RIO DE JANEIRO — The cross of Christ is an invitation for us to fall in love with him and to then reach out and help our neighbors, Pope Francis said today at the conclusion of the Way of the Cross at World Youth Day.
“The cross of Christ invites us also to allow ourselves to be smitten by his love, teaching us always to look upon others with mercy and tenderness,” the Pope prayed July 26 on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro.
“Especially those who suffer, who are in need of help, who need a word or a concrete action, which requires us to step outside ourselves to meet them and to extend a hand to them.”
World Youth Day’s Stations of the Cross stretched across a mile of Brazilian beachfront, concluding at the stage from which Pope Francis address the crowd of faithful.
The reflections for the devotion were written by two members of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, Fathers Zezinho and Joaozinho, who are known in Brazil for their commitment to youth ministry.
Pope Francis began by calling the Way of the Cross an accompaniment of “Jesus on his journey of sorrow and love” and “one of the most intense moments of World Youth Day.”
He recalled that the World Youth Day cross was entrusted to the young people of the world by Blessed John Paul II in 1984. It has traveled throughout Brazil since the last World Youth Day, preparing the country for to be the destination for millions of pilgrims.
“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,” Pope Francis said.
He addressed three questions to the pilgrims, which he hoped “will echo in your hearts”: What have you left on the cross? What has Jesus’ cross left for you? And what does his cross teach us?
Whatever we leave on the cross--“our fears, our problems and our sufferings, even those which are deepest and most painful”--Jesus “walks with us” and takes it upon himself, Pope Francis assured the pilgrims.
He demonstrated this by relating that when St. Peter was trying to flee persecution in Rome he was met by Jesus. The first Pope asked, “Domine, quo vadis?” or “Lord, where are you going?”
Christ replied that he was going to be crucified again. “At that moment,” Peter’s Successor explained, he realized that he had to follow Christ to the “very end,” yet “he also realized that he would never be alone on the journey.”
“Jesus, who had loved him even unto death on the cross, would always be with him," the Holy Father said.
The Pope called to mind that, nailed to the cross, “Jesus unites himself to the silence of the victims of violence, those who can no longer cry out, especially the innocent and the defenseless; with the cross, he is united to families in trouble, those who mourn the loss of their children or who suffer when they see them fall victim to false paradises, such as that offered by drugs.”
“On the cross, Jesus is united with every person who suffers from hunger in a world where tons of food is thrown out each day; on the cross, Jesus is united with those who are persecuted for their religion, for their beliefs or simply for the color of their skin; on the cross, Jesus is united with so many young people who have lost faith in political institutions, because they see in them only selfishness and corruption.”
“He 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,” he added.
Humanity’s sin and suffering, “including our own,” is on the sross, Pope Francis said. Jesus accepts this “with open arms, bearing on his shoulders our crosses,” he added.
Christ carries our crosses, the Pope said, and tells us: “Have courage! You do not carry your cross alone! I carry it with you. I have overcome death, and I have come to give you hope, to give you life.”
The cross gives us an assurance of “the unshakable love which God has for us,” Pope Francis preached. “A love so great that it enters into our sin and forgives it, enters into our suffering and gives us the strength to bear it. It is a love which enters into death to conquer it and to save us.”
Jesus' cross contains “all the love of God, his immeasurable mercy.”
This love is a love in which we can have faith, Pope Francis said. “Dear young people, let us entrust ourselves to Jesus, let us give ourselves over entirely to him!”
Christ is the source of “hope and life,” he said, because Jesus has conquered “evil, suffering and death” through the wood of his cross.
Pope Francis addressed the people of Brazil, noting that “the suffering Christ is keenly felt here,” but that “there is no cross … in our life which the Lord does not share with us.”
The lesson of the cross, the Pope taught, is to look with “mercy and tenderness” on our neighbors.
He took note of the many people who were part of the first Way of the Cross: “Pilate, Simon of Cyrene, Mary, the women.”
“Sometimes we can be like Pilate,” the Bishop of Rome lamented, washing our hands of a situation instead of having “the courage to go against the tide to save Jesus’ life.”
“Dear friends, the cross of Christ teaches us to be like Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus to carry that heavy wood; it teaches us to be like Mary and the other women, who were not afraid to accompany Jesus all the way to the end, with love and tenderness.”
“And you? Who are you like? Like Pilate? Like Simon? Like Mary?” he asked.
The Pope urged the pilgrims to bring, along with him, “to Christ’s cross our joys, our sufferings and our failures.”
“There we will find a Heart that is open to us and understands us, forgives us, loves us and calls us to bear this love in our lives, to love each person, each brother and sister, with the same love. Amen!”