By Inés San Martín
Special to The Tablet
Throughout his Sept. 6-11 visit to Colombia, marking his fifth trip to Latin America, Pope Francis once again has youth at the center of his attention. They’ve been present at every event so far, and the pope addressed them from the residence where he’s staying early Thursday morning.
In a country that remains divided over the government’s peace agreement with guerrilla groups that terrorized the country for decades, Pope Francis told the youth that they have a capacity for forgiveness that adults need to learn.
“Forgiving those who have hurt us; it is remarkable to see how you do not get entangled in old stories, how you watch with surprise when we adults repeat events that divide us simply by being tied to resentments,” he said.
Youth, he said, can help previous generations to leave behind the causes of hurt and look forward without “the burden of hatred.”
Later, speaking to some 22,000 young men and women waiting for him at Bogotá’s Simon Bolivar Square, next to the cathedral, Pope Francis said the entire country owes young people for having opened their eyes to the wider world, inspiring national growth and development.
Before speaking, Francis went into the cathedral, which was packed. He prayed to Our Lady of Chiquinquirá, patroness of Colombia.
The image, which dates back to the 1560s, was transferred from Chiquinquirá to Colombia, some 60 miles away, at the pope’s express request. After praying in silence before the image for several minutes, he left behind a gold rosary as a gift.
Pope Francis arrived in the square following a meeting with Colombia’s civil authorities, and a private meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
“Do not let anyone rob you of joy; look after that joy which unites everyone in the knowledge of being loved by the Lord,” he told young people.
Jesus’ flame, the pope told them from the balcony of the cardinal’s residence, is enough to set the world ablaze. “How could you not be capable of changing this society and accomplishing all you decide to do! Do not be afraid of the future! Dare to dream big!”
Young people, Pope Francis said, have the ability of recognizing the suffering of others. This ability can emerge, he said, there where “death, pain and division have impacted you so deeply that they have left you half-dazed, as if numb.
“Allow the suffering of your Colombian brothers and sisters to strike you and mobilize you! Help us, your elders, not to grow accustomed to pain and neglect,” he said.
In addition, he said, young people have grown up used to seeing that not everything is black and white, that life is made up of a broad scale of grays, which is an image he’s used before. This reality, he said, can expose young people to the risk of falling into a climate of relativism, thus robbing them of their potential to perceive the pain of others.
“You have the capacity not only to judge, to point out mistakes, but also that other beautiful, constructive ability: that of understanding,” Pope Francis said. “An understanding that even behind a wrong – for wrong is [always] wrong, and cannot be just smoothed over – lies an endless number of causes, of mitigating factors.”
Colombia, Francis said, needs for the youth to put themselves in the shoes of those who, for generations, were unable to see this, and were hence incapable of reaching understanding.
“I am certain that you have the potential needed to build the nation we have always dreamed of. Young people are the hope of Colombia and of the Church,” he said.
For the young, the pope told them, it’s easy to encounter each other, needing only a coffee or a drink to meet each other, knowing that the culture of encounter is not about being in agreement on every thought, and living or reacting to others in the same way.
“Rather, [it is] in knowing that beyond our differences we are all part of something greater that unites and transcends us; we are part of this wonderful country,” he said.
Pope Francis also asked them to face the challenge of helping Colombia heal, passing onto adults the “youthful hope which is always ready to give others a second chance.”
“An atmosphere of anxiety sickens the soul; it sees no way out of problems, and ostracizes those who try; it is an atmosphere that harms the hope every community needs in order to move forwards,” he said. “May your dreams and plans give fresh life to Colombia, and fill the country with wholesome goals.”
Addressing Colombians in general, the pope urged them not to allow difficulties to weigh them down, nor violence to break them or evil to overwhelm them.
“We believe that Jesus, with his love and mercy that remain forever, has conquered evil, sin and death. All we need to do is go out to meet him,” he said.
The pope was visibly in a good mood, adding phrases to his prepared remarks, and engaging them, asking them to repeat some ideas he wanted to make sure they’d remember.