This evening, at Cinta Costera in Panama City, the Holy Father joined thousands of young people in the traditional Catholic devotion of the Way of the Cross. Below is the full text of the address he gave at the conclusion of that moving event:Lord, Father of mercy, in this Coastal Beltway (Cinta Costera), together with so many young people from all over the world, we have accompanied your Son on his Way of the Cross: the way he wanted to walk in order to show us how much you love us and how much you care about our lives. The way of Jesus leading to Calvary is a way of suffering and solitude that continues in our own time. He walks and suffers in all those faces hurt by the complacent and anesthetizing indifference of our society that consumes and is consumed, that ignores and is ignorant, blind to the pain of our brothers and sisters. Lord, we too, your friends, have given in to apathy and inaction. All too often, we have ended up going along with the crowd, and this has paralyzed us. It has been hard to see you in our suffering brothers and sisters. We have looked away in order not to see; we have taken refuge in noise in order not to hear; we have covered our mouths in order not to cry out. The temptation is always the same. It is easier and “it pays” to be friends in triumphs and in glory, in success and applause; it is easier to be around someone who is considered popular and a winner. How easy it is to fall into a culture of bullying, harassment and intimidation. It is not like that for you, Lord: on the cross, you identified yourself with all those who suffer, with all those who feel forgotten. It is not like that for you, Lord: because you wanted to embrace all those whom we so often consider unworthy of an embrace, a caress, a blessing; or, worse yet, do not even realize that they need it. It is not like that for you, Lord: on the cross, you accompany the way of the cross of every young person, of every situation, in order to turn it into a way of resurrection. Father, today your Son’s way of the cross continues: in the muffled cry of children kept from being born and of so many others denied the right to a childhood, a family, an education, or to be able to play, sing or dream… in women who are mistreated, exploited and abandoned, stripped of their dignity and treated as nothing; in the saddened eyes of young people who see their hopes for the future snatched away for lack of education and dignified work; in the anguish of young faces, our friends, who fall into the snares of unscrupulous people – including people who claim to be serving you, Lord – snares of exploitation, criminal activity, and abuse which feed on their lives. Your Son’s way of the cross continues in all those young people and families who, caught up in a spiral of death as a result of drugs, alcohol, prostitution and human trafficking, are deprived not only of a future but also of a present. Just as they divided your garments, Lord, their dignity is divided and mistreated. Your Son’s way of the cross continues in those young people with downcast faces who have lost the ability to dream, create and shape their future, and have already chosen to “retire” in glum resignation or complacency, one of the narcotics most consumed in our time. It continues in the quiet and anger-filled pain of those who, instead of solidarity from an opulent society, encounter rejection, sorrow and misery, and are singled out and treated as responsible for all society’s ills. It continues in the despairing solitude of the discarded and abandoned elderly. It continues in the indigenous peoples whom others strip of their lands, roots and culture, ignoring and silencing the great wisdom that they can bring. Your Son’s way of the cross continues in the plea of our mother earth, profoundly wounded by the pollution of her skies, the barrenness of her fields, the contamination of her waters, trampled underfoot by disregard and a fury of consumption beyond all reason. It is prolonged in a society that has lost the ability to weep and to be moved by suffering. Yes, Father, Jesus keeps walking, carrying his cross and suffering in all these faces, while an uncaring world is caught up in the drama of its own frivolity. And we, Lord, what are we to do? How are we to react to Jesus as he suffers, travels, emigrates in the faces of so many of our friends, or of all those strangers that we have learned to make invisible? And we, Father of mercy, do we console and accompany the Lord, helpless and suffering in the poorest and most abandoned of our brothers and sisters? do we help carry the burden of the cross, like Simon of Cyrene, by being peacemakers, builders of bridges, a leaven of fraternity? do we remain, like Mary, at the foot of the cross? Let us look to Mary, woman of strength. From her let us learn how to stand beneath the cross with her same determination and courage, without evasions or illusions. She accompanied the suffering of her Son, your Son; she supported him by her gaze and protected him with her heart. She shared his suffering, yet was not overwhelmed by it. She was the woman of strength who uttered her “yes”, who supports and accompanies, protects and embraces. She is the great guardian of hope. We too want to be a Church that supports and accompanies, that is able to say, “Here I am!” in the lives and amid the crosses of all those Christs who walk by our side. From Mary we learn how to say “yes” to the patience and perseverance of the many mothers, fathers and grandparents who never cease to support and accompany their children and grandchildren in trouble. From her we learn how to say “yes” to the stubborn endurance and creativity of those who, undaunted, are ready to start over again in situations where everything appears to be lost, in an effort to create spaces, homes and centres of care that can be an outstretched hand to all those in difficulty. In Mary, we learn the strength to be able to say “yes” to those who have refused to remain silent in the face of a culture of mistreatment and abuse, disparagement and aggression, and who work to provide opportunities and to create an atmosphere of safety and protection. In Mary, we learn how to welcome and take in all those abandoned, and forced to leave or lose their land, their roots, their families and their work. Like Mary, we want to be a Church that fosters a culture that welcomes, protects, promotes and integrates; that does not stigmatize, much less indulge in a senseless and irresponsible condemnation of every immigrant as a threat to society. From her we want to learn to stand beneath the cross, not with hearts tightly shut, but with hearts that can accompany, that feel tenderness and devotion, that show mercy and treat others with respect, sensitivity and understanding. We want to be a Church of memory, which appreciates and respects the elderly and gives them their rightful place. Like Mary we want to learn what it means to “stand”. Lord, teach us to stand, at the foot of the cross, at the foot of every cross. Open our eyes and hearts this night, and rescue us from paralysis and uncertainty, from fear and desperation. Teach us to say: Here I stand, alongside your Son, alongside Mary and all those beloved disciples who desire to welcome your Kingdom into their heart.
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