Like Venice, people are beautiful, fragile, pope says in city built on water

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Pope Francis waves as he arrives by boat from Giudecca Island to the Basilica of St. Mary of Health in Venice April 28, 2024, to meet with young people. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

VENICE, Italy (CNS) — Visiting a lagoon of tiny islands, canals and narrow walkways for one day, Pope Francis moved around Venice by boat, bridge and electric golf cart.

Tourists and residents, however, came to a standstill; many were marooned in small neighborhoods as security shut down entire streets and severely limited regular waterway traffic.

Pope Francis arrives by boat from Giudecca Island to the Basilica of St. Mary of Health in Venice April 28, 2024, to meet with young people. (CNS photo/LolaGomez)

The pope’s early morning touchdown by helicopter from Rome on April 28 brought him first to a women’s prison, then by wooden motorboat to the Basilica of St. Mary of Health, a 17th-century church built to honor Mary, invoking her protection and intercession to end to a devastating plague that killed nearly one-third of the population in the 1630s.

Pope tells young people to resist discouragement

About 1,500 young people were in front of the basilica singing and cheering to greet the pope as he arrived waving from the boat decorated with a small Vatican flag. He took his place on a chair near the steps looking out onto the turquoise-blue water.

“Arise and go!” he told them. “Open your heart to God, thank him and embrace the beauty that you are; fall in love with your life.”

“Walk together with others, color the world with your creativity and paint the streets of life with the Gospel,” he said.

Pope Francis greets people as he leaves St. Mark’s Square in Venice in a golf cart April 28, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Young people must resist inertia and discouragement, he said, “because we are made for Heaven.” Tell God, “Here I am!” and recognize and welcome the gift of being made “precious and irreplaceable.”

No one is ugly, and everyone carries a priceless treasure inside that is meant to be shared with others, he said. “This is not self-esteem, it is reality! Recognizing this is the first step we should take in the morning when we wake up: get out of bed and accept yourself as a gift.”

“Remember that for God, you are not a digital profile,” he said, but “a child of heaven.”

But, just like Venice, the pope said, people are beautiful and fragile at the same time. Take care of these fragilities and recognize that God always extends a hand, not to blame or punish, but to heal and lift people back up.

Pope Francis accepts the offertory gifts as he celebrates Mass in St. Mark’s Square in Venice April 28, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

Never get isolated, even when one’s friends are stuck at home behind screens and video games, he told the young people.

This is not easy, he said, but take advice from Venetian wisdom that says one can only go far by consistently and steadily rowing.

It is tiring, he said, especially when one must go against the tide, but perseverance brings rewards, and it is better done together and with God’s guidance.

Thousands join Mass in St. Mark’s Square

Accompanied by a delegation of young people, Pope Francis then went by electric golf cart to St. Mark’s Square by crossing a “bridge of boats,” a floating pontoon bridge that is a traditional Venetian way of temporarily connecting opposite shores. Guests, some still in bathrobes, staying at a waterfront hotel peered out their large balcony windows to see the unusual sight.

More than 10,000 people packed the huge square for Mass and to pray the “Regina Coeli.” In his homily, the pope said Jesus’ metaphor of being the grapevine while believers are the branches “expresses God’s loving care for us; it also warns us that if we sever this connection with the Lord, we cannot produce fruits of good life and risk becoming dry branches, which will be cast aside.”

More than 10,000 people are gathered in St. Mark’s Square in Venice April 28, 2024, for Mass with Pope Francis. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

“This is what matters: to remain in the Lord, to dwell in him,” which does not mean standing still or being passive. “Indeed, it invites us to move, because to remain in the Lord means to grow in relationship with him.”

“As we gaze upon this city of Venice today, we admire its enchanting beauty. Yet, we are also concerned about the many issues that threaten it: climate change, which impacts the waters of the lagoon and the land,” he said.

He highlighted the problems facing the city’s architecture, cultural heritage and people, noting “the difficulty of creating an environment that is fit for human beings through adequate tourism management.”

Christians must remain united to Christ so “we can bring the fruits of the Gospel into the reality we inhabit: fruits of justice and peace, fruits of solidarity and mutual care; carefully-made choices to preserve our environmental and human heritage,” he said.

“We need our Christian communities, neighborhoods and cities to become welcoming, inclusive and hospitable places,” he said.

After Mass and the “Regina Coeli” prayer, the pope greeted the faithful in the square and went into St. Mark’s Basilica to venerate the relics of St. Mark the Evangelist. He also greeted local volunteers who assisted with the visit and then returned to Rome by helicopter. By early afternoon, the streets, squares and waterways of Venice were again freed up for the throngs of visitors.

Carol Glatz

Carol Glatz writes for Catholic News Service.