It was now or never to attend World Youth Day (WYD). Originally from Fatima, 125 kilometers from the Portuguese capital where the WYD is held from August 1 to 6, Joana Santos, however, shuns the planetary event, unlike some 33,000 other Portuguese registered. Why ? The 21-year-old Catholic planted her eyes in yours, and replied in a confident voice: “It’s my duty”. The responsibility in question: to protect the Portuguese and the tourists.
For a year and a half, this biochemistry student has been a volunteer firefighter in the Fatima barracks. A decision “made on the fly”, without really knowing any click. She wanted to serve others, that’s all. In her uniform – an indigo beret on her head and a red T-shirt tucked into midnight blue trousers – she inspires respect.
The fire family
Since she entered the “family”, the Portuguese does not want to leave. They are 90 like her, Joana Santos is one of the youngest. The fire soldier does not escape the mobilization of the summer holidays, moreover, during WYD. Just last year, fires ravaged Portugal: 100,000 hectares devastated this country on the Iberian Peninsula. Joana Santos had to face the flames. Was she scared? “No, you shouldn’t think about it,” she says simply, in a still firm voice. Hands crossed behind her back and upright posture, she goes on as if it were not a subject: “My parents are worried, but they support me”.
This year, the risk of fire still threatens the country. Firefighters are on alert from May to October. In July, the fire season was rather calm in the Fatima region. But if a fire breaks out, she will be sent to the front. In the meantime, here she is in service near the sanctuary, watching over pilgrims and young people from all over the world.
Catholic, Joana Santos does not regret missing the WYD. It’s kind of his way of practicing his faith. She will watch the meeting from a distance and above all, she will hear from her 13 and 16-year-old sisters, who are traveling to Lisbon to mingle with the hundreds of thousands of young people. But with the arrival of Pope Francis, sensitive to the climate cause, Joana Santos will be especially attentive to one thing: “I hope he will have a word for the fires”.