A pilgrim walks Copacabana beach following the World Youth Day closing Mass in Rio de Janeiro in this 2013 file photo (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
A pilgrim walks Copacabana beach
following the World Youth Day closing Mass in Rio de Janeiro in this 2013 file photo. Pope Francis delivered an audio message to pilgrims walking overnight June 6. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

— By Laura Ieraci, Catholic News Service.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Anyone who has taken the wrong road in life can “turn back” and experience the mercy of Jesus, Pope Francis told tens of thousands of mostly young pilgrims about to set off on an overnight walk.

Everyone has fallen and made mistakes, but is it important to “get up right away and keep walking,” the pope said in an audio message played June 6 as the pilgrims prepared for Mass.

“This can happen to every one of us,” he said. “If you take the wrong road, turn back. Turn back because there is the mercy of Jesus.”

“The mercy of Jesus forgives everything, always waits for you, always loves you,” the pope told those participating in the 17-mile walking pilgrimage from Macerata in central Italy to the Marian shrine in Loreto.

About 100,000 people took part in the pilgrimage June 6-7. Recovering an ancient tradition, a Macerata priest organized a pilgrimage in 1978 for students about to end their school year. The pilgrimage has grown with the support of the dioceses of Macerata and Loreto, the Communion and Liberation movement and local Catholic organizations.

In his message, the pope said “pilgrimage is a symbol of life.”

“Life is walking, it is a journey,” he said. He compared life’s journey with a river: When a river stops flowing, it gets corrupted.

“A soul that does not journey in life,” doing good for others and seeking God, “is a soul that ends up in mediocrity, in spiritual poverty,” he said.

Citing St. Augustine, the pope urged people to “sing and walk,” even when “the heart is sad.”

He urged the pilgrims to reflect on their lives and on what Jesus is calling them to do. And, if they were without joy in their hearts, he urged them to turn to Jesus “who will give it to you with his mercy.”

At the general audience in St. Peter’s Square June 3, the pope had blessed the torch that was to serve as the guiding light on the pilgrim route.

The annual overnight pilgrimage begins after Mass in Macerata at 10:30 p.m. and ends in Loreto at about 6:30 a.m. the next morning. The theme of this year’s pilgrimage was “Caressed by Mercy,” and pilgrims prayed especially for persecuted Christians.