Pope Francis presided over a Way of the Cross reenactment at a Lisbon park on Friday before hundreds of thousands of flag-waving pilgrims, part of a global Catholic youth festival.

The rite commemorating Jesus Christ’s suffering and death is one of the highlights of World Youth Day festivities, a six-day international Catholic jamboree.

Pilgrims shrieked and waved as the pontiff, surrounded by bodyguards, slowly drove by on his popemobile to the stage set up at the hillside Eduardo VII park for the event.

The 86-year-old pope, wearing a white cassock, paused several times to have babies brought to him, and he kissed them on the head.

Many national flags fluttered in the huge crowd, estimated by local authorities at around 800,000 people.

The crowd then watched solemnly as a group of 50 young people from over 20 countries carried a large cross and performed a 90-minute choreography which represented each stage of Christ’s last moments.

“Every moment we spend with the Holy Father is exciting, it motivates us to keep our faith,” Pedro Puac, a 27-year-old from Guatemala told AFPK. He had waited under a blazing sun for three hours for the event to start.

The pope, who arrived in Portugal on Wednesday, began his day by hearing confessions from three people from Italy, Spain and Guatemala who were in Lisbon for the festival.

Francis, who has made concern for the poor a hallmark of his papacy, also visited a community centre in Lisbon’s impoverished Serafina neighbourhood.

He will deliver a Mass on Sunday in Lisbon on the last day of his five-day visit to Portugal, when temperatures are forecast to soar to 39 degrees Celsius (102.2 Fahrenheit).

Organisers expect a million people from around the world to attend the week of festive, cultural and spiritual events.

World Youth Day, created in 1986 by John Paul II, is the largest Catholic gathering in the world and features a wide range of events, including concerts and prayer sessions.

This edition, initially scheduled for August 2022 but postponed because of the pandemic, will be the fourth for Francis after Rio de Janeiro in 2013, Krakow in 2016 and Panama in 2019.

cmk-ds/jj