By Justin McLellan, Catholic News Service
[LISBON, Portugal – CNS] — When feelings of suffering, anxiety and loneliness bring young people to tears, Jesus cries with them and walks alongside them on the way of the cross, Pope Francis said.
After hundreds of thousands of young people spent hours singing, dancing and chanting under the sun waiting for the pope to arrive in Lisbon’s Eduardo VII Park to pray the Stations of the Cross Aug. 4, the pope asked them to be silent.
“I’ll ask a question, but don’t answer out loud,” he said. “Do I cry from time to time? Are there things in life that make me cry?”
“All of us in life have cried, and we cry still. And there is Jesus with us, he cries with us, because he accompanies us in the darkness that leads us to tears,” he continued. “I’m going to be silent for a bit and everyone tell God what in your life makes you cry.”
While many in the crowd did not understand the pope’s Spanish, the 800,000 people gathered in Lisbon’s central park fell into silence for 10 seconds at the pope’s request.
After joking in the morning that his glasses “aren’t working” and that he couldn’t read well, the pope entirely set aside his prepared remarks for the Stations of the Cross, improvising his whole speech.
When chants broke out after Pope Francis began to speak, he smiled and lifted his hand to quiet the crowd.
“Today you are going to walk with Jesus,” he said. “Jesus is the path, and we are going to walk with him because he walked” while healing, preaching and caring for the poor, and ultimately toward the cross.
“The cross is the greatest meaning of the greatest love, the love with which Jesus wants to embrace our life,” he said gesturing to the crowd. “Jesus walks for me, we all have to say it, ‘Jesus begins this path for me, to give his life for me.'”
Before young people presented their meditations on the Stations of the Cross, the pope urged them to walk with Jesus on “the path of your suffering, the path of our anxieties, the path of our loneliness.”
Again, he asked the young people to be silent and to think about their anxieties and misfortunes, “don’t be afraid, think of them, and think about your desire for the soul to smile again.”
“Jesus walks to the cross, dies on the cross, so our soul can smile,” he said to break the silence.
Videos of young people from different countries sharing testimonies of faith were played on the video screens scattered throughout the park.
Caleb, 29, from the United States, described how he was a “lost sheep” that Jesus left the flock to find. He said that after growing up in an abusive household and living through the painful divorce of his parents, he fell into drug abuse and developed suicidal thoughts. Yet it was at his lowest point that he met his future wife who would eventually lead him back to God.
As Pope Francis gave his blessing in Portuguese, the giant screens set up throughout the park showed close-ups of young pilgrims in tears. But just as quickly as they fell into silence to hear the pope, they cheered loudly when he waved goodbye.