Every World Youth Day, the pope holds an evening prayer vigil preceding the concluding Mass celebration. This year’s prayer vigil in Kraków was held at Campus Misericordie where about 1.6 million people gathered to hear his address and pray in communion with Catholics from around the world. Pilgrims trekked nearly nine miles to the site and spent Saturday night on the Campus Misericordie grounds to participate in the Sunday Mass celebrated by Pope Francis. As he entered in the Popemobile accompanied by international youth, Pope Francis smiled wide and waved to the crowds.
The prayer vigil began with a performance of dance and song that portrayed the life and vision of Saint Faustina. Accompanying the performance, young Syrians shared moving words of their persevering faith despite national and personal suffering and strife. Explaining the constant fear and sense of hopelessness, one said, “Every day we live lives surrounded by death. We are gripped by fear that we will not return to find our homes and families as we left them.” However, her faith empowers her resilience. “I believe that sometimes through our pain he teaches us the true meaning of love. My faith in Christ is the reason for my faith and hope. No one can steal this joy from me.”
Following these witnesses, Pope Francis opened his address reflecting on the reality of global conflicts such as Syria’s current crisis. “The suffering and the wars that many young people experience are no longer anonymous, something we read about in the papers. They have a name, they have a face, they have a story, they are close at hand.” Calling on the audience to join him in prayer for the victims of war and Syrian families, he said, “Once and for all, may we realize that nothing justifies shedding the blood of a brother or sister; that nothing is more precious than the person next to us.”
Pope Francis then emphasized the significance of World Youth Day as an international celebration that transcends conflict. “Our response to a world at war has a name: its name is fraternity, its name is brotherhood, its name is communion, its name is family. We celebrate the fact that coming from different cultures, we have come together to pray. Let our best word, our best argument, be our unity in prayer.” While the fear of danger is paralyzing, he referenced a more severe form of paralysis in our lives: indifference. Pope Francis compared this paralysis to a “sofa that makes us feel comfortable, calm, safe” and shields us from all pain and worry. This “sofa happiness” leads to a loss of freedom as others step in to shape our lives and the world.
To combat this apathy, he urged, “Dear young people, we didn’t come into this work to “vegetate”, to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark.” We must not confuse happiness with comfort. Jesus was the ultimate risk-taker and never settled for security. “Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths,” Pope Francis explained. We must follow “the path of the ‘craziness’ of our God, who teaches us to encounter him in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the friend in trouble, the prisoner, the refugee and the migrant, and our neighbors who feel abandoned.” Wherever our lives take us, we must actively share the faith with those around us.
Although we may feel inadequate, God “wants to turn your hands, my hands, our hands, into signs of reconciliation, of communion, of creation. He wants your hands to continue building the world of today. And He wants to build that world with you.” God’s plans are directed toward the future, our potential, and our capacity for love. We are not called to be “couch potatoes” or “bench-warmers,” but rather strong witnesses of faith who will leave “a mark on history.”
Pope Francis asked youth to courageously challenge adults and teach them “how to live in diversity, in dialogue, to experience multiculturalism not as a threat but an opportunity. Have the courage to teach us that it is easier to build bridges than walls.” He closed his address with a challenge to “abandon the paths of rejection, division and emptiness.” He asked, “Are you up to this? What answer will you give, with your hands and with your feet, to the Lord, who is the way, the truth and the life?” With the words and witness of Pope Francis to guide us, let us live fearlessly with courage and faith.
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