Pope Francis challenged hundreds of thousands of young people who gathered in a sprawling Polish meadow to reject being a “couch potato” who retreats into video games and computer screens and instead engage in social activism and politics to create a more just world.
Peppering his speech with contemporary lingo, the 79-year-old pope, despite a long day of public appearances, addressed his eager audience with enthusiasm yesterday on a warm summer night.
Francis spoke of a paralysis that comes from merely seeking convenience, from confusing happiness with a complacent way of life that could end up depriving people of the ability to determine their own fates.
“Dear young people, we didn’t come into this world to “vegetate”, to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: To leave a mark,” Francis told a crowd that Polish media estimated at over 1 million in a huge field in Brzegi, a village outside the southern city of Krakow.
Organizers said 1.6 million people came to hear the pope last night, but police did not give a crowd estimate.
Francis decried a modern escapism into consumerism and computers that isolates people. The same message ran through a ballet performance at the site before his speech: a lonely woman seeks human connections but is rebuffed by people on computer tablets and cellphones until one man emerges from behind a see-through barrier to connect.
For Francis, Jesus is the “Lord of risk ... not the Lord of comfort, security and ease.”
“Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths,” Francis said.
He challenged his sea of listeners, spread out on blankets, to make their mark on the world by becoming engaged as “politicians, thinkers, social activists” and to help build a world economy that is “inspired by solidarity.”
“The times we live in do not call for young ‘couch potatoes,’“ he said to applause, “but for young people with shoes, or better, boots laced.”
Like a politician working a crowd, Francis yelled out to his audience: “You want others to decide your future?” When he didn’t get the rousing “No!” he was going for, he tried for a “Yes.”
“You want to fight for your future?” he asked. “Yes!” they roared.