During the Way of the Cross, celebrated on Jan. 25 in Panama City, thousands of World Youth Day pilgrims from around the world joined Pope Francis in praying for people facing violence, poverty and exclusion around the world, particularly in Latin American countries.

“The way of Jesus leading to Calvary is a way of suffering and solitude that continues in our own time,” said Pope Francis. “He walks and suffers in all those faces hurt by the complacent and anesthetizing indifference of our society that consumes and is consumed, that ignores and is ignorant, blind to the pain of our brothers and sisters.”

CS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann

Each station was connected to a particular country. During the third station, when Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin, pilgrims from El Salvador reflected on the martyrs, such as Saint Oscar Romero, and how their witness “reminds us how the Sanhedrin lives on in history and how many today are persecuted, opposed, and condemned, because their coherent and firm lives are a scandal to the world.”

Jocelyn Hernandez, a 18 year-old parishioner of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Washington, wore a flag from El Salvador over her shoulders as she prayed the stations. She still has some family in El Salvador, and she said she was praying for an end to the violence there and “for each individual’s well-being.”

Josue Ortez, another 18 year-old Sacred Heart parishioner whose parents are from El Salvador and Honduras, said he was not only praying for those countries, but was “praying for every country,” because “every country goes through hardships and it is good to pray for everyone,” including those in the United States affected by the government shutdown.

“Stations is something deep and intimate to do with God,” he said, adding that the fact that Pope Francis was praying it with them, “adds a whole other meaning to it.”

CS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann

Luigi Quiñónez, a 17 year-old from El Salvador, said in addition to praying for his cousin who has leukemia, he would be praying for the elections in his country that are going to take place in just two weeks, because, “it is a really hard time for us in our country right now.”

During the sixth station, where Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns, Venezuelan pilgrims prayed for the intercession of Our Lady of Coromoto, the patroness of Venezuela, to “help us to care for, heal, and fill with hope the hearts, scourged and crowned with thorns, of so many who have lost their homeland.”

Maria Valentina-Torres, a 19 year-old from Venezuela, told the Catholic Standard knowing that so many people were united in prayer for their country “fills us with hope; with joy.”

“It is a great relief to know that we have the support of people worldwide,” she said.

Valentina-Torres and her friends, Maria José-Diaz and Anna Maria Contreras-Niño, said they would be praying for freedom for their country, for Nicolás Maduro’s regime to leave, and for their families and friends to be able to return to the country.

All three were a part of a group from Universidad de Zulia in Venezuela, and Contreras-Niño studies medicine there at the public hospital, which she said is in a “very, very tough situation,” with people dying because the hospital is running out of medicine. Though they would like to be able to do more to help, they are unable to. So, the group of girls raised money to bring food to the patients there as a small way to improve the situation. During World Youth Day, they are giving out old Venezuelan currency as a way to remind people to pray for Venezuela, they said.

At the fourteenth station, where Jesus is placed in the sepulcher, pilgrims from Nicaragua prayed that they may remember to honor life, from conception until natural death.

For pilgrims from that country, traveling to World Youth Day was a risk, especially for those who wanted to wanted to bring a flag with them. One pilgrim said she hid it underneath the rest of her luggage, hoping that the people at the border patrol would not see, because if they did, they could send her to jail.

Javiera Martinez, a pilgrim from Nicaragua who works in banking, said knowing about people’s prayers is “really important for us, because my country is in a difficult political situation,” which he described as a “state of prison,” where they are unable to say what they think and Catholics are sometimes persecuted.

He, too, noted the difficulty of traveling outside of the country with a Nicaraguan flag, but said he wanted to do so anyway because “I love my country,” and “I love my faith.” He also said he dreams of his country someday being free again.

“I really appreciate that people pray for our country because God has a destiny for us,” he said.

After the pilgrims finished praying each of the stations, Pope Francis spoke to the crowd, saying that Jesus’s Way of the Cross continues today in the plight of people around the world, such as in the cry of children kept from being born or denied a childhood; in women who are mistreated or exploited; in the eyes of young people who lack education or dignified work; in those who are caught up in drugs, alcohol or human trafficking; in the abandoned elderly; in indigenous people who have been stripped of their land; in "mother earth" who has been polluted; and in “those young people with downcast faces who have lost the ability to dream, create and shape their future.”

The Way of the Cross, he said, also continues “in the quiet and anger-filled pain of those who, instead of solidarity from an opulent society, encounter rejection, sorrow and misery, and are singled out and treated as responsible for all society’s ills.”

Pilgrims from Panama are moved to tears as the Way of the Cross draws to a close. (CS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)

“It is prolonged in a society that has lost the ability to weep and to be moved by suffering,” said Pope Francis. “Yes, Father, Jesus keeps walking, carrying His cross and suffering in all these faces, while an uncaring world is caught up in the drama of its own frivolity.”

In light of this, Pope Francis asked, “Lord, what are we to do?” and suggested looking to Mary as a model.

“She accompanied the suffering of her Son, your Son; she supported Him by her gaze and protected Him with her heart. She shared His suffering, yet was not overwhelmed by it,” said Pope Francis. “…We too want to be a Church that supports and accompanies, that is able to say, ‘Here I am!’ in the lives and amid the crosses of all those Christs who walk by our side.”