At first, they were weeping teenagers, survivors of one of the world’s deadliest school massacres. But as the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High try to turn their tragedy into a catalyst for strengthening America’s gun laws, they have also encountered scathing criticism from others skeptical of their activism.
The students have been called disingenuous crisis actors. Some have said that the students’ pain has been hijacked by the far left, or that they are parroting talking points from an anti-Trump FBI. All that comes on top of the scornful question often directed at the nation’s youngest activists: are you even old enough to wade into some of society’s thorniest issues?
But a day after thousands of youths marched across the nation, and the world, an 81-year-old from Argentina who happens to be the supreme pontiff of the worldwide Catholic Church sent a message to them and other young people speaking up about the state of the world:
Pope Francis delivered the Palm Sunday message in St Peter’s Square in front of tens of thousands of people - including young people who were there for the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day.
“The temptation to silence young people has always existed,” Francis said, according to Reuters. “There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible. Many ways to anesthetise 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.
“It is up to you not to keep quiet. 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?”
Taking his message to the masses, Francis also tweeted about youths on “the official Twitter page of His Holiness”.
“Dear young people, never get tired of being instruments of peace and joy among your peers!”
The sermon didn’t specifically mention the marches across the globe or the teens from Parkland, Florida, who have added their voices to the side advocating tougher gun laws in the United States.
Michelle and I are so inspired by all the young people who made today’s marches happen. Keep at it. You’re leading us forward. Nothing can stand in the way of millions of voices calling for change.— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) March 24, 2018
But Francis had offered condolences after a former student mowed down 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14. In a statement, he said he was “deeply saddened to learn of the tragic shooting” and praying for the victims and the survivors. In the message, he said he hoped “such senseless acts of violence may cease”.
He wasn’t the only world leader who lauded the teens. Former US President Barack Obama tweeted to the teens on Saturday afternoon:
“Michelle and I are so inspired by all the young people who made today’s marches happen. Keep at it. You’re leading us forward. Nothing can stand in the way of millions of voices calling for change.”
The pope has long been a critic of weapons manufacturing and has spoken out after mass shootings. He told a joint meeting of Congress that the arms trade was “drenched in blood”.
In a 2015 speech in Turin, northern Italy, Francis put aside his notes and launched into a talk about war, violence and politics with youths, according to the New York Post.
“It makes me think of ... people, managers, business executives who call themselves Christian and they manufacture weapons. That leads to a bit a distrust, doesn’t it?” he said to applause.
He also called Christians who invest in weapons industries duplicitous. “They say one thing and do another.”
Check out what local students had to say in support of their US peers: