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Ukrainian Catholics receive warm reception at World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon

Marina Aleykseyeva, 31, from Kiev, Ukraine, (second from left with a pink baseball cap), together with fellow pilgrims from Ukraine, attended World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal, Aug. 1–6, 2023. She said they traveled to the international gathering to pray for peace in their country. / Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

Lisbon, Portugal, Aug 16, 2023 / 08:22 am (CNA).

Ukrainian pilgrims who attended World Youth Day in Lisbon earlier this month said they were amazed by the number of people from around the world who assured them of their prayers and support amid the war with Russia.

Marina Aleykseyeva, 31, who lives in Kyiv, spoke to CNA before the Aug. 6 WYD closing Mass about the experience of their delegation, which was made up of about 500 Ukrainians living all over the world and more than 140 who traveled from Ukraine itself.

“We are here to pray for the country, to pray for peace,” she said. “This World Youth Day is very, very special because all [of us] Ukrainians came here to pray for peace, to pray for the soldiers and for our families.”

She added that this World Youth Day was also particularly significant because of the many people, especially young men, who could not come because they were fighting in the war.

Aleykseyeva said “it was unbelievable” how many people stopped them on the streets of Lisbon during the international youth gathering to say they were praying for Ukraine.

“Now we can return to our country and tell everyone that so many people who believe in God are praying for us from all over the world.”

The Ukrainian Catholic pilgrims to WYD 2023 included both members of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and the smaller Latin Church in the country.

Aleykseyeva, a Latin Catholic, said these differences mattered little to them, especially now.

“We are all here together to pray. No one now is thinking about whether you are Greek or Latin, you just pray together,” she said, adding that “God is one,” so it does not matter if someone prays differently or makes the sign of the cross differently.

During the week, the Ukrainian delegation celebrated Mass together and did other activities as a group.

On Friday, before the Stations of the Cross with Pope Francis, they marched together wearing T-shirts with the faces of children who were killed since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Aleykseyeva said they wanted “to show that our children, our little children, die every day because of missiles.”

“We have to show that it is not over,” she emphasized.

The young Ukrainian woman said she and the other members of her group were even checking their phones during the WYD vigil the night of Aug. 5 to follow news about another air raid on Ukraine. The Ukrainians were joined in prayer by some young women from Italy who were nearby them in the field.

The journey to Lisbon, Portugal, for World Youth Day Aug. 1–6 was not easy, Aleykseyeva said, especially the 14-hour wait to cross the border into Poland.

But the group was also able to visit beautiful places in Germany and France during their five days of travel, she added, including the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes.

She said everyone in Ukraine has a relative fighting in the war and everyone knows someone who has lost his or her life.

Meanwhile, the support shown in Lisbon “is something that we will keep in our hearts and bring to our families,” she noted.

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