ROME – During Wednesday’s general audience on the theme of Christian hope, Pope Francis spoke about hope’s fulfillment in heaven and reminded faithful that no one should despair because God’s grace is always present for those who put their trust in him.

“Paradise is not a fantasy land, or even an enchanted garden,” the pope said Oct. 25. “Paradise is the embrace with God, infinite Love, and we enter it thanks to Jesus, who died on the cross for us.”

Francis told the roughly 25,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s square that Jesus uses the word ‘paradise’ only once in the Gospel, when he is nailed to the cross and talking to the Good Thief. The pope described the scene on mount Calvary, where Jesus had his “last appointment with a sinner, to open wide to him also the doors of his Kingdom.”

The Good Thief humbly and bravely asked Jesus, “remember me” (cf. Lk 23:42), touching Christ’s heart with his repentance. He “reminds us of our real condition before God,” Francis said, “that we are his children, that He feels compassion for us, that He is disarmed every time we manifest nostalgia for his love.”

This scene repeats itself countless times in prison cells or hospital rooms, the pope continued, “no person, no matter how badly he lived, is left with only desperation and denied grace.”

Francis said that all of us come before God empty handed, discovering near death that our sins outnumber the good deeds we have done, but we “must not lose hope,” he added, “but confide in the mercy of God” like the publican in the Temple, or the prodigal son.

“Where there’s Jesus, there’s mercy and happiness,” Francis said. “Without him there’s cold and darkness.” Even when everyone else has abandoned us, Jesus is next to us, eager to lead us to “the most beautiful place in existence,” he said.

When the soul of the sinner goes to Heaven, the good that he has done in his life will go with him so that nothing that the Lord has redeemed will go lost, the pope said. But he will also carry with him “the failings and mistakes of an entire life.

“This is our life’s destination: that everything is done, and is transformed into love,” Francis said. “If we believe this, death stops frightening us, and we can also hope to leave this world serenely, with a lot of faith.

“Those who encounter Jesus, do not fear anything anymore.”

When that meeting finally happens, we will no longer be confused and need for anything, the pope continued. “We won’t cry uselessly anymore, because everything is passed; even the prophecies, even knowledge,” he said.

“But not love, that will stay.”