By HANNAH BROCKHAUS     4/26/2019

Vatican City, Apr 26, 2019 / 09:59 am (CNA) – Pope Francis said Thursday that although today has its challenges, especially with the sexual abuse crisis, it is not more difficult to be a Christian now than in other periods over the last 2,000 years.

“The current context is not easy, also because of the painful and complex issue of abuses committed by members of the Church,” the pope said April 25. “However, I would like to repeat to you that today it is no more difficult than in other eras of the Church: it is only different.”

Speaking to a group of young people from France, the pope underlined the beauty of their effort to strengthen their faith through a pilgrimage to Rome “with the apostles Peter and Paul and all those witnesses, including some young people, who suffered martyrdom for choosing to remain faithful to Jesus Christ.”

“This is even more important because many people think that today it is more difficult to call themselves Christians and live faith in Christ. And you are certainly experiencing these difficulties, which sometimes become tests,” he said.

The group of young people came from the Diocese of Aire et Dax, in the south of France.

Their bishop is Nicolas Jean-Marie Souchu. His predecessor, Bishop Herve Gaschignard, was asked to submit his retirement in 2017 at the age of 57 over allegations of “inappropriate” gestures and words towards young people in the diocese, according to the Associated Press.

Gaschignard’s resignation was immediately accepted by Pope Francis. Before 2012, and his promotion to bishop of Aire and Dax, there had been similar suspicions against him in his previous position as an auxiliary for the Diocese of Toulouse.

In their audience, Francis advised the French youth to take advantage of their pilgrimage to rediscover that the Church “has been walking for two thousand years, sharing the joys and hopes, sadness and anguish of men,” as he wrote in Christus vivit, his post-synodal apostolic exhortation on young people.

Looking at the young people gives him hope, the pope said, because he knows that the Lord will never abandon his Church, and that he renews it through “your youth, your enthusiasm and the talents that he has entrusted to you.”

He urged reception of the sacraments, reading Scripture, fraternal life, and service to others as ways to stay close to Christ, following the example of their pastors, elder brothers and sisters in the faith, and the saints, who all faced difficulties in their own times and places.

“In the Church, holy and composed of sinners, may you recognize what that word is, that message of Jesus that God wants to address to the world through your life,” he said.

Recalling the image of the pine of Landes, France, Pope Francis said, “root yourself in the love of God to ensure that, where you live, the Church is loved.”

“I count on you. The Church needs your impetus, your intuitions and your faith!” he concluded.