Catholics, awaiting pope, struggle as Lisbon temperatures soar


LISBON, (Reuters): Under a burning sun, hundreds of thousands of Catholics battled on Saturday to keep cool with water sprays, fans and improvised tents at a massive shadeless outdoor venue in Lisbon where Pope Francis will hold an evening vigil.

Francis arrived in Lisbon on Wednesday for a week-long series of events surrounding World Youth Day, a large gathering of young Catholics that takes place every two to three years in a different city.

Temperatures on Saturday reached 38 Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit) in Lisbon but were expected to rise to 41C on Sunday, the last day of Francis’ visit, according to the state weather agency. August is usually the hottest month of the year in Portugal.

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Friday’s vigil will take place on the riverside Parque Tejo, a new venue covering 100 hectares (250 acres) created for the event. It has no trees or shade structures, but organisers set up fountains for participants to refill their water bottles and gave them hats.

Francis will celebrate a Mass at the same venue on Sunday.

“The whole area has no shade at all,” 49-year-old Luisa Vieira, from the Portuguese island of Madeira, said after one of her friends had to receive medical care due to the heat. “It’s very hot.”

Medical tents across the venue helped people struggling with the warm weather, with Filipa Tare, from the ambulance service, telling Reuters doctors would have to deal with the consequences of the lack of shade at the venue.

The World Youth Day app sent notifications to participations warning about the weather and reminding them to drink water and apply sunscreen. A tractor with a water tank sprayed the faithful.

“I’m pretty accustomed to the sufferings of World Youth Day,” said 33-year-old Mark Xaviep from India, who has attended several similar events in the past, adding that organisers have a done a good job, as hosting such gathering is a “logistical nightmare”.

The vigil kicks off at 8:45 pm (1945 GMT), and while the struggle was visible, many were up for the challenge.

“It’s all worth it to wait for the pope,” said 42-year-old Susana Bettencourt, also from the Atlantic island of Madeira, as she hold a sleeping bag over her head for shelter.

Extreme weather in July has caused havoc across the planet, with record temperatures in China, the US and parts of southern Europe sparking fires, water shortages and a rise in heat-related hospital admissions.

Portugal is on high alert for blazes. More than 1,100 firefighters are battling flames that started on Friday afternoon in a forest area in the central Castelo Branco district.

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