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  • John Thavis

‘Look up toward God, but also down toward others’

Pope Francis made it official at his Palm Sunday Mass today: He’s going to Brazil in July for World Youth Day.

In his homily in a packed St. Peter’s Square, the pope told young people he was “setting out on a journey with you” that would bring him to Rio de Janeiro this summer.

“I will see you in that great city in Brazil! Prepare well – prepare spiritually above all – in your communities, so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the whole world,” he said.

Under sunny skies, the pope led his first Palm Sunday procession through the square, as faithful waved palm fronds and olive branches. The Vatican estimated the crowd at 250,000.

As usual, the pope ad libbed parts of his sermon, at one point quoting his grandmother on the futility of accumulating money in this life because “the burial shroud has no pockets.” In other words, you can’t take it with you.

He focused on a point he’s made repeatedly in his first 10 days as pope: that a Christian’s life should be marked above all by joy and hope. He said it’s a lesson recalled by Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.

“Do not be men and women of sadness: a Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement!” he said.

“Ours is not a joy that comes from having many possessions, but from having encountered a Person: Jesus, from knowing that with him we are never alone, even at difficult moments,” he said.

Pope Francis said Christ “conquered evil” by dying on the cross, and this should encourage Christians never to be complacent when faced with evil in their own lives. As he has done repeatedly in his first few days, the pope spoke again about the devil.

“We must not believe the Evil One when he tells us: you can do nothing to counter violence, corruption, injustice, your sins!”

To make a difference against evil, he added, Christians need to step outside themselves and reach out to others.

“Let us learn to look up towards God, but also down towards others, towards the least of all!” he said.

“And we must not be afraid of sacrifice. Think of a mother or a father: what sacrifices they make! But why? For love! And how do they bear those sacrifices? With joy, because they are made for their loved ones.”

After the liturgy, the pope took an extended ride through the vast crowd in an open jeep, stopping many times to kiss babies, greet their parents and give them a blessing or a thumbs-up.

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