Pope Francis has become something of a pop culture icon, with over 5 million Instagram followers and a blockbuster documentary set for release this spring. It's not hard to see why.
In the homily of his Palm Sunday Mass, Pope Francis took the opportunity to speak to young people, many of whom were gathered to celebrate the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day.
Palm Sunday at the Vatican. Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images.
Perhaps coincidentally — but probably not — the pope’s words also came a day after the March for Our Lives, a series of worldwide, youth-led demonstrations protesting gun violence. It’s estimated that more than 800,000 people attended the march in Washington, D.C., alone.
Though Pope Francis didn’t mention the March for Our Lives specifically, he might as well have. His message was perfectly timed to encourage the thousands of youth who are advocating for better gun legislation and being met with loud resistance from the NRA and others.
EN:The Church wants to listen to all young people, no one excluded, because we need to better understand what God and history are asking of us. PT: A Igreja quer escutar todos os jovens, nenhum excluído, porque temos necessidade de entender melhor aquilo que Deus e a história nos estão pedindo. ES: La Iglesia desea escuchar a todos los jóvenes, sin excepciones, porque necesitamos comprender mejor lo que Dios y la historia nos están pidiendo. IT: La Chiesa vuole ascoltare tutti i giovani, nessuno escluso, perché abbiamo bisogno di capire meglio quello che Dio e la storia ci stanno chiedendo. FR: L'Église veut écouter tous les jeunes, personne n'est exclu, parce que nous avons besoin de mieux comprendre ce que Dieu et l'histoire sont en train de nous demander. DE: Die Kirche will alle Jugendliche hören, niemand ausgeschlossen, weil wir besser verstehen müssen, was Gott und die Geschichte von uns verlangen. #synod2018, #jovens, #youngpeople, #jovenes
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First, the pope admonished adults to stop silencing young people.
Pope Francis basically told the grown-ups of the world to back off the young folks, but he did so in his gentle, indirect, pontiff-like way:
“The temptation to silence young people has always existed. There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible. Many ways to anesthetize them, to make them keep quiet, ask nothing, question nothing. There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive.”
I don’t know about you, but what I heard there was, “Hey adults [*cough* NRA]. Knock it off.”
Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images.
Indeed, the number of adults I’ve seen in comments berating our young protesters is appalling. These kids are being told they aren’t old enough to know what they’re talking about despite having been through the trauma of a mass shooting and/or the daily fear of gun violence in their communities. They’re being called puppets, pawns, and shills — as if they couldn't possibly have something to say about the gun violence that directly affects them.
The NRA posted a recruitment video on their Facebook page the day of the march, with the caption, “Today’s protests aren’t spontaneous. Gun-hating billionaires and Hollywood elites are manipulating and exploiting children as part of their plan to DESTROY the Second Amendment and strip us of our right to defend ourselves and our loved ones.”
Ugh, seriously. Knock it off.
Pope Francis also spoke directly to young people, encouraging them “not to keep quiet.”
The pope then turned his attention to young activists, telling them basically to keep on using their voices to fight for change, even when the grown-ups around them are corrupt, grumpy, and silent:
“Dear young people, you have it in you to shout. It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders, some corrupt, keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?”
The young people in the crowd shouted out, “Yes!”
I may have stood up in my living room and shouted, “Yes!” too. And I’m 43 years old and not even Catholic.
Pope Francis greets the crowd after Palm Sunday Mass in the Vatican. Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images.
I love that the 81-year-old pope, who has the ear of more than a billion Catholics around the world, is uplifting the voices of youth. So often, young people get a bad rap in our society, but I have been blown away by these young activists. Watching the television coverage of the March for Our Lives, I was moved to tears by their eloquence, conviction, maturity, and inclusion. These kids have restored so much of my faith in humanity, and Pope Francis using his substantial pulpit to urge them on just warms my heart.
Two Marjory Stoneman Douglas students were at the Mass in the Vatican, holding gun violence protest signs.
Gabriella Zuniga and Valentina Zuniga are students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students were shot and killed on Feb. 14, 2018. They were in attendance at the mass in the Vatican on March 25, along with their parents, holding signs that read "We are #MSDSTRONG," "Protect Our Children Not Our Guns," and "#NeverAgain."
Joining #PopeFrancis for Palm Sunday after #MarchForOurLives: Valentina & Gabriella Zuniga, students from Stoneman… https://t.co/VSGl4t2S4q— Catholic News Service (@Catholic News Service) 1521978353
Pope Francis is an incredibly aware guy. He may not have seen the Zunigas and their signs in the crowd at Palm Sunday Mass, but there's no doubt that he saw the masses of youth leading the March for Our Lives.
And his message to them on Palm Sunday was heard loud and clear: Keep on shouting, kids, no matter how the grown-ups try to silence you.