Pomp, Colour Marks African Pilgrims Entry, Participation in WYD Celebrations

Nigerian pilgrims presenting a gift to the Bishop of Fatima-Leirai. Credit: Fr. Hillary Basil/ African Synodal Digital Faith Influencers

Most of them landed in Portugal dressed in colorful attire, a characteristic festive look of Africa.

They bore their flags, the warmth in their hearts printed all over their faces.

From the video clips and pictures they have continued to share with their peers on a WhatsApp page of 267 participants, it is clear that the African Synodal Digital Faith Influencers (ASDFI) are having an experience of a lifetime at the 2023 World Youth Day (WYD) celebrations in Lisbon.

Starting as early as last week, the faith influencers whose sole goal is to evangelize young Africans “living in digital peripheries” have been sharing their “life-changing” experiences in Portugal, confident that those unable to attend the celebrations will be spiritually transformed as well.

Burkina Faso’s ASDFI were the first to announce their arrival in Lisbon on July 24. The group of 70 comprised lay youths, Priests, Catholic Sisters, and the Bishop in charge of Youth and Childhood in Burkina Faso.


Next followed the Ethiopian team of over 90 pilgrims, Algeria’s team of about 20 young people, and later, a large group of Nigerians and Ghanaians.

A pilgrim from Ethiopia holding the country's flag at the World Youth Day celebrations in Lisbon, Portugal. Credit: Yemi Assefa/ African Synodal Digital Faith Influencers

On Saturday, July 29, Eloisa Cabinda who was with the Sao Tome and Principe group announced the arrival of over 500 pilgrims from the African country to Lisbon.

Those who spoke to ACI Africa foresaw a moment of personal encounter with God and shared the joy of meeting a multitude of fellow youth who share their faith.

Pilgrims from Nigeria holding the country's flag at the World Youth Day celebrations in Lisbon, Portugal. Credit: Fr. Hillary Basil/ African Synodal Digital Faith Influencers

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Damiba Mélaine Olga from the Diocese of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso said, “My expectations of these World Youth Days are numerous.”

“Mainly, I expect a moment of personal encounter with the Lord and a deepening of my faith. I hope to be able to meet other young Catholics and learn how they live their faith. Also the global challenges of young Catholics to be met.”

Damiba said that his most heartfelt prayer is for his country, currently listed among the top countries where Christians are persecuted the most in the world.

“My prayers are mainly for the return of peace in my country and in the world, and for the unity of Christians in the same church,” he said. 

From Botswana, Sr. Boitumelo Wadikgosi confessed that she had picked up important life skills which she said would help her in her daily interactions with others in her community back home. 


Pilgrims from Botswana attending WYD in Lisbon, Portugal. Credit: Catholic Diocese of Gaborone

“I am learning to be humbler, to communicate better because you won’t find any help here if you do not communicate. Being a Religious Sister, my community values have been enriched. I have learned to be accommodative. Here, people speak Portuguese while I am from an Anglophone country. But with patience and accommodativeness, we can understand each other,” Sr. Boitumelo tells ACI Africa.

“I am gradually developing a missionary stomach, eating food that I have never seen before,” she shares, and adds, “Our time here is relaxing and yet at the same time tiring. We move from one place to another now and then. It is informative.”

Credit: Fr. Hillary Basil/ African Synodal Digital Faith Influencers

“The sun sets at around 9 pm and all the time we will be excited thinking it's still during the day. We get lost and we find the right way,” she says. 

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The Tswana Catholic Nun who arrived in Portugal in the company of 7 other Botswana has also stayed with Portuguese families, shared their culture with them, and shed tears when the time came for her to leave.

“I arrived in Lisbon after spending a week in Fatima. I stayed with families and had a beautiful experience with them. Our farewell ceremony with the families was a very emotional moment because we felt that we already missed each other a lot. We have made new families and made promises to be visiting each other,” Sr. Boitumelo says.

Pilgrims from Burkina Faso and Niger attending WYD in Lisbon, Portugal. Credit: Bruno Kiemtore

As for Fr. Janvier Koutandji, a member of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) from Togo currently on a mission in France, his biggest expectation from the 2023 WYD is to share with African youths the joy of being a young missionary, especially hen sent for mission in distant places.

“I am here with many young people, and my expectations are first of all to allow the youth experience a personal encounter with Christ and secondly to share our faith and our joy of being missionary disciples,” he tells ACI Africa.

“We have had an enriching week in Leiria Diocese in Fatima with a lot of insightful sharing, celebrations, and cultural discoveries. With my group, we are already sharing pictures and videos with our parishes and the youth who are not attending WYD. But once back we are planning to share our WYD experience with the whole group,” Fr. Janvier says. 

Nigerian pilgrims showcase a dance at the World Youth Day celebrations in Portugal. Credit: Fr. Hillary Basil/ African Synodal Digital Faith Influencers

Lesego Zikhali from the Catholic Archdiocese of Johannesburg in South Africa has expressed a desire to see all African young people form a fraternal bond.

“I expect to see all young people across the globe being united and sharing their cultures, experiences, and encounters. I also expect a closer encounter with God,” he said.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.