Pope Francis weighed in on the issue of youth activism on Sunday, following the student-led protests against gun violence that occurred in the US, according to the Independent.
The religious leader urged young people to keep protesting despite any opposition they may face. He spoke in front of tens of thousands of people who gathered in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square for Palm Sunday, CBS News reports.
“It is up to you not to keep quiet,” he told the crowd. “Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders, some corrupt, keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: will you cry out?”
Although Francis didn’t reference the gun violence protests directly, his comments seemed to allude to remarks aimed at March For Our Lives protesters, who have been criticized as naive and misguided, according to the Independent.
The pontiff said that efforts to discredit youth activists have a long history.
“There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible,” he said. “Many ways to anaesthetise them, to make them keep quiet, ask nothing, question nothing.
“There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive,” he added. “Dear young people, you have it in you to shout.”
The day before the pope spoke, anti-gun violence protests in the US and around the world drew more than 800,000 people and were led by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the site of one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.
Emma Gonzales, a 17-year-old senior from the school who has emerged as a champion of gun regulations, called for a moment of silence that lasted more than four minutes, to illustrate how long the high school shooting lasted.
It has been hailed as one of the most powerful moments in modern US political history.
Since the massacre, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas have reinvigorated calls for gun regulations, breaking through what has been an intractable political issue in the US.
As a result, Florida has enacted some modest gun regulations and the Justice Department recently called for a ban on “bump stock” gun modifications, which a shooter used to kill 59 people and injure more than 500 from a hotel window during the Las Vegas concert massacre last October.
This isn’t the first time that students have led social movements.
Racial segregation in the U.S. began to be dismantled only after students challenged restaurant policies in the early 1960s. Similarly, the apartheid divestment campaign in the 1970s and 80s that led to the demise of South Africa’s bigoted political system was primarily driven by students.
Pope Francis also has a record of supporting protesters and wading into politically charged issues.
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