PANAMA CITY — Victims of violence, abuse, abortion, terrorism, natural disasters, human trafficking, forced migration and “many other signs of death and loneliness” were at the core of a Way of the Cross meditation led by Pope Francis on Friday in Panama’s coastal beltway with the ocean as the backdrop.
In the face of such suffering, the pontiff held up the example of Mary.
“In Mary, we learn the strength to be able to say ‘yes’ to those who have refused to remain silent in the face of a culture of mistreatment and abuse, disparagement and aggression, and who work to provide opportunities and to create an atmosphere of safety and protection,” Francis said.
“In Mary, we learn how to welcome and take in all those abandoned, and forced to leave or lose their land, their roots, their families and their work,” he continued. “Like Mary, we want to be a Church that fosters a culture that welcomes, protects, promotes and integrates; that does not stigmatize, much less indulge in a senseless and irresponsible condemnation of every immigrant as a threat to society.”
The pope’s remarks came as he led young people in praying the Way of the Cross in Panama, during the the third day of his visit to Panama to participate in World Youth Day, a Vatican-sponsored event that takes place every two or three years in different cities.
The Way of the Cross, which reflects on the path Christ followed in his way to his crucifixion, continues today, the pontiff said. Jesus suffers in all those who are hurt by the “complacent and anesthetizing indifference of our society that consumes and is consumed, that ignores and is ignorant, blind to the pain of our brothers and sisters.”
“All too often, we have ended up going along with the crowd, and this has paralyzed us,” he said, regretting that many of those gathered have looked away in order not to see the pain, taking refuge in the noise not to hear the suffering of others, and covered their mouths not to cry in pain.
“It’s easier and ‘it pays’ to be friends in triumphs and in glory, in success and applause; it is easier to be around someone who is considered popular and a winner,” he said. “How easy it is to fall into a culture of bullying, harassment and intimidation.”
According to Francis, Jesus’ way of the cross continues, in the “muffled cry” of the children lost to abortion, and in that of the children robbed from their right to a childhood and an education; in women who are mistreated, exploited and abandoned; in young people who see they have no future due to lack of education and dignified work; “in the anguish of young faces, our friends, who fall into the snares of unscrupulous people – including people who claim to be serving you, Lord – snares of exploitation, criminal activity, and abuse which feed on their lives.”
Jesus’ path to Calvary, the pope said, continues in the young people and families who, “caught up in a spiral of death as a result of drugs, alcohol, prostitution and human trafficking, are deprived not only of a future but also of a present.”
Francis continued ticking off the many evils of the world today, all of which, he said, perpetuate Jesus’ Way of the Cross: from the environment to the indigenous people; those who have lost the ability to work and the world lost up in the drama of “its own frivolity.”
The fourteen stations commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus were set by Sister Rosemary Castañeda, director of pastoral ministry of the local organizing committee of WYD Panama and read by young people from across the continent. Each station also prayed to a different Marian advocation. For instance, the third station, “Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin,” reflected on the “Church of Martyrs,” and was read by people from El Salvador.
“In the glorious crown of the Martyrs, Saint Oscar Arnulfo Romero, bishop and witness of faith, reminds us how the Sanhedrin is perpetuated in history and how many today they are persecuted, fought, condemned, because their lives, coherent and firm, are a scandal to the world,” the meditation says, before asking for the intercession of the Virgin of Peace.
The sixth station, “Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns,” delved into the issue of migrants and refugees and was read by young people from Venezuela.
“Jesus wanted us to find him in the pain of migrants and the anguish of refugees,” said the meditation read in Panama City’s coastal beltway.
“He too was one during his childhood in Egypt, he himself felt the steps of those who yesterday and also today brutally pursue those who, not only have lost everything, but who also feel how borders and doors are closed, how the lines that limit countries are crowned with sharp thorns that threaten, despise and reject so many brothers,” the pope said.
Young people from the United States were tasked with the 12th station, “Jesus crucified, the Mother and the Disciple,” which turned on the issue of “mothers.”
World Youth Day, the meditation notes, has always been accompanied by the Virgin Mary, who became the mother of the disciples and continues to take care with maternal kindness of those who are fragile, in need of tenderness being defended from the “fury of sin and bitterness of loneliness.”
Praying to the Mother of God, the young people asked her to “Help us to always be attentive to the voice of the Lord: let us not be deaf to the cry of the poor, may the suffering of the sick and the oppressed not find us distracted, may the loneliness of the elderly and the helplessness of children not leave us indifferent, may we always love and respect human life.”
The 13th station was led by pilgrims from Mexico, who prayed for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the country and of the Americas. Touching on the issue of terrorism, they said that it has “destroyed many lives, the murders have broken many hearts. Jesus, dead on the cross, becomes the voice of so many victims to tell us that with love we must defend, respect and care for life.”
Two Nicaraguan pilgrims were tasked with reading the final Station of the Cross — Jesus laid in the tomb — which was dedicated to pray against abortion.
There is a tomb “where innocent martyrs lie, the victims of abortion who, like the children of Bethlehem, continue to cry out to the world with their drowned voices, the cry of their little bodies torn apart, the deep sadness of their rights sullied.”