PANAMA CITY, Panama — Though the sloth is considered one of Panama’s national animals, no one could accuse Pope Francis of being one this week during his visit to this Central American country, which now included a four-hour long vigil on Saturday where he broke out into hipster language, using words such as “app,” “influencer,” “cloud,” and “tutorial.”
He also told the thousands gathered that God loves everyone, with their sins and imperfections, and that salvation comes through this love. The worst fall, Francis said, the one that “can ruin our lives, is to remain down and not allow ourselves to be helped up.”
Mary, he said, wasn’t an “influencer,” yet she became the “most influential woman in history,” because of her “yes” to God.
Life, he said, is not “a salvation up ‘in the cloud,’ and waiting to be downloaded, a new ‘app’ to be discovered, or a technique of mental self-improvement,” he said. It’s not a “tutorial” for the latest news either.
“The salvation the Lord offers us is an invitation to be part of a love story interwoven with our personal stories; it is alive and wants to be born in our midst so that we can bear fruit just as we are, wherever we are and with everyone all around us,” Francis said.
The pope’s words came on Saturday evening in Panama, as he led a prayer vigil in the John Paul II field, located some 15 miles from downtown, and to where young pilgrims participating in World Youth Day had to walk as part of this week-long pilgrimage.
Despite the heat and the humidity that forced fire trucks to throw water to many of the pilgrims as they walked towards the field, the young people weren’t brought down, and set up a small festival-like camp as they will spend the night in this field, waiting for Sunday’s closing Mass, set to start at 8 a.m. to avoid the risk of heat stroke.
During his talk, the pope mostly read from his prepared remarks, something he’s been doing more as his pontificate progresses, conscious of the fact that if he goes full-on off-the-cuff, his core message might be lost in a soundbite.
Part of his speech was a response to the witness shared by several people during the vigil, that included prayer, singing, and was set to close with eucharistic adoration.
For example, Erika and Rogelio, a married couple with four children, spoke about how less than three years ago, when she was in her 40s, they found out they were pregnant, and it was labeled high risk. On week 17 they learned that their baby girl, Inés, had Down Syndrome, and the doctors advised them to get an abortion.
Instead, they decided to go forth with the pregnancy and “abandon ourselves in the hands of God.”
During his remarks, the pontiff thanked the couple for their “yes,” and for sharing their challenges and difficulties, and for choosing to love their daughter with all their hearts.
“Presented with the life of your frail, helpless and needy daughter, your answer was ‘yes’, and so we have Inés,” Francis said. “You believed that the world is not only for the strong!”
Saying “yes” to God means being ready to embrace life as it comes, even with its fragility, simplicity and its conflicts and annoyances.
“It means embracing our country, our families and our friends as they are, with all their weak points and their flaws,” the pontiff told the crowd. “Embracing life is also seen in accepting things that are not perfect, pure or ‘distilled’, yet no less worthy of love.”
He then went on to ask if a disabled person, a foreigner, or someone who’s made a mistake and is in jail or those who are infirm are “not worthy of love?”
“We know what Jesus did: he embraced the leper, the blind man, the paralytic, the Pharisee and the sinner,” he said. “He embraced the thief on the cross and even embraced and forgave those who crucified him.”
Talking about a 20-year-old man from Panama who at 16 found himself without a job, education or a trade so he began using drugs, the pope said that young people have to ask help of older generations. These generations must do some introspection too, to try to understand what “roots” they are leaving to young people, many of whom find themselves like Alfredo, unemployed, and also alone, with no family or community to support them.
“It is easy enough to criticize and complain about young people if we are depriving them of the jobs, education and community opportunities they need to take root and to dream of a future,” he said. “Without education, it is difficult to dream of a future; without work, it is very difficult to dream of a future; without a family and community, it is almost impossible to dream of a future. Because dreaming of a future means learning how to answer not only the question what am I living for, but also who am I living for, who makes it worthwhile for me to live my life.”
To feel acknowledged and loved, Francis said, people need more than simply being “online,” needing to find spaces where they can feel part of a larger community.
In a world where the Kardashians are seen as “influencers” in ways of consuming, thinking and behaving, the pope said that to be an “influencer” in the twenty-first century is to be “guardians of roots, guardians of all that prevents our life from dissipating and evaporating into nothingness. Be guardians of everything that can make us feel part of one another, to feel that we belong.”
Earlier in the day, saying Mass for the local clergy in the Cathedral of Santa Maria La Antigua, Francis had said that a Church wounded by sin can paralyze, confuse and tire the hearts of Catholics, causing them to doubt their mission.
On Sunday he’s set to say Mass in the same John Paul II field where he led the vigil, before visiting a home for the infirmed and heading back to Rome.