Pope Francis told the estimated 800,000 young people praying the Stations of the Cross together at World Youth Day in Portugal on Friday evening that Jesus can open the windows of the soul and wipe away all “hidden tears.”
Speaking outdoors in Lisbon’s Eduardo VII Park, the pope asked the crowd to spend a moment in silence to “tell Jesus what makes you cry in life.”
“Jesus is with us. He cries with us. Because he accompanies us in the darkness that leads us to tears,” he said.
“Jesus, with his tenderness, wipes away our hidden tears. Jesus hopes to fill our loneliness with his closeness.”
For each of the 14 stations, a performance troupe acted out choreography from the top of the stage’s high scaffolding, at times performing aerial stunts while hanging from ropes, as the World Youth Day cross was passed around the stage.
The Via Crucis meditations connected Christ’s sufferings to wounds that young people experience today from mental health struggles, addition, and anxiety about their future.
Pope Francis was brought out on stage in a wheelchair and addressed the crowd at the beginning of the Way of the Cross saying: “You are going to walk with Jesus today.”
“The path that is most engraved in our hearts is the path of Calvary, the path of the cross and today you go with prayer to relive the path of the cross. And let’s look at Jesus passing by and walk with him,” he said, choosing to speak entirely off script rather than reading his prepared speech.
Young people from Portugal, Spain, and the United States shared video testimonies projected on a large video screen between some of the meditations.
Caleb, a 29-year-old American, shared how the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist helped to heal the interior wounds that he carried after his parents’ divorce.
“Approaching my high school graduation, my parents went through a horrendous divorce and my world spiraled out of control. I sank deep into depression, I struggled with self-harm, became a drug addict, and had a desire to end my life,” he said as the crowd prayed the ninth station, “Jesus falls for the third time.”
“I let my pain lead me to embracing my selfish desires. Everything I had known was gone, and I had no sense of direction. My head was in such a dark place from all the pain, and I searched for a reason to live,” he related.
“To make a long story short, it was the message of John 6, Jesus in the Eucharist, that brought me home into full communion with the Catholic Church,” he said. “After embracing the identity that my heavenly Father has given me, the wounds I have had have finally started to heal. Being united fully to Jesus in the Eucharist is what has brought healing to my soul. After tasting all that this world has to offer, he is the only one who has truly satisfied me.”
At the end of the final station, Pope Francis gave a blessing to all present.
The Way of the Cross concluded the pope’s second day of World Youth Day events. On Saturday morning, Pope Francis will travel by helicopter to Fátima, where he will pray the rosary with young people suffering from illnesses in the Marian shrine’s Chapel of Apparitions.
In his prepared remarks for the Stations of the Cross, Pope Francis wrote that Jesus desires to free souls from the despair caused by sin and to let in the fullness of his life and love.
“The cross that is present at every celebration of World Youth Day is the icon of this journey. It is the sacred sign of the greatest love of all, the love with which Christ wants to embrace our lives,” he wrote.
“To Jesus, whose side was pierced for our sake, let us open our hearts. Let us put our trust in him. May the stream of blood and water that flowed from his side bathe, purify, and transform us. May it make us passionate prophets of the Gospel and intrepid witnesses of hope.”
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.