The Pope has blessed two of the Brazilian footballers who survived an aeroplane crash that killed their teammates last year.
The meeting with a party from Associação Chapecoense de Futebol (ACF), including current player Alan Ruschel and the now retired Jakson Follmann, took place after the Pontiff’s weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square today. The other player to survive, Neto, was not in attendance.
The charter flight carrying the ACF team was headed from Bolivia to Colombia for the 2016 South American Cup finals. The crash, caused by an exhausted fuel supply, killed 71 of the 77 passengers, which also included coaching staff, journalists and guests.
The Pope blessed the surviving players, and he greeted and hugged family members of the deceased and the team’s current players. David Plinio de Nes, team president, told Vatican Radio that “Pope Francis has let us feel his love since the tragic moment of the plane accident” and has given them the strength to go on.
During the audience, Pope Francis said that God wants people to live with hope and joy – not bitterness – and to dream with him of a better world.
“Please, make sure we do not pay attention to disappointed and unhappy people; let us not listen to those who cynically plead not to cultivate hope in life,” he said Aug. 30 during his weekly general audience.
Christians, he said, must cultivate a “healthy utopia” based on what God wants for the world.
“God wants us to be able to dream like he does and, with him as we journey, to be quite attentive to reality – dreaming of a different world,” he said.
Continuing his series of audience talks on Christian hope, the Pope reflected on a reading from the Gospel of St. John (1:35-43), which describes how the first disciples heard of Jesus and wished to follow him.
Jesus asked the first two men, “What are you looking for?” because he sensed a healthy restlessness in their young hearts, Pope Francis said.
In fact, the Pope said, young people who are not seeking something or looking for meaning in life “are not young, they have gone into retirement, they have aged before their time. It’s sad to see young people in retirement.”
Throughout the Gospels, he said, Jesus responds to the people he meets along the way; he is like an “arsonist,” the pope said, setting people’s hearts ablaze.
The intense joy Jesus ignites in those he encounters is the wellspring of every vocation, the Pope said, whether it be marriage, consecrated life or the priesthood.
In that first encounter, Jesus “gives us new joy and hope and leads us – even through trials and difficulties – to an ever-fuller encounter with him and fullness of joy.”
Jesus doesn’t want people who walk reluctantly behind him, the Pope said. “Jesus wants people who have experienced that being with him gives immense joy that can be renewed each day in life.”
Any disciple who does not carry joy in his or her heart “does not evangelize in this world.”