Pope Francis gestures after inviting World Youth Day pilgrims to sit in front of his chair during the July 30 prayer vigil in Kraków, Poland.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING

Pope Francis gestures after inviting World Youth Day pilgrims to sit in front of his chair during the July 30 prayer vigil in Kraków, Poland.

August 15, 2016
JUNNO AROCHO ESTEVES
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

Pope Francis told young people they are not called to be couch potatoes, living boring lives, but should leave their mark in history.

"Today's world demands that you be a protagonist of history, because life is always beautiful when we choose to live it fully, when we choose to leave a mark," the pope told young people at the World Youth Day prayer vigil July 30.

Organizers said up to 1.6 million youth from around the world - many of whom walked more than seven kms to the Field of Mercy - attended the prayer vigil with the pope.

Young people from Poland, Syria and Paraguay gave their experiences of finding hope in the midst of disbelief, war and addiction.

Natalia, a young Polish woman from Lodz, spoke of her experience of encountering the love of God through the sacrament of Reconciliation after 20 years of "not having anything in common with the Church."

"Going to Confession, I was convinced of having irredeemably lost eternal life. Instead, I had heard that God had made everything evil I had done disappear forever."

Rand Mittri, a 26-year-old Syrian woman from Aleppo, shared the pain and sorrow that comes from seeing her city "destroyed, ruined and broken."

Mittri described how she and many families live in constant fear of leaving their homes, not knowing when disaster will strike.

"It is a hard and painful feeling to know that you are surrounded by death and killing, and there is no way to escape, no one to help," she recounted.

Despite the horror she faces daily, Mittri said she learned that with each passing day she believes "God exists despite all of our pain."

"Jesus, I trust in you," she proclaimed.

World Youth Day pilgrims hold candles during Eucharistic adoration at the July 30 prayer vigil

CNS PHOTO | JACYLN LIPPLEMANNB

World Youth Day pilgrims hold candles during Eucharistic adoration at the July 30 prayer vigil.

Miguel from Asuncion, Paraguay, recounted his 16-year struggle with drug addiction.

Beginning to experiment with drugs at age 11 and imprisoned for a crime by 15, Miguel said he continued committing crimes until he was imprisoned for six years.

A priest, he said, took him to a halfway house in Brazil, Fazenda de la Esperanza, where he learned to live as a family with his fellow companions.

"I recovered 10 years ago and today I am responsible for Quo Vadis house of Fazenda de la Esperanza in Cerro Chato, Uruguay, for the past three years," he said.

Between the testimonies, dancers performed. A woman depicting St. Faustina Kowalska looked on in disbelief as youth in glass boxes were fixated on their cellphones and tablets.

A young woman dressed in white danced around them, beckoning them to come out.

The pope invited everyone present to hold hands and pray silently, asking them to "place before the Lord your own battles, the interior struggles that each of you carries in his or her heart."

Silence descended on the field as the pope bowed and joined the youth in prayer.

Pope Francis continued his address by warning the pilgrims to not fall into a "paralysis that comes from confusing happiness with a sofa."

This sofa that promises comfort, safety and relaxation, he said, instead is an "insidious form of paralysis" that makes young men and women become "dull and drowsy."

Pope Francis encouraged the pilgrims, reminding them they are called to leave a mark in the world.

"When we opt for ease and convenience, for confusing happiness with consumption, then we end up paying a high price indeed: We lose our freedom."

He invited them to instead embark on the "path of 'craziness' of our God" who urges Christians to practise the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.