“Peter and the Church walk with you”, was the salutation with which Pope Francis greeted the hundreds of thousand of youths gathered in Cinta Costera in Panama City on Thursday evening, for his first official encounter with those coming from all over the world for the 43 edition of World Youth Day.
“We want to tell you not to be afraid, to go forward with the same fresh energy and restlessness that helps make us happier and more available…not to create a parallel Church that would be more ‘fun’ and ‘cool’ thanks to a fancy youth event”.
Throughout Thursday, pilgrims were animated and entertained by music, song and dance. So by the time Pope Francis arrived, driven through the crowd in his white popemobile, everyone was waiting anxiously for him.
Pope Francis looked in his element: affectionately holding hands with five young WYD representatives, gratefully accepting their gift of a locally woven papal stole, and actively listening to the presentations of the WYD patron saints: Oscar Romero, Martin de Porres, Rose of Lima, John Bosco, Juan Diego and, of course, John Paul II.
While acknowledging the sacrifices faced by many of the young people in getting to Panama, the Pope reminded them that, “a disciple is not merely someone who arrives at a certain place, but one who sets out decisively, who is not afraid to take risks and keeps walking”. “This is the great joy”, the Pope insisted, “to keep walking”.
Vatican News agency reported that the thousands of young people applauded with approval and shouted aloud in agreement, as Pope Francis reminded them how “the culture of encounter is a call inviting us to dare to keep alive a shared dream. A dream that has a place for everyone… A dream named Jesus”. St Oscar Romero provided the inspiration for the Pope when he quoted from a homily of the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador: “Christianity is not a collection of truths to be believed, of rules to be followed, or of prohibitions…Christianity means pursuing the dream for which Jesus gave His life: loving with the same love with which He loved us”.
At this juncture the Pope went on to give a definition of love: “A love that does not overwhelm or oppress, cast aside or reduce to silence, humiliate or domineer”. The love of the Lord, he said, “is a daily, discreet and respectful love, one that is free and freeing, a love that heals and raises up. It is the quiet love of a hand outstretched to serve, a commitment that draws no attention to itself”. This, said Pope Francis, is “a love that makes sense”.
The first encounter between the Pope and the young people of World Youth Day in Panama concluded with them repeating, together with him: “Lord, teach me to love you as you have loved us”.