Krakow, Poland, Jul 28, 2016 / 11:58 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For young people who have given up on life, or who waste their existence seeking out “empty thrills,” Pope Francis proposes an alternative: Look to Christ, for only he can bring lasting fulfillment.

“Jesus can give you true passion for life” and “can inspire us not to settle for less, but to give the very best of ourselves,” the Pope said July 28 during a massive welcoming ceremony at Krakow's Blonia Park, one of his first encounters with young people during this year's World Youth Day celebrations.

In his address to the crowds, the Roman Pontiff observed how many young people are entering into an “early retirement,” and “throw in the towel” before their lives have begun. Others, he said, “waste their lives” seeking out “empty thrills” in order to feel alive.

“It is disturbing to see young people squandering some of the best years of their lives, wasting their energies running after peddlers of fond illusions,” he said. He challenged young people instead to seek out lasting fulfillment from another source.

“To find fulfillment, to gain new strength, there is a way,” he said. “It is not a thing or an object, but a person, and he is alive. His name is Jesus Christ.” The Pope then went off script, enthusiastically calling on the young people to answer: “Can you buy Jesus Christ? Is Jesus Christ sold in stores? Jesus Christ is a gift! A gift from the Father!”

Thursday evening's welcome ceremony marks Pope Francis' first full day in Poland during his July 27-31 trip for the 31st World Youth Day. In his address to the crowds, Pope Francis began by expressing his gratitude toward St. John Paul II, who founded World Youth Day in the 1980s.

“From his place in heaven, he is with us and he sees all of you,” he said. “So many young people from such a variety of nations, cultures and languages but with one aim, that of rejoicing that Jesus is living in our midst.”

The Pope explained that in rekindling our enthusiasm to follow Christ and our desire to be his disciples, we are saying he is alive. “What better opportunity to renew our friendship with Jesus than by building friendships among yourselves!” he said. “What better way to build our friendship with Jesus than by sharing him with others! “What better way to experience the contagious joy of the Gospel than by striving to bring the Good News to all kinds of painful and difficult situations!”

Citing the theme of this WYD — “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall find mercy” — Francis said, “blessed indeed are they who can forgive, who show heartfelt compassion, who are capable of offering the very best of themselves to others.”

Francis remarked on the “festive mood” of the event in Poland, and with all the young people taking part both in person and via modern media, “we are going to make this World Youth Day an authentic Jubilee celebration.” “Nothing is more beautiful than seeing the enthusiasm, dedication, zeal and energy with which so many young people live their lives,” he said.

“When Jesus touches a young person’s heart, he or she becomes capable of truly great things.” The Roman Pontiff described his excitement in listening to the young people share their dreams, their questions, and “impatience with those who say that things cannot change.” “It is beautiful and heartwarming to see all that restlessness!” he said. “Today the Church looks to you and wants to learn from you, to be reassured that the Father’s Mercy has an ever-youthful face, and constantly invites us to be part of his Kingdom.”

“Knowing your enthusiasm for mission, I repeat: mercy always has a youthful face!” A merciful heart is one which seeks to go beyond its comfort zone, to go out and embrace everyone, the Roman Pontiff continued. It is also a “place of refuge” for the homeless, refugees, and migrants; “it knows the meaning of tenderness and compassion.” “To say the word 'mercy' along with you is to speak of opportunity, future, commitment, trust, openness, hospitality, compassion and dreams.”

The Pope then spoke off the cuff, saying that "when the heart is open, it is able to dream; there is a room for mercy, there is room to caress those who suffer." “There is room to place oneself  next to those who lack peace in their heart, or who lack the necessities of life, or who lack the most beautiful thing: the faith.”

Francis discouraged young people from entering into an “early retirement” — referring particularly to those “who are defeated even before they begin to play, who walk around glumly as if life has no meaning.” “Deep down, young people like this are bored… and boring!” he said.

The Pope also said he is troubled when young people “waste their lives looking for thrills or a feeling of being alive by taking dark paths and in the end having to pay for it… and pay dearly.” “It is disturbing to see young people squandering some of the best years of their lives, wasting their energies running after peddlers of fond illusions.”

He challenged young people with an alternative: to seek the “power of grace” which gives them a “lasting sense of life and fulfillment.” “To find fulfillment, to gain new strength, there is a way. It is not a thing or an object, but a person, and he is alive. His name is Jesus Christ.” “Jesus can give you true passion for life,” he said, and “can inspire us not to settle for less, but to give the very best of ourselves.”

“Jesus challenges us, spurs us on and helps us keep trying whenever we are tempted to give up. Jesus pushes us to keep our sights high and to dream of great things.”

Francis spoke of the Gospel account of Christ visiting the home of his friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. As the account goes, Martha is kept busy with the duties of entertaining Christ, while Mary simply visits with their guest. “Our many jobs and responsibilities can make us a bit like Martha: busy, scattered, constantly running from place to place. But we can also be like Mary: whenever we see a beautiful landscape, or look at a video from a friend on our cellphone, we can stop and think, stop and listen…” “Jesus wants to stop and enter our home,” Pope Francis reflected. “He will look at us hurrying about with all our concerns, as he did with Martha… and he will wait for us to listen to him, like Mary, to make space for him amid the bustle.”

In a challenge to young people, the Pope said that if they “want a complete life”, they must begin by letting themselves “be open and attentive.” This is “because happiness is sown and blossoms in mercy,” he said: “That is his answer, his offer, his challenge, his adventure: mercy.”

Francis turned to Mary of Nazareth, and her “daring 'Yes'” which “launched her on the adventure of mercy.” “All generations would call her blessed,” he said: “to all of us she is the 'Mother of Mercy'.”

The Pope challenged all the youth present to pray that they may be launched “on the adventure of mercy.” “Launch us on the adventure of building bridges and tearing down walls, barriers and barbed wire,” he prayed. “Launch us on the adventure of helping the poor, those who feel lonely and abandoned, or no longer find meaning in their lives.”

“Here we are, Lord! Send us to share your merciful love,” he concluded, expressing his desire to welcome Christ “in our midst during this World Youth Day.” “We want to affirm that our lives are fulfilled when they are shaped by mercy, for that is the better part, and it will never be taken from us.”