Pope Francis told young Slovakian Catholics on Tuesday that confession is an “infallible remedy” for the times when they are feeling down.
Speaking at Lokomotiva Stadium in Košice, eastern Slovakia, on Sept. 14, the Pope advised young people who felt downcast to receive the sacrament.
Responding to a question from Petra Filová, a 29-year-old student, about how to overcome obstacles to God’s mercy, he said: “Today, there are so many disruptive forces, so many people ready to blame everyone and everything, spreaders of negativity, professional complainers.”
“Pay no attention to them, no, for pessimism and complaining are not Christian. The Lord detests glumness and victimhood. We were not made to be downcast, but to look up to heaven, to others, to society.”
“But when we feel downcast — because everyone in life is a little down at certain times; we all know this experience — what are we to do? There is one infallible remedy that can put us back on our feet. Petra, it is what you said: confession.”
The 84-year-old Pope, who is making his first international trip since undergoing surgery in July, began his four-day visit to Slovakia on Sept. 12.
He arrived in the country after a seven-hour visit to Budapest, in neighboring Hungary, where he celebrated the closing Mass of the 52nd International Congress and met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
The pope spoke at an ecumenical gathering in the Slovakian capital, Bratislava, on the evening of his arrival.
On Sept. 12, his first full day in the country, he addressed political leaders, offered encouragement to the Catholic community, and visited a homeless center run by Mother Teresa’s nuns on the capital’s outskirts.
In his first public engagement on Tuesday, he presided at a Byzantine Divine Liturgy in Prešov, 20 miles north of Košice. In the afternoon, he met with members of the minority Roma community in Košice’s Luník IX district.
He traveled directly from Luník IX to Lokomotiva Stadium, which was built in 1970 and usually hosts soccer games.
The livestreamed event, attended by an estimated 25,000 exuberant young people, began with an introduction by Archbishop Bernard Bober of Košice, followed by three testimonies.
The Pope encouraged youngsters to see that God’s mercy, not their sins, is what lies at the heart of confession.
He said: “I will give you a little piece of advice: After each confession, sit still for a few moments in order to remember the forgiveness you received. Hold on to that peace in your heart, that inner freedom you are feeling; not your sins, which no longer exist, but the forgiveness that God has granted you, the caress of God the Father. Just hold on to that; don’t let it fade.”
“And the next time you go to confession, remember: I am going to receive again the embrace that did me so much good. I don’t go to a judge to settle accounts. I go to Jesus who loves me and heals me.”
He added: “In confession, let us give God first place. If God is the protagonist, everything becomes beautiful, and confession becomes the sacrament of joy. Yes, joy; not fear and judgment, but joy.”
As the Pope spoke, he was frequently interrupted by applause. He paused several times to ask the crowd questions, pretending at times not to hear their answers so they would answer more loudly.
Continuing his reflection, he urged priests who heard confessions to be merciful and never “curious or inquisitorial.”
To those who are embarrassed to enter the confessional box, the Pope said that feeling ashamed was positive because it indicated regret.
“Feeling ashamed is a good sign, but like any other sign, it asks you to move beyond it,” he said. “Don’t let shame imprison you, because God is never ashamed of you. He loves you in the very place where you feel ashamed. And he loves you always.”
To those who are concerned that they always commit the same sins, he said: “Listen, is God ever offended? Is he offended if you go to him and ask for forgiveness? No! Never. God suffers when we think that he can’t forgive us, because that is like us telling him: ‘Your love is not strong enough!’”
He continued: “Instead, God rejoices in forgiving us, time and time again. Whenever he picks us up, he believes in us as if it were the first time. He never grows discouraged. We are the ones who get discouraged, not he. He does not label us as sinners: He sees us as children to be loved. He does not see us as lost causes, but as beloved and hurting children; and then he feels all the more compassion and tenderness.”
“And every time we go to confession — never forget this — there is a party in heaven. May it also be so on earth!”
The Pope also answered a question about the value of chaste love, posed by Peter Lešak, a 37-year-old company manager who is married with three daughters.
The Pope said: “Love is our greatest dream in life, but it does not come cheap. Like all great things in life, love is beautiful, but not easy.”
While love may begin with an emotion, he noted, it should not be reduced to a mere feeling.
“Love is not about having everything now; it is not part of today’s throwaway culture. Love is fidelity, gift and responsibility,” he commented.
“Today, being truly original and revolutionary means rebelling against the culture of the ephemeral, going beyond instinct, beyond the instant, and loving with every fiber of your being, for the rest of your life.”
He urged his listeners not “just to make do, but to make something of our lives,” striving for both love and heroism, like Jesus when he gave his life on the cross.
The Pope also offered the example of a local Blessed, Anna Kolesárová. Lokomotiva Stadium was the site of the Slovakian laywoman’s beatification on Sept. 1, 2018.
Born in present-day eastern Slovakia, in 1928, she was killed by a drunken Soviet soldier in 1944, near the end of the Second World War, for refusing his sexual advances.
At the time, Soviet troops were passing through Kolesárová’s district. When a soldier entered her home and found the family in hiding, he attempted to rape Kolesárová, threatening her with death if she did not comply. Kolesárová refused, and the soldier shot her in front of her family.
The Pope told young people that Kolesárová, who died at the age of 16, taught youth to “aim high,” describing her as a “heroine of love.”
He said: “Please, don’t let your lives just pass by like so many episodes in a soap opera. And when you dream of love, don’t go looking for special effects, but realize that each of you is special. Every one of us is a gift, and make life, your own life, a gift. Others, your communities, the poor, are waiting for you.”
He encouraged young people to “dream fearlessly” of creating a family and having children.
He urged them not to be ashamed of their frailties, “for there is someone out there ready to accept and love them, someone who will love you just as you are.”
He said that, for love to be fruitful, it was essential that young people remember their roots, honoring their parents and, especially, their grandparents.
“Cultivate your roots; visit your grandparents. It will do you good. Ask them questions; take time to listen to their stories,” he suggested.
“Today, there is a danger of growing up rootless, because we feel we always have to be on the go, to do everything in a hurry. What we see on the internet immediately enters our homes; just one click and people and things pop up on our screen. Those faces can end up becoming more familiar than those of our own families. Bombarded by virtual messages, we risk losing our real roots.”
“To grow disconnected from life, or to fantasize in a void, is not a good thing; it is a temptation from the evil one. God wants us to be firmly grounded, connected to life; never closed, but always open to all.”
Finally, the Pope answered a question about how young people can be encouraged to embrace the crosses in their lives. The question was asked by Peter Liška, 33, and his wife, Lenka, 35, who have three children.
In his testimony, Liška described his troubled youth and a five-year illness as an adult that only lifted after the family received a relic of Blessed Anna Kolesárová.
The Pope said: “When we are embraced, we regain confidence in ourselves and also in life. So let us allow ourselves to be embraced by Jesus. Because when we embrace Jesus, we embrace hope again.”
He added: “When we embrace Jesus, joy is reborn. And the joy of Jesus, in pain, is transformed into peace. More than anything, I want this joy for you. I want you to bring it to your friends. Not sermons, but joy. Bring joy! Not words, but smiles, fraternal closeness.”
He urged the young people to pray for him and then led the crowd in reciting the Our Father.
The Pope’s visit will coincide with the feast of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows.
On Sept. 15, his final day in Slovakia, the Pope will celebrate Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows in Šaštín, western Slovakia.
The basilica contains a revered image of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, the patroness of Slovakia, that has attracted pilgrim visitors such as Mother Teresa and St. John Paul II.