to celebrate World Youth Day, a week of religious, cultural and festive events held about every three years in a different city.

He has a typically packed schedule for his five-day visit to Portugal, despite having spent nine nights in hospital after undergoing hernia surgery in June.

Francis, the first Latin American pope, is due to make 11 public pronouncements and hold numerous meetings, and on Saturday will visit the shrine of Fatima north of Lisbon.

Church organisers expect one million faithful will attend the event's closing mass held by the pope on Sunday at a waterside park on the outskirts of Lisbon.

World Youth Day, which has been dubbed the "Catholic Woodstock", is part of the Vatican's efforts to galvanise young Catholics at a time when secularism and disgust over clerical child sex abuse cause some faithful to abandon the Church.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said Monday that this is the "largest international event the country has ever organised, which will bring us youths from the entire world."

In recent days groups of event volunteers, decked out in their distinctive yellow T-shirts, could be seen outside of churches in Lisbon to welcome pilgrims who have flocked to the city.

"It is a special moment that you should experience at least once in your life," said Samuel Navarro, a 19-year-old student from Spain.

"I can't wait to see people from around the world celebrate the faith and see to which point the Church is alive," said Paige Lipetska, a 26-year-old who came from the United States.

Meeting with abuse victims

Pope Francis is expected during his visit to meet privately with victims of sexual abuse by members of the Portuguese clergy.

A report published in February by an independent commission found at least 4,815 children were sexually abused by clergy members - mostly priests - since 1950.

The inquiry, based on testimony from over 500 victims, concluded that the Church hierarchy in Portugal "systematically" tried to conceal the abuse.

"I know (the meeting) will take place... but I don't know where it will happen or how many people will take part," Lisbon's patriarch, Cardinal Manuel Clemente, told a news conference Monday.

"There is a total commitment on the part of the Portuguese Church to settle this issue," he added.