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WYD2023: Pilgrims cycle to Lisbon; pope to receive bicycles upon arrival 

A group of young people left Troyes, France, and will be cycling an average of 56 miles a day, until they reach Celorico de Basto, to participate in the Days in the Dioceses. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Comité Organizador Arciprestal – Celorico de Basto

Lisbon, Portugal, Jul 24, 2023 / 08:15 am (CNA).

Three pilgrims have already left Kraków, Poland, and another 17 have left Troyes, France, to head to Portugal, where they will participate in World Youth Day 2023 from Aug. 1–6 in Lisbon. 

Why did they leave so early? Because they’ve chosen to go by bicycle. 

The trio of “cyclists” who left Poland consists of Father Marcin Napora and two young laypeople, Bartłomiej Michlec and Marcin Kidon. In all, they will travel approximately 3,800 kilometers (2,361 miles), on a journey that should last about 22 days, traveling an average of 180 kilometers (112 miles) each day.

Along the way, the group will be hosted by local families and expects to have times of prayer and to attend Mass with the communities they pass through.

One of their objectives for their cycling pilgrimage to WYD2023 is to “call attention to new priestly and religious vocations.” 

“We also want to experience different situations to form and develop our character, and thus get closer to God,” Father Marcin Napora told CNA before their departure.

The pilgrimage of the three cyclists began on July 8 with a Mass celebrated by the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Krakow, Robert Chrząszcz.

“Let this be an opportunity to bear witness to Christ, a new form of evangelization that perhaps appeals more to young people. … Certainly, this is the moment when the Church uses you to go out into the world,” the bishop said.

The three pilgrims are expected to join, in Lisbon, the remaining 2,000 participants in the WYD from the Archdiocese of Kraków on July 31.

The trio of cyclists from Poland, made up of Father Marcin Napora (front) and young laypeople Bartłomiej Michlec and Marcin Kidon. Photo courtesy of Archdiocese of Krakow

‘A sporting and spiritual challenge’

The 17 young people who left Troyes, France, on July 16 will arrive earlier: The distance is shorter (900 kilometers, or 560 miles), and the group expects to arrive in time to participate in the Days in the Dioceses, the gathering of young people from all over the world that precedes WYD Lisbon 2023, which will be held in 17 dioceses across Portugal.

This group is made up of several young people from that French diocese, including a priest, a deacon and his wife, as well as a Colombian seminarian, four young Polish people who met during WYD in Krakow in 2016, and a young man from Hong Kong.

Over 10 days, they will cycle an average of 90 kilometers (56 miles), and will be welcomed every night in parishes, monasteries, and with families, sharing meals and enjoying conviviality and prayer until they reach Celorico de Basto, a village in the Archdiocese of Braga, Portugal, where they will join another 54 young people from the same diocese and 595 who will come from Toledo, Spain.

Marie-Liesse, one of the French pilgrims, said that “this trip is an opportunity to meet people and experience hospitality in France, Spain, and Portugal. It is a true pilgrimage that we experience by bicycle, and at the same time [is] a sporting and spiritual challenge.”

She also pointed out that going to WYD like this is a way of “getting to know the group better, the people we find on the way, but also to get to know ourselves in the face of difficulties, physical suffering, and loneliness on the bicycle… It is a way of preparing for WYD, meeting Portuguese communities, young people from all over the world — and the pope.”

Moment of delivery of the bicycles built in the GAFe Bike Lab to the WYD Lisbon 2023 Foundation. Photo courtesy of E-conversas

An original and sustainable gift

Bicycles are playing another role in WYD this year. When the pope arrives at the WYD headquarters in Lisbon, he will be presented with two bicycles built from scrap metal by high school students from a small Portuguese town of Gafanha da Nazaré, located 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Lisbon.

Building them was the major project this year at the high school, where the GAFe Bike Lab operates — a workshop dedicated to refurbishing bicycles and donating them to disadvantaged students.

António Rodrigues, a teacher of physics and chemistry responsible for the workshop, explained that giving the bicycles to the pope was born from a dream of “continuing the tradition of cycling,” still common in their town, and “promoting sustainability.” 

When the students first learned about the challenge, they were excited and at the same time confused. “But … the pope doesn’t ride a bicycle?” they wondered.

But Rodrigues, who’s been commuting to school by bicycle for 30 years, explained it was “symbolic” and “for awareness.” Other teachers surmised that the pope would take the bicycles with him and lend them to priests and nuns to use around the Vatican “at full speed.”

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