“Arise and go … Um, no, not really!” The joke playing off the WYD motto may be repeated a few times, but it doesn’t dampen the radiant good humor of the 34 members of the “Living Life to the Fullest” association who are racing their wheelchairs up and down the steep streets of Lisbon during the 2023 World Youth Day. In all, 10 people with physical disabilities made the trip from France, along with 24 able-bodied people including a priest from the Saint-Martin Community, a nurse, and two physiotherapists.
“It’s a bit of a crazy project,” admits Joseph, one of the leaders of this unique “road trip.” The group went from Paris to Lisbon via several stops at campsites and some very festive evenings. The spiritual experience is at the heart of the adventure. They don’t necessarily fit into the WYD age category, but they’ve seized the opportunity to live this unique experience of an encounter with God.
Mathilde wanted to reach out to people with disabilities and help them overcome their worries about participating. “They help us experience WYD as a time of healing and conversion. I’m always very moved when I see them receive Communion: It’s like Jesus is talking to them! And that’s what they tell me!” she says.
“People who find it hard to express themselves have been able to go to confession,” says Joseph. He has been moved by the trust shown by people who have no choice but to rely on their caregivers, who are not care professionals. “Disabled people deal more easily with effort, frustration, and difficulty than we do,” he says.
Wheelchair-bound and speech-impaired, Solenne had been dreaming of coming to WYD ever since her brother told her about his experience in Krakow in 2016. The city of Lisbon is admittedly a little complicated for wheelchair traffic, but this pilgrimage is “giving me a boost. It’s good” for your spiritual life, testifies the Modern Literature student at the University of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. Group coordinator Clémence is certain that the experience will bear lasting fruit.
“All that comes out is joy,” she insists. “We’ll be exhausted when we get home, but we’ll have a twinkle in our eyes for the whole year.”