KOŠICE, Slovakia — Pope Francis met with more than 20,000 young people Sept. 14 at Lokomotiva Stadium in Košice, Slovakia, during his Sept. 12-15 visit to the country.

The youth spent the day singing and celebrating the anticipated arrival of the Roman pontiff.

Bernadeta Hrebenarova, 28, told Catholic News Service said she found it “incredible that the pope decided to visit my beloved city of Košice.”

“It’s just unbelievable; I cannot describe the feeling,” Hrebenarova said. “I really hope that the pope will bring a message to us, to the young people, on how we should follow Christ in the current world and how to bring the light to the world.”

Young people in Slovakia, she said, “need to hear that we are needed, that Jesus is with us and that whatever path we are on, we are in his plans, and that he has his own plan for each and every one of us.”

For 20-year-old Filip Bacskai, the pope’s visit to his country “was a really huge surprise for me.”

Nevertheless, Bacskai told CNS he expected to be equally surprised by Pope Francis’s speech to young people. He also said he hoped the pope would address “controversial themes” with his usual candor and “come with something that no one expects.”

“I think we need to hear that we should be brave,” Bacskai said. “That’s what he’s always talking about, the bravery to catch the opportunities that God gives us; the energy that should always be a part of a young person’s life.”

In his address, the pope encouraged young people to rebel against “the culture of the ephemeral” that seeks only momentary pleasures that come and go.

“Dear friends, let us not trivialize love, because love is not simply an emotion or feeling, even though it may start that way. Love is not about having everything now; it is not part of today’s throwaway culture. Love is fidelity, gift and responsibility,” he said.

Love and heroism, he continued, go hand-in-hand as evidenced by the life of Blessed Anna Kolesárová.

Known as the “Slovak St. Maria Goretti,” Blessed Kolesárová was killed in 1944 at the hands of a Soviet soldier after she refused his unwanted sexual advances.

Calling her a “heroine of love,” Pope Francis encouraged young people to “aim high” and not “let your lives just pass by like so many episodes in a soap opera.”

He also urged them to “dream of a beauty that goes beyond appearances” and dared them to shun “the fads of the moment” that prevent them from finding true happiness and true love.

“Dream fearlessly of creating a family, having children and raising them well, spending your life in sharing everything with another person,” he said. “Don’t be ashamed of your faults and flaws, for there is someone out there ready to accept and love them, someone who will love you just as you are.”

The pope also called on young people to not forget their roots and to not yield to the persistent self-absorbed culture that turns people into “spreaders of negativity” and “professional complainers.”

“Pay no attention to them, for pessimism and complaining are not Christian. The Lord detests glumness and victimhood. We were not made to be downcast, but to look up to heaven,” he said.