Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
May 1, 2024 // National

Pope Implores Young People to ‘Walk Together with Others’

Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VENICE, Italy (CNS) – Visiting a lagoon of tiny islands, canals, and narrow walkways for one day, Pope Francis moved around Venice by boat, bridge, and electric golf cart.

The pope’s early morning touchdown by helicopter from Rome on Sunday, April 28, brought him first to a women’s prison, then by wooden motorboat to the Basilica of St. Mary of Health, a 17th-century church built to honor Mary, invoking her protection and intercession to end a devastating plague that killed nearly one-third of the population in the 1630s.

Pope Francis greets people as he leaves St. Mark’s Square in Venice in a golf cart April 28, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

About 1,500 young people were in front of the basilica singing and cheering to greet the pope as he arrived waving from the boat decorated with a small Vatican flag. He took his place on a chair near the steps looking out onto the turquoise-blue water.

“Arise and go!” he told them. “Open your heart to God, thank Him, and embrace the beauty that you are; fall in love with your life.”

“Walk together with others, color the world with your creativity, and paint the streets of life with the Gospel,” he said.

Young people must resist inertia and discouragement, he said, “because we are made for heaven.” Tell God, “Here I am!” and recognize and welcome the gift of being made “precious and irreplaceable.”

No one is ugly, and everyone carries a priceless treasure inside that is meant to be shared with others, he said. “This is not self-esteem, it is reality! Recognizing this is the first step we should take in the morning when we wake up: get out of bed and accept yourself as a gift.”

“Remember that, for God, you are not a digital profile,” he said, but “a child of heaven.”

But, just like Venice, the pope said, people are beautiful and fragile at the same time. Take care of these fragilities and recognize that God always extends a hand, not to blame or punish, but to heal and lift people back up.

Never become isolated, even when one’s friends are stuck at home behind screens and video games, he told the young people.

This is not easy, he said, but take advice from Venetian wisdom that says one can only go far by consistently and steadily rowing.

It is tiring, he said, especially when one must go against the tide, but perseverance brings rewards, and it is better done together and with God’s guidance.

More than 10,000 people packed St. Mark’s Square for Mass and to pray the Regina Coeli. In his homily, the pope said Jesus’ metaphor of being the grapevine while believers are the branches “expresses God’s loving care for us; it also warns us that if we sever this connection with the Lord, we cannot produce fruits of good life and risk becoming dry branches, which will be cast aside.”

“This is what matters: to remain in the Lord, to dwell in Him,” which does not mean standing still or being passive. “Indeed, it invites us to move, because to remain in the Lord means to grow in relationship with Him.”

“As we gaze upon this city of Venice today, we admire its enchanting beauty. Yet, we are also concerned about the many issues that threaten it: climate change, which impacts the waters of the lagoon and the land,” he said.

After Mass and the Regina Coeli, the pope greeted the faithful in the square and went into St. Mark’s Basilica to venerate the relics of St. Mark the Evangelist. He also greeted local volunteers who assisted with the visit and then returned to Rome by helicopter.

Before the Mass, Pope Francis visited some 80 detainees, staff, and volunteers of the Giudecca women’s prison in Venice, whom he told he wanted to meet them first on his one-day visit to the city, adding, “You have a special place in my heart.”

Rather than being a stiff, formal affair, he said, he wanted their moment together to be a chance to “give each other time, prayer, closeness and fraternal affection.”

“Today we will all leave this courtyard richer – perhaps the one who will leave richer will be me – and the good we will exchange will be precious,” said the pope, who has visited more than a dozen prisons during his 11-year pontificate.

Pope Francis urged the women to be brave, never to give up, and always look to the future with hope. “I like to think of hope as an anchor that is anchored in the future, and we have the rope in our hands, and we go forward with the rope anchored in the future.”

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