The Way of the Cross shows Christ’s embrace of everyone who hungers, suffers, and dies – and the imperative for Christians to do works of mercy. Those were Pope Francis words for young people at World Youth Day in Krakow on Friday.
“Jesus himself chose to identify with these our brothers and sisters enduring pain and anguish by agreeing to tread the ‘way of sorrows’ that led to Calvary,” the Pope said July 29. “By dying on the cross, he surrendered himself into to the hands of the Father, taking upon himself and in himself, with self-sacrificing love, the physical, moral and spiritual wounds of all humanity.”
“By embracing the wood of the cross, Jesus embraced the nakedness, the hunger and thirst, the loneliness, pain and death of men and women of all times,” he continued.
The Pope spoke to thousands of young people gathered in a field in Krakow’s Blonia Park.
He reflected on the question: “Where is God?”
“Where is God, if evil is present in our world, if there are men and women who are hungry and thirsty, homeless, exiles and refugees?” he asked. “Where is God, when innocent persons die as a result of violence, terrorism and war?”
He asked where God is in the face of cruel and deadly disease, in the exploitation and suffering of children, and in “the anguish of those who doubt and are troubled in spirit.”
“These are questions that humanly speaking have no answer,” Pope Francis said.
“We can only look to Jesus and ask him. And Jesus’ answer is this: ‘God is in them.’ Jesus is in them; he suffers in them and deeply identifies with each of them. He is so closely united to them as to form with them, as it were, ‘one body’.”
The Pope told young people of the importance of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, saying they open us to God’s mercy and help us appreciate that “without mercy we can do nothing.”
These are the only answers to evil, he said.
“In the face of evil, suffering and sin, the only response possible for a disciple of Jesus is the gift of self, even of one’s own life, in imitation of Christ; it is the attitude of service. Unless those who call themselves Christians live to serve, their lives serve no good purpose. By their lives, they deny Jesus Christ,” the Pope declared.
The Pope stressed the importance of both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
“We are called to serve the crucified Jesus in all those who are marginalized, to touch his sacred flesh in those who are disadvantaged, in those who hunger and thirst, in the naked and imprisoned, the sick and unemployed, in those who are persecuted, refugees and migrants,” he said. “There we find our God; there we touch the Lord.”
He said the credibility of Christians is at stake in how they welcome both those who suffer physically and those who suffer spiritually.
“The Way of the Cross is the way of fidelity in following Jesus to the end, in the often dramatic situations of everyday life,” he added. “It is a way that fears no lack of success, ostracism or solitude, because it fills ours hearts with the fullness of Jesus.”
Christ brings this path even to societies that are divided, unjust, and corrupt.
“The Way of the Cross is not sadomasochistic. It is the only way that defeats sin, evil and death, for it leads to the radiant light of Christ’s resurrection and opens the horizons of a new and fuller life. It is the way of hope, the way of the future,” the Pope said. “Those who take up this way with generosity and faith give hope and a future to humanity.”
“I wish that you, too, be sowers of hope,” he added.
“Dear young people, on that Good Friday many disciples went back crestfallen to their homes,” he concluded. “Others chose to go out to the country to forget the cross.”
“I ask you – and respond, each of you, silently in your hearts – how do you want to go back this evening to your own homes, to the places where you are staying? Your tents? How do you want to go back this evening to be alone with your thoughts? The world is watching us. Each of you has to answer the challenge that this question sets before you.”
He added special mention of those attending World Youth Day from war-torn Syria: “Tonight Jesus, and we with him, embrace with particular love our brothers and sisters from Syria who have fled from the war. We greet them, and we welcome them with fraternal affection and friendship.”