“It’s very impressive to walk around and see the large number of Catholics who have gathered today,” said 19-year-old Portuguese Ana Carvalho. The Vatican spoke of around 1.5 million participants, citing the Portuguese authorities. According to the organizers, they had expected a million participants.

The crowd had gathered hours before the evening prayer. They whiled away the time until the pope appeared in his popemobile singing, dancing or playing cards. Many had sleeping bags with them to spend the night on site.

While waiting, people protected themselves from the burning sun with umbrellas or improvised tents or poured water over their heads. The Portuguese weather service had previously warned of temperatures of up to 36 degrees.

Before the evening prayer, Francis visited the Portuguese pilgrimage site of Fátima on Saturday and was cheered by around 200,000 believers. The 86-year-old arrived in the pilgrimage site by helicopter and then took a bath in the crowd in his popemobile in the square by the chapel, where Catholic belief is said to have been where the Virgin Mary appeared to three children in 1917.

“Viva!” shouted people and waved as Francis drove past. On his tour of the square, the Pope stopped several times and had babies brought to him, kissing them on the head. The Pope has been in Portugal since Wednesday to take part in the week-long Catholic World Youth Day in Lisbon.

Francis left out the topics expected for his planned speech at Fátima and improvised his address. He reiterated his message, which he had already repeated several times in Portugal, of a church that was “open” to everyone – “without exclusion”. “The church has no doors for everyone to enter,” the pope said.

According to a Vatican spokesman, the pontiff had improvised one of his speeches the day before because of visual problems. This Saturday, however, Francis deliberately deviated from the text of the speech, said the spokesman for the AFP news agency.

Before returning by helicopter to Lisbon, 150 kilometers south of Fátima, Francis prayed the Rosary with 112 sick youth, people with disabilities and prison inmates. In the online service X, formerly known as Twitter, the Pope announced that he had prayed for the “Church and the world, especially for countries at war”.

According to Catholic belief, more than a hundred years ago, on May 13, 1917, the Virgin Mary appeared to three children of a shepherd family in a grotto near Fátima. For six months Maria is said to have shown herself to them on the 13th of each month. Six million visitors are expected this year in the place of pilgrimage, one of the most important in the Catholic Church.

At the end of World Youth Day, Francis wants to celebrate an open-air mass on Sunday morning.