“Dream big, even when it is tough” says the Pope – think “70 x 7”. “Jesus pushes us to keep our sights high and to dream of great things. Today the church wants to learn from you!”

July 29, 2016

Pope attends first massive gathering of faithful for WYD in Krakow

Francis arrived at Blonia Park on board an eco-friendly tram, accompanied by a group of young people with disabilities, amid security, rain and a sea of flags from all corners of the world.  The Pope’s speech was spontaneous and conversational.

The Pope met with the biggest crowd of faithful of this year’s World Youth Day yet, on the green expanse of Blonia Park, a short distance from the city of Krakow. He arrived on board an eco-friendly tram, accompanied by a group of young people with disabilities.   The mayor of Krakow delivered the keys of the city to Francis who then boarded the tram where he was met by a group of young disabled people who accompanied him to the WYD welcome ceremony. The Pope completed the last part of his journey to the Park in the Popemobile. Security measures were particularly stringent in this final bit of the journey.

More than 300,000 young people from around the world wearing red, yellow, blue and transparent waterproof ponchos gradually gathered under the light but persistent rain that fell on Blonia Park. Each group carried its national flag, many of them from Poland, Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, the US, Lebanon, Norway, Croatia, Slovakia, Mozambique, Georgia, Canada as well as rarer flags representing Israel, China, Ecuador, Greece and Brazil, which hosted the last WYD in 2013. The flag of Panama – where the next WYD could be held in three years time – was also there, as well as rainbow of peace flags, Sardinian flags and even a Ferrari flag. Bishops and cardinals sat in the first row covered by white umbrellas. Francis was greeted with choir music, songs and dances and the orchestra even played a tango among various other Eastern European melodies.

Mercy that becomes concrete in people’s attention and attitudes, is the leitmotif of the speeches Francis has been delivering in Poland so far. Strikingly, the Pope drove home the importance of welcoming and closeness even at his meeting with young people at the welcome ceremony in Blonia Park, in Krakow.

As they waited for the Pope to arrive, the young people followed the march of representatives carrying flags and photographs of “witnesses of mercy” from their part of the world: St. Vincent de Paul (Europe), the Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (Asia), St. Maria MacKillop (Australia and Oceania), St. Josephine Bakhita (Africa), St. Damian of Molokai (North America) and the Blessed Irma Dulce (South America).

“At last we are together!” Bergoglio said beginning his speech. “I want to extend a special thanks to John Paul II (a big, big thank you!), who first came up with the idea of these meetings and gave them such momentum. From his place in heaven, he is with us and he sees all of you: so many young people from such a variety of nations, cultures and languages but with one aim, that of rejoicing that Jesus is living in our midst. To say that Jesus is alive means to rekindle our enthusiasm in following him.”

“Jesus called us to this thirty-first World Youth Day,” Francis said. And “Jesus tells us: ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall find mercy’. Blessed indeed are they who can forgive, who show heartfelt compassion, who are capable of offering the very best of themselves to others.” “The best,” he stressed, “not the leftovers”. 

The Pope said that when he was a bishop, he learnt that “nothing is more beautiful than seeing the enthusiasm, dedication, zeal and energy with which so many young people live their lives. When Jesus touches a young person’s heart, he or she becomes capable of truly great things. It is exciting to listen to you share your dreams, your questions and your impatience with those who say that things cannot change. I call such people ’quietists’: ’nothing is going to change’. But young people have the strength to defy these people! For me, it is a gift of God to see so many of you, with all your questions, trying to make a difference. It is beautiful and heartwarming to see all that restlessness! Today the Church looks to you and wants to learn from you.”  

Mercy, the Pope observed, “always has a youthful face! Because a merciful heart is motivated to move beyond its comfort zone. A merciful heart can go out and meet others; it is ready to embrace everyone. A merciful heart is able to be a place of refuge for those who are without a home or have lost their home; it is able to build a home and a family for those forced to emigrate; it knows the meaning of tenderness and compassion. A merciful heart can share its bread with the hungry and welcome refugees and migrants.

Saying the word ’mercy’ along with you, is to speak of opportunity, the future, commitment, faith, openness, hospitality, compassion, dreams.

Are you capable of dreaming?; “yes!” young people responded with great enthusiasm; “And when the heart is open, it is able to dream. There is room for mercy, there is room for comforting those who suffer, there is room for standing by those whose heart is not at peace or who lack the essentials to live or the most beautiful thing of all: faith. Mercy. Let us say this word together: mercy, everyone! One more time! And again, so that the whole world can hear!”

“It pains me,” Francis went on to say, “to meet young people who seem to have opted for “early retirement”. I worry when I see young people who have “thrown in the towel” before the game has even begun or who are defeated even before they begin to play, who walk around glumly as if life has no meaning. Deep down, young people like this are bored… and boring! But it is also hard, and troubling, to see young people who waste their lives looking for thrills or a feeling of being alive by taking dark paths and in the end having to pay for it… and pay dearly, pursuing peddlers of false dreams.”

“To find fulfilment, to gain new strength, there is a way”, Pope Francis said. “It is not a thing or an object, but a person, and he is alive. His name is Jesus Christ.” “Jesus can give you true passion for life. Jesus pushes us to keep our sights high and to dream of great things.” “Can Jesus Christ be bought? Can Jesus Christ be purchased in a shop? Jesus Christ is a gift, a gift from the father, a gift from our Father. Who is Jesus Christ? Everyone together: Jesus Christ is a gift, He is a gift from the Father.”

“But some may say to me,” Francis continued speaking off the cuff, “Dreaming big is tough, it’s tough work moving up, always moving up. Father, I am weak, I fall down, I try but I fall down so often.” The Italian Alpine troops sing a lovely little song when they climb up mountains. It goes like this: ’The art of walking uphill is not about not falling but about not staying down’.” So if “you are weak, if you fall, look up a bit and you’ll see God’s outstretched hand. He is telling you: get up and come with me. And the same thing if I fall over again. Peter asked how many times: seventy times seven. Jesus stretches out his hand to us when we fall. Understand?”  

The evangelical passage read out at the start of the meeting talks about the attitudes of Martha and Mary, the two women who welcome Jesus into their homes: while the former is bus and distracted, the latter sits and listens to him. Francis refrained from preaching to young people about what they should do, giving them the choice between which attitude to take. “Our many jobs and responsibilities,” he pointed out, “can make us a bit like Martha: busy, scattered, constantly running from place to place… but we can also be like Mary: whenever we see a beautiful landscape, or look at a video from a friend on our cellphone, we can stop and think, stop and listen…” It is important to “make space for him amid the bustle” and have the courage to entrust ourselves to Him.

“Do you want a complete life?” Bergoglio asked. “Start by letting yourself be open and attentive! Because happiness is sown and blossoms in mercy. That is his answer, his offer, his challenge, his adventure: mercy.” 

“All together, then,” the Pope concluded by saying, “we ask the Lord: “Launch us on the adventure of mercy! Launch us on the adventure of building bridges and tearing down walls, barriers and barbed wire. Launch us on the adventure of helping the poor, those who feel lonely and abandoned, or no longer find meaning in their lives. Send us, like Mary of Bethany, to listen attentively to those we do not understand, those of other cultures and peoples, even those we are afraid of because we consider them a threat. Make us attentive to our elders, as Mary of Nazareth was to Elizabeth, in order to learn from their wisdom.” 

Pope Francis’ speech was peppered with improvised comments and was very conversational, drawing enthusiastic responses from the crowds of young people spread out across Blonia Park, leaving many visibly moved: many faces has tears streaming down them.