At Pope Francis’ first official World Youth Day event in Portugal, he told the 500,000 young people in the crowd that their presence was no accident and that God has called each one by name.
“Dear friends, there is a happiness that Jesus has prepared for you, for each of you: It does not come from accumulating things but from putting your life on the line. The Lord says also to each of you: ‘Go, for there is a world that needs what you, and you alone, can give it,” the pope said in Lisbon’s Eduardo VII Park on the night of Aug. 3.
As young people waved flags from the more than 190 nations represented at this year’s World Youth Day welcome ceremony, Pope Francis said: “We have been called because we are loved.”
“In God’s eyes, we are precious children, and he calls us each day in order to embrace and encourage us, to make of us a unique and original masterpiece whose beauty we can only begin to glimpse.”
“Dear young people, on this World Youth Day, let us help one another to recognize this reality; may these days be vibrant echoes of that loving call of God, because we are precious in God's eyes, despite what our eyes sometimes see, despite what our eyes are sometimes clouded by negativity and dazzled by so many distractions,” he said.
Unlike social media algorithms that associate a name with likes and preferences, God truly knows each person’s uniqueness, the pope told the young people, adding: “God’s heart beats uniquely for you.”
Pope Francis received an enthusiastic welcome as he arrived in the popemobile to shouts of “Papa Francisco” from Portuguese and Spanish-speaking pilgrims.
The 86-year-old pope appeared tired at times during the nearly two-hour ceremony in which singers and dancers performed on a large elevated stage, but he spoke with enthusiasm and frequently added comments not included in his prepared remarks.
Before the flag ceremony, young people in colorful outfits performed a skit reading letters to Pope Francis in different languages describing what it is like to be a Catholic in their countries.
The World Youth Day cross and the pilgrim icon of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani were also carried in procession in the park.
“In the Church, there is room for everyone, for everyone. In the Church no one is superfluous, no one is left over, there is room for everyone, just as we are,” he said.
“The Lord does not point his finger but opens his arms, embraces us all, as we see with Jesus on the cross who opened his arms so wide to be crucified and die for us. Jesus never closes the door, never, but invites you to enter; Jesus receives, Jesus welcomes.”
Pope Francis told the crowd that “we as the Church are the community of those who are called; we are not the community of the best, no, we are all sinners, but we are called as we are.”
“Let us think about this a little in our hearts. We are called as we are — with the problems we have, with the limitations we have, with our overflowing joy, with our desire to be better, with our desire to succeed. We are called as we are. Think about this. Jesus calls me as I am, not as I would like to be. We are a community of brothers and sisters of Jesus, sons and daughters of the same Father.”
Pope Francis is scheduled to attend several World Youth Day events before he departs Portugal on Sunday night, including the Stations of the Cross on Friday night and a rosary with young people who are sick at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fátima on Saturday.
“Let us thank everyone who invited us and who worked to make this gathering possible with a round of applause. But above all, it is Jesus who has called us. Let us thank Jesus with another loud round of applause!” the pope said.
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.
Hannah Brockhaus is Catholic News Agency's senior Rome correspondent. She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and has a degree in English from Truman State University in Missouri.
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