The pope, WYD and the power of the cross

An actor portrays Jesus in the Stations of the Cross during World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro July 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

An actor portrays Jesus in the Stations of the Cross during World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro July 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

RIO DE JANEIRO — With his cross and resurrection, Christ promises to walk with and ease the burden of every suffering person, whether that suffering comes from violence, addiction, a broken family, hunger, persecution or the death of a loved one, Pope Francis said.

The traditional Friday mood change of World Youth Day took place July 26 as the pope and more than 1 million young people returned to Copacabana beach to meditate on the Stations of the Cross.

In his reflection, Pope Francis told the young people that in every encounter with Christ’s cross, they can draw strength from him and they can leave the heaviest part of their burden with him.

Through the cross, the pope said, Jesus also unites himself with “those young people who have lost faith in the church, or even in God, because of the counter-witness of Christians and ministers of the Gospel.”

Pope Francis did not get specific about the forms of counter-witness, but his words brought to mind the well-known Via Crucis meditations written in 2005 by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, only weeks before he became Pope Benedict XVI, in which he denounced “filth” in the church, which was widely interpreted as a reference to clerical sex abuse.

At the same time, Pope Francis also has denounced the counter-witness of clergy and other church personnel who see ministry more as career or who drive around in fancy cars or exhibit an extravagant lifestyle in other ways.

The 14 traditional Stations of the Cross in Rio were presented by actors and readers on 13 stages along the Copacabana waterfront and on the main stage where Pope Francis sat.

Young people carrying the World Youth Day cross at the opening ceremony last night. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Young people carrying the World Youth Day cross at the opening ceremony last night. (CNS/Paul Haring)

The meditations read during the service also focused on drawing strength from Christ’s cross and healing one’s wounds in the wounds of Christ. Each written from the perspective of a different person in the church — including a missionary, an engaged couple, a pro-life activist, students, those who use social networks — the meditations asked Jesus for the strength to follow and imitate his service to others.

Pope Francis began his reflection recalling the pilgrimage of the World Youth Day cross, which has been carried across oceans, mountains and plains in preparation for each international youth gathering. The cross was carried from station to station during the evening service.

“It is, as it were, almost ‘steeped’ in the life experiences of the countless young people who have seen it and carried it,” the pope said. “No one can approach and touch the cross of Jesus without leaving something of himself or herself there, and without bringing something of the cross of Jesus into his or her own life.”

At the center of the Christian faith, he said, is the certainty that “Jesus, with his cross, walks with us and takes upon himself our fears, our problems and our sufferings, even those which are deepest and most painful.”

Pope Francis did not leave his mention of the wounds vague; he said Jesus united himself “to the silence of the victims of violence, those who can no longer cry out, especially the innocent and defenseless,” to families in difficulty, to those addicted to drugs and to “every person who suffers from hunger in a world where tons of food are thrown out each day.”

The suffering Jesus walks with those persecuted for their faith or discriminated against because of the color of their skin, the pope said. And he draws close to “so many young people who have lost faith in political institutions because they see in them only selfishness and corruption.”

But it is not only the faults, violence or wrongs committed by others that Jesus takes upon himself, Pope Francis said. “The cross of Christ bears the suffering and the sin of mankind, including our own.”

Among the special guest at the Via Crucis were 35 “cartoneros,” or trash pickers, who had come from Argentina hoping to see the Argentine pope. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said Pope Francis sent someone out to find them and give them seats near him on the stage. The pope greeted them before the prayers began.

Video: Pope Francis in action

Pope Francis heard confessions, took a popemobile ride, recited the Angelus, and lunched with youths in Rio de Janeiro July 26.

Video: Beach celebration with Pope Francis

Pope Francis was welcomed to Copacabana beach for World Youth Day with song, dance, and drama July 25.

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Pope and young people down by the seashore

RIO DE JANEIRO — The rain and the wind did not dampen the spirits of hundreds of thousands of World Youth Day participants this evening and they didn’t dampen the pope’s either. In fact, he seemed in no hurry to leave, repeating phrases, ad-libbing encouragement and simply readjusting his cape every time the wind blew it over his head.

Pope greets crowd as he arrives at World Youth Day welcome ceremony on Copacabana beach. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope greets crowd as he arrives at World Youth Day welcome ceremony on Copacabana beach. (CNS/Paul Haring)

In his first remarks to the young people at the huge World Youth Day celebration on the beach July 25, Pope Francis spoke of belonging to the great family of faith and that included a moment of silent prayer for Sophie Moriniere, a French WYD pilgrim who died July 17 in a car accident in French Guiana.

The celebration also included a “shout out” to retired Pope Benedict XVI, who chose Rio as the site of WYD 2013. Pope Francis told the young people that Pope Benedict was watching on television from Rome and had promised to pray for them.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said an estimated 1 million people were on the beach for the ceremony with the pope.

Pope Francis said he knew the youths had a variety of reasons for being part of World Youth Day and a variety of levels of previous involvement with the church. “But today you are all here — or better yet, we are all here together as one in order to share the faith and the joy of an encounter with Christ, of being his disciples,” the pope said in his introductory remarks.

Katherine Tanadi, 21, from the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in Singapore told Catholic News Service that World Youth Day already “has been a life-changing experience.”

Standing on the beach, she said Rio was her first WYD and “I have met young Catholics from all over the world. It’s incredible.”

Ida Szuzepaniak, 25, from Poznan, Poland, said the experience of being in Rio with hundreds of thousands of her peers has taught her “that I have to have more patience, I need to pray more.”

In a homily during a Liturgy of the Word, Pope Francis told the young people that Jesus asks each person gathered on the seashore: “Do you want to be my disciple? Do you want to be my friend? Do you want to be a witness to my Gospel?”

The Gospel reading for the service was St. Luke’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus, including St. Peter’s line, “Master, it is good that we are here.”

In his homily, the pope echoed those words, telling the young people that it is always good to be gathered around Jesus and to keep Jesus at the center of their lives.

Faith, he said, is a “Copernican revolution,” an operation that shifts concerns and priorities so that they revolve around Jesus and not the individual or false idols.

“Certainly possessions, money and power can give a momentary thrill, the illusion of being happy,” he said, “but they end up possessing us and making us always want to have more, never satisfied.”

Instead, he said, with Christ as the center of your life “you will never be disappointed.”

Pope Francis asked the young people to think about a meal and what it means to “put on salt,” then he told them, “Put on faith and your life will take on a new flavor.”

“Put on hope and every one of your days will be enlightened and your horizon will no longer be dark,” he told them. “Put on love and your life will be like a house built on rock, your journey will be joyful because you will find many friends to journey with you.”

“Put on Christ,” he said, “you will find a friend in whom you can always trust” and “your life will be full of his love.”

Getting practical about matters, the pope told the young people that Christ is waiting to wash away their sins in the sacrament of penance, to nourish them with his body in the Eucharist and to encounter them through their Christian peers who will give them friendship, encouragement and support.

As winter darkness settled over the crowd, Pope Francis told the young people to offer the witness of faith and the service of charity to others, “carrying to this world a ray of his light.”

Video: Pope visits recovering addicts

Cardinal Dolan discusses Pope Francis’ visit to St. Francis of Assisi Hospital in Rio de Janeiro.

Video: Cardinal Dolan: Does WYD work?

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan discusses the challenges that face a successful World Youth Day.

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