By PHILIP PULLELLA, PATRICIA VICENTE RUA, Reuters
LISBON, Portugal – Hundreds of thousands of young people reflected on their anxieties, enslavement to the “tyranny” of social media and yearning to save the planet at a huge outdoor rally with Pope Francis on Friday.
It took nearly an hour for the open vehicle carrying the 86-year-old pope to drive slowly through the crowd at Lisbon’s Edward VII Park as it was mobbed by people taking part in a Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) retracing the last hours in Jesus’ life.
The crowd, which police estimated at about 800,000, listened to 14 meditations at each of the “stations of the cross” that were written by young people reflecting concerns such as war, mass shootings, domestic violence, child abuse, environmental degradation, bullying, cell-phone addiction, depression, eating disorders and burnout.
“Selfies after selfies. The tyranny of the right body and the perfect smile. Photos of us on social media in carefully studied poses. Artificial posts waiting for likes,” one of the meditations said.
“We, too, ask ourselves what our future on this planet will be like. We witness the unchecked consumption of the earth’s resources, the extinction of species, and the devastation of forests. We are frightened by climate change and feel very insecure about the future,” said another.
“All of this is linked to disordered lifestyles that cause some to starve while others get sick from overeating”.
The pope arrived on Wednesday to preside at World Youth Day, a festival that takes place every two or three years in a different city and has been dubbed the Catholic Woodstock.
People performed modern dance routines that included dangling from scaffolding above the pope as they moved a large cross around a structure that resembled a construction site.
When the meditation about climate change was read, they donned gas masks as white smoke simulating air pollution engulfed the scaffolding.
In his short, improvised address to the crowd at the start of the event, Francis said, “Loving is always a risk, but worth it”.
Earlier on Friday, the pope visited a Church-run social center in a low-income Lisbon neighborhood, urging young people to shun “distilled,” orderly lives where everything seems perfect, but “get your hands dirty” by helping the needy.
“Tangible love is that which gets its hands dirty,” he said.
“How many distilled, useless, lives pass through life without leaving a mark because their lives don’t have weight,” he said in an address to workers and volunteers at the social center after a children’s choir sang for him.
There, he said the message he wanted to leave young people attending the festival from around the world was that while abstract, platonic love exists “in orbit,” tangible love can change the world.
Francis started Friday by hearing the confessions of three young Catholics, from Spain, Italy and Guatemala, in one of the parks hosting the festival. — Reuters