Pope Francis is urging young people to lead the church’s future even as he voices doubts about whether he’ll be around much longer to see it.

The 80-year-old pope referred to his own mortality twice in the span of a few minutes Saturday during a service to rally young people to attend the Catholic Church’s big youth festival, World Youth Day, to be held in Panama in 2019.

He said: “I don’t know if it will be me, but the pope will be in Panama!”

And a few minutes earlier, he drew gasps from the crowd when he quipped: “At my age, we (old people) are about to pass away.”

Sensing their reaction, Francis, whose papacy began in March 2013, added: “Who guarantees life? No one. At your age, you have the future ahead of you.”

The Pope urged to the young audience to lead the way and have
something to say to the church.

“But what drama there is in the world today,” he said, noting that unfortunately, today “young people are often discarded; they don’t have work, they aren’t given an ideal for their lives, they don’t have education, they lack integration. Many are forced to flee and live as refugees in in other lands.”

“It’s hard to say this, but often times young people are treated as garbage,” he said.

Francis said that “it’s terrible to see a young person ready to go into retirement at the age of 20. It’s terrible. And it’s terrible to see young people who spend their lives on their couch.” What is needed, the Pope said, instead are young people who walk, who go out on the street and “move forward beside others, but looking toward the future.”

Francis closed his speech by emphasizing to youth, as he often has, the importance of speaking with grandparents, saying this “bridge of dialogue” between elderly and youth is needed today “more than ever.” 



The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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