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The Catholics are Coming! The Catholics are Coming!

Updated: Apr 8

The Catholic Youth Take Over Lisbon (photo by author)

In week 24 all hell broke loose in Lisbon. 

In Week 24, Catholic youth from all over the world descended upon the center of Lisbon for International Youth Day. At the week-long event, attendees spend time getting to know youth from around the world and sharing their Catholic experience.

Anticipating the Arrival of the Catholic Youth…

The residents of Lisbon had mixed reactions to the impending celebrations. Some fled the city. Others watched cautiously to see how it unfolded and a few were completely unfazed. I was somewhere in the middle of the cautiously optimistic camp.

The day before the youth started arriving, I was in my favorite café, directly across from the Catholic church considered the most important in Lisbon. I asked one of the waitresses, Joselina, what she thought of how the event might affect the café given its proximity to such a major event site. She said she was not thinking of it at all as she just shows up, does her job and goes home. She does not worry about what she cannot control.

What a healthy approach to this situation. I will try and think like that. It’s coming. I cannot change that. I will just go on with my life as the event unfolds around me.

The City is Getting Crowded…

The first day of the event, I dragged myself out of bed early to see the USA v. Portugal game of the Women’s World Cup. This required a short walk to the sports bar in the center where I would catch my first glimpse of the early arrivals to Youth Day. As I walked to the bar, I noticed the high security measures in place. Cars were largely restricted from the center. There was only the occasional golf cart tour driver to avoid as I walked down the center of usually busy streets.

After the game, I headed back towards my neighborhood, taking a circuitous route in order to see how the first hours of the event were going. As the youth were filling the streets, the crowds seemed tolerable, even fun. Youth from different parts of the world were excitedly greeting each other and chatting about their home countries, sometimes on different ends of the world. Most groups had a huge flag from their country and waved it proudly. 

As I watched their excited expressions, I got a warm, fuzzy feeling. I welcomed them in place of the raucous British stag parties of which the city gets far too many. I’d take 1,000 Catholic youth for every drunk Englishman you haul out of here. 

The Boiling Point

Flash forward 24 hours. I was now dreaming of having a net large enough to scoop everyone associated with this event up and hurl them into space, hoping they would make it back to their Earthly homes but okay if they did not. 

The city was overflowing with the crushing sea of humanity that had descended on my lovely Lisbon. While some were well-behaved, they were overshadowed by uncaged teenagers intent on having a party time who had left any shred of civility they might have had at home.  

With 1+ million people crowded into the center of a sprawling city of half a million, it created a hellscape. Forget walking on the sidewalk as it had not been seen since Day 1 of the event. Want cash from the ATM? You better start printing your own because they are all empty. Port-a-pottie? Pee in the river. The event organizer must have had an incident in a port-a-pottie that scarred him/her for life as you were not going to find one on the streets of Lisbon.

Searching for Calm in the Storm

In the midst of all this chaos, somehow I found a coffee shop that was surprisingly completely empty. I took a seat at a table in the back and ordered a coffee, grateful for a peaceful moment.

My serenity was not to last long as the Catholics started trickling in, slowly building to a full-on mob. I realized too late that I had to use the bathroom as the youth took advantage of an overrun staff unable to police the toilet for non-customers. I waited until the next youth in line was distracted and rushed inside, shutting the crowds out of the single stall bathroom. 

In my haste to reach the toilet, I had done a poor job of securing the lock on the door. At a most inopportune moment, someone started banging on the door and frantically trying the handle. Despite my scream of “occupied” which, even if it did not translate, should have been an effective deterrent, a nun burst in the door. She was somehow surprised to find me there. Is she a deaf nun I wondered?  Shocked, she began apologizing as, my filter completely off at this point, I yelled, “JESUS LADY, BE PATIENT!!!”

After that I was even more in need of a port in the storm so I headed to my gelato place. As expected, that was a total s@#$ show. The normally happy go-lucky young girls that work there had a crazed look in their eyes as they frantically tried to fill cones and cups with gelato to feed the Catholic beasts. 

Giving up on gelato,I went to my favorite café to see how Joselina was faring. Little Miss “I don’t worry about things I cannot control”, looked like she was desperately trying to summon the spirit world to beam her up. She told me the kids were no longer waiting for a bathroom stall, instead just peeing on the floor. I peeked in the bathroom and found a woman bathing in the sink with her nasty shoes on the counter. The owner arrived at that time and just stood there, looking in horror at the disaster zone that was his café. 

The Locals Lose It

As the owner of the café began to blow a fuse, I decided my only move was to head to a local pub where I usually watch football games. Hopefully the good Catholics were not attracted to a bar, at least not during the day. As I tried to cross the main pedestrian street, a sea of Catholic humanity was making its way down the street to the square. I tried to cross but there was no break in the crowd and no one was in the mood to let me pass. 

Finally, I just hurled myself into the wave of humans, in front of a French kid who vehemently objected. Personally, I found it rich that someone from a country full of people fluent in English that refuse to use it for communication with foreigners visiting their country, yelled at me loudly in French. I looked at him and raged “Falamos português aqui Frenchy!”, grateful for the few Portuguese words I knew that allowed me to take the smug French kid down.

My passage secured, I headed for the sanctity of the pub. When I arrived, I found the usually unflappable waiter, Miguel, completely frazzled. He’d lost it as had most of the staff. The truck bringing more bag lunches to feed the Catholics arrived and as the delivery guy unpacked it, Miguel and some of the staff ran around wildly, jumping up and down in the back of the truck like prisoners who’d escaped from the insane asylum. I ran inside and hid, enjoying the safe space if just for a moment. 

Escape From the War Zone

Thankfully, I had a trip scheduled to SC at the midpoint of the event. While I had not planned it to coincide with The Catholic Invasion, I was incredibly grateful to have an escape route. The morning of my flight, I jumped out of bed and headed out early so as not to miss my chance to get out of the hell that was Lisbon. The Catholic youth were all over the city like bugs on my Beco. If they weren’t going to go, I was happy to.

I almost made it to the airport without incident. Almost. 

As I was trying to catch my connecting train, a flood of Catholics waving those insufferable flags and chattering incessantly, headed up the staircase I was trying to descend. Without even a slight pause, I yelled at the top of my lungs, “What the he!! is wrong with all of you!!!!”.

In hindsight, their response was justified. They simply looked at me, laughed hysterically and kept on going.

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