Pope Francis on January 30, 2019, devoted his catechesis during his General Audience in Paul VI Hall to recalling his participation in last week’s 34th World Youth Day (WYD) in Panama. He mentioned many highlights, but perhaps most appropriate to a pilgrimage to WYD, he recalled seeing so many children – and the joy of their parents.
“Something that struck me very much: the people lifted the children with their arms as if saying: ‘Here is my pride, here is my future!’ And they made us see the children, but there were so many!” Pope Francis said. “And the fathers and mothers were proud of that child.
“I thought: how much dignity there is in this gesture, and how eloquent it is for the demographic winter that we are living in Europe! The children are the pride of the family. The children are the security for the future. The demographic winter, without children, is hard!”
However, he reminded listeners that the purpose of the trip was to meet with young people, as well as various others: government officials, church leaders, consecrated, families – all infused with the “joyful presence of the young people.” He also noted the meeting of indigenous youth that took place in the days before WYD.
“The meeting of young people of native and Afro-American peoples preceded this World Youth Day.,” Francis recalled. “A beautiful gesture: native young people and Afro-descendent young people had five days of encounter. There are so many in that region. They opened the door of the World Day. And this was an important initiative, which manifested still better the multi-form face of the Church in Latin America: Latin America is mestiza [mixed blood].”
The Holy Father pointed to the “Marian imprint” of WYD, proclaimed by the theme for the event: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). And he shared his love of the Way of the Cross.
“I will share a confidence with you: I like very much to do the Via Crucis because it is to go with Mary behind Jesus.,” Francis said. “And I always carry with me a pocket Via Crucis, which was given to me by a very apostolic person in Buenos Aires, to do it at any moment. And when I have time, I take it and follow the Via Crucis. You, too, do the Via Crucis, because it is to follow Jesus with Mary on the way of the cross, where he gave His life for us, for our Redemption.”
The Holy Father also recalled the Vigil and Mass with young people, which he said for him was the culmination of WYD. He noted the thousands of young people who participated in the Vigil, then remained present all night until Mass in the morning.
“They passed from enthusiasm to listening to silent prayer,” Francis said. “I proposed Mary to them as she who, in her littleness, ‘influenced’ more than any other the history of the world: we called her the ‘influencer of God.’
“Reflected in her ‘fiat’ were the beautiful and strong testimonies of some young people. On Sunday morning, in the great final Eucharistic celebration, Christ Risen, with the strength of the Holy Spirit, spoke again to the world’s young people, calling them to live the Gospel today, because young people aren’t the ‘tomorrow’; no, they are the ‘today’ for the ‘tomorrow.’