Pope Francis meets with 50,000 for World Children’s Day in Rome’s Olympic Stadium

Nelyja Paulene Abesamis, one of the Philippines’ delegates to the first World Children’s Day, greets Pope Francis at Rome’s Olympic Stadium on May 25, 2024. Abesamis, 10, is a member of the Young Voices of the Philippines. (Screenshot/Vatican News)

ROME— Pope Francis on Saturday addressed the first World Children’s Day, a gathering with children from around the globe, where he spoke on the importance of building a future based on peace, hope, and dialogue.

“In you, children, everything speaks of life and the future. The Church, as a mother, welcomes you and accompanies you with tenderness and hope,” the pope said to the estimated 50,000 in attendance at Rome’s Olympic Stadium on May 25.

Recalling his meeting with nearly 7,000 children last November — an event sponsored by the Dicastery for Culture and Education dedicated to the theme “Let Us Learn from Boys and Girls” — the pope explained that the meeting “left a lasting impression in my heart” and was the catalyst for World Children’s Day.

“I prayed and realized that our conversation had to continue and expand to reach more children and young people,” the pope said. “That is why we are here today: to keep the dialogue going, to ask questions and seek answers together.”

World Children’s Day is a new initiative by Pope Francis sponsored by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Culture and Education in collaboration with the Catholic community of Sant’Egidio, the Auxilium Cooperative, and the Italian Football Federation.

The event commenced at Rome’s Olympic Stadium, transformed into the “Children’s Village,” at 3:30 p.m. local time. Italian professional soccer players engaged in a friendly soccer match with some of the children clad in uniforms.

Pope Francis arrived at the stadium in the white “popemobile” at approximately 4:40 p.m. against the backdrop of thunderous cheers from the crowd, who represented more than 100 nationalities.

The pope took a seat in the arena, where he was surrounded by children, where he opened his speech addressing some of the issues children face but encouraged them to have faith.

Speaking on the theme of war and peace, the pope asked the children: “Are you sad about the wars?” To which they answered in unison: “Yes!”

“You are saddened because many of your peers cannot go to school. There are girls and boys who cannot go to school. They are realities that I also carry in my heart, and I pray for them,” the pope said.

“We pray for the children who cannot go to school, for the children who suffer from wars, for the children who have nothing to eat, for the children who are sick and no one cares for them,” he said.

But striking an optimistic note, the pope asked the children if they knew the motto of the event, telling them that it is taken from the Bible: “Behold, I Make All Things New.”

“This is the motto. It’s beautiful,” Pope Francis said. “Think: God wants this, everything that is not new passes away. God is new. The Lord always gives us news.”

“Let’s move forward and have joy,” the pope said in his closing remarks. “Joy is health for the soul.”

At the end of the address, the pope asked the attendees to join him in praying the Hail Mary. “Let’s pray to the Mother, to the Mother of Heaven. ”

Earlier in the morning, Pope Francis met with a group of Palestinian and Ukrainian children at the Vatican. Some of the children had lost their parents, while others lost limbs or had other visible injuries.

Vatican news reported that the encounter was organized by Father Marcin Schmidt, who introduced the children and spoke on the struggles they’ve faced.

On Sunday morning the children will join Pope Francis for Mass in St. Peter’s Square at 10:30 a.m. Afterward the pope will deliver the Angelus address at noon from the window of the Apostolic Palace, accompanied by Italian actor Roberto Benigni.