LISBON – In an off-the-cuff speech to young people praying the “Way of the Cross” with him in Lisbon Friday, Pope Francis said the cross is a sign of love and urged youths to reflect on their own sufferings and anxieties, as well as their desire to smile.

Speaking to some roughly 800,000 young people attending the event, the pope said that in praying the Via Crucis, “You are going to walk with Jesus, Jesus is the path, and we are going to walk with him because he walked.”

“When Jesus was among us, he walked, he walked healing the sick, caring for the poor, he walked preaching, but the path that is most marked on the heart is the path to Calvary, the way to the cross,” he said.

Francis called the cross “the greatest sense of the greatest love, the love with which Jesus wants to embrace our life,” he said, saying this is true for each person as he pointed to different parts of the crowd.

“Jesus walks for me, we all have to say it, Jesus begins this path for me,” he said, repeating Jesus’s assertion at the Last Supper that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, and for others in general.

Pope Francis then asked young people whether they cry from time to time and told them to think about the things in their lives that make them weep.

“All of us in life have cried, and we cry still. And there is Jesus with us, he cries with us, because he accompanies us in the darkness that leads us to tears,” he said, and told the youths spend a few minutes in silence reflecting on the things that make them cry.

Pope Francis is currently in Lisbon as part of an Aug. 2-6 trip to Portugal to preside over the global World Youth Day (WYD) gathering. Prior to Friday evening’s Via Crucis prayer, he heard the confessions of three young people from Italy, Spain and Guatemala and visited a parish and social center before having lunch with 10 young people from different countries.

He is scheduled to visit the Marian shrine of Fatima Saturday before leading a large prayer vigil and closing WYD with a Mass Sunday that is expected to draw some one million people from 200 countries around the world.

Established by Pope John Paul II in 1986, WYD is held every three years in a different country around the world as a means of encouraging young people in their faith and inspiring them to get involved.

Pope Francis led an official opening ceremony Thursday attended by some 500,000 young people, warning them against the “illusions of the virtual world.”

Meditations for Friday’s Via Crucis with Pope Francis were written by young people and touch on a variety of issues, including youth unemployment; war, abuse and all other forms of violence; feelings of solitude and depression, and even feelings of suicide among youth; various forms of exclusion and intolerance, as well as the isolation, narcissism and misinformation generated by the digital world.

Other issues they address are migration, addiction, religious and political persecution, as well as attention to the weak and vulnerable.

In his homily, Francis told the young people gathered that Jesus hopes to push them “to embrace the risk of loving, because you know it, you know it better than I, loving is risky.

“One must take the risk of loving, it’s a risk, but it’s worth taking it, and he accompanies us in this,” he said.

As they prepared to begin the Via Crucis, the pope said they were going to walk the path with Jesus, saying it is also “the path of your suffering, the path of our anxieties, the path of our solitudes.”

He told the youths to reflect in silence during the Via Crucis on “our own suffering, think of our own anxiety, think of our own miseries, be afraid, think of them, and think about the desire for the soul to smile again.

“Jesus walks to the cross, dies on the cross, so our soul can smile,” he said.

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