A series of exciting initiatives unfolded across Lisbon this week to coincide with World Youth Day (WYD), a global gathering for young Catholics to connect and engage in spiritual growth. In the spirit of pluralism and unity, the Ismaili community stepped forward to open its doors and join in the celebration of faith.

Em português

In the summer of 2018, the city of Lisbon played a key role to support the Jamat’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration and welcomed visiting Ismailis from around the world. This year’s WYD has given Ismailis in Portugal a chance to offer similar support and welcome Catholics travelling to Lisbon for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

WYD is an international event organised by the Catholic Church, primarily aimed at young people. It was initiated in 1985 as a way to engage and inspire youth from across the world, offering them an opportunity to deepen their faith and connect with peers. Held every three years, this year’s occasion is being hosted in Portugal, which has received over one million young Catholic pilgrims. The pinnacle of WYD is the presence of His Holiness Pope Francis, who is expected to address his followers later this week.

The gathering is also an opportunity for cultural exchange and dialogue. In this vein, the Jamat in Portugal have for several weeks been preparing for this moment, to extend a hand of friendship and strengthen bridges of understanding via civic, artistic, and environmental endeavours. 

Ahead of the global congregation, Ismaili CIVIC has been assisting with the huge effort to prepare for and accommodate Catholic volunteers and pilgrims who have travelled to Portugal especially for WYD. The Ismaili Centre has opened its doors and served as a base for more than 150 volunteers from Poland, France, São Tomé and Príncipe, and elsewhere.

“We are delighted to extend our warmest welcome to the young Catholics visiting our beautiful city for World Youth Day,” said Yasmin Bhudarally, President of the Ismaili Council for Portugal. “By coming together and celebrating each other’s faith, we hope to build a greater sense of unity and understanding — attributes that are vital in today's world.”

The initiative set the ground for discussions on shared values and interfaith workshops, which have helped to advance an atmosphere of understanding and compassion.

“Being here at the Ismaili Centre has been an incredible opportunity,” said Bruno Mota, a scout from Barcelos. “It has been an ideal complement to WYD, not only because of the welcome that has been so friendly, but also to experience what is so characteristic of this event — living with difference.”

In an effort to celebrate differences and commonalities, earlier this week, the Aga Khan Master Musicians graced the stage at the Ismaili Centre Lisbon for an enchanting evening of melody and rhythm. They were accompanied by Porto’s Amara Quartet, an all-female group of performers with a unique sound. The on-stage collaboration enabled a harmonious musical fusion, featuring sounds inspired by different times and diverse places.

Also this week, the Portuguese Ismaili Choir joined other multi-faith musical groups to perform at the International Song for Peace Festival, hosted by the University of Lisbon. Part of the broader Canto Pela Paz (Song for Peace) Project, the event brought together musicians from several religious faiths to perform under one roof and celebrate the values of peace, coexistence, and serving the common good. 

Representatives from the Jamat took part in a ceremonial tree planting ceremony on Wednesday, to create a memento of WYD 2023 while promoting environmental action. The event featured six major religious families - Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, hosted at the Tropical Botanical Garden in Lisbon. 

Ismaili CIVIC volunteers were on hand to assist with the ceremonial planting of a date palm, known in Islamic tradition as the “tree of life.” The new trees given a home in the garden will serve as a reminder of His Holiness Pope Francis' call to care for nature, universal fraternity, and peaceful coexistence between religions. They also reflect the Quran’s instruction for humans to care for the environment — one of the core themes of Ismaili CIVIC’s efforts this year.

“The act of care and responsibility for our choices are good ways to show our gratitude for the gift of nature that Allah has blessed us with,” said Zohra Maryam, an Ismaili CIVIC volunteer aged 12. “I appreciate that through CIVIC, the Jamat is able to care for the nature that surrounds us, since protecting the environment is something we must all be part of.”

On the whole, this week’s initiatives have led to meaningful interactions between Catholic and Ismaili youth, helping to bridge cultural gaps and nurture lasting friendships. 

“This is a really welcoming community, we feel really at home,” said Lara Castro, a scout from the north of Portugal. “We are volunteers, we have tiring days, but walking through the doors at the Ismaili Centre, we feel that this is a safe space.”