Although Mary would not be considered an “influencer,” like many social media personalities, she still became the most influential woman in history by trusting “in the love and promises of God, the only force capable of making all things new,” Pope Francis told young people at the World Youth Day prayer vigil Jan. 26.
“Are you willing to be an ‘influencer’ like Mary, who dared to say, ‘Let it be done’?” he asked. “Only love makes us more human and fulfilled; everything else is a pleasant but useless placebo.”
Despite sweltering temperatures in Panama City, hundreds of thousands of young men and women made their way to St. John Paul II Park on the penultimate day of World Youth Day. They brought sleeping bags and tents, and prepared to spend the night at the field.
Arriving in his popemobile, Pope Francis made his way through a sea of colorful flags and banners people waved excitedly.
After the pope took his place on the stage, young adults from Panama and the Palestinian territories gave their experiences of finding faith and hope amid doubt, sickness and addiction.
Erika de Bucktron, a 42-year-old mother of four from Panama, spoke of the fear and difficulties she faced when doctors said her pregnancy was at high risk after diagnosing her unborn daughter with Down syndrome.
Throughout her pregnancy, she said, she and her husband abandoned themselves in God’s hands and, after the birth of their daughter, decided “to love her with all our hearts, without making any difference with our other children, who also welcomed her with so much love.”
Panamanian Alfredo Martinez Andrion, 20, recalled his experience of falling into a life of drugs and crime. His addiction, he said, ultimately led to a 12-month prison sentence. Despite attempts to reform following his release, he fell back again into drug use.
Ultimately, he found help at a Catholic-run halfway house that helped and encouraged him “in my path toward reintegration.”
“I want to tell the young people of the world that God loves us and never abandons us. We are the masters of our own actions, but if we are with God, everything will be OK,” Martinez said.
After listening to their experiences, Pope Francis addressed the youths, saying that their experiences reflected the risk Mary took to say “yes” to God.
The salvation that God wishes to give his children, he said, isn’t a file in the cloud waiting to be downloaded or the latest app, but rather 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.”
However, Christians can obtain this salvation only by placing their trust in God, especially in moments of uncertainty, doubt and trial.
Recalling the experience given by Ms. de Bucktron, the pope said the fears and difficulties the couple faced with the birth of her daughter meant embracing life, even “in accepting things that are not perfect, pure or ‘distilled,’ yet no less worthy of love,” he said.
God begins to write his great love story precisely through people’s problems, frailties and flaws, the pope said. Just as he embraced Peter after his denials, Jesus helps Christians stand up when they have fallen, the pope added.—CNS