VATICAN CITY — Surrounded by the devil's temptations and being susceptible to sin, people can always find help, support and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, Pope Francis said at his weekly general audience.
"My dearest brothers and sisters, we have this advocate; we're not afraid to go to him and ask him for forgiveness, ask his blessings, request his mercy," the pope said.
St. Peter's Square was full to capacity for the audience April 17; large numbers of Italian pilgrims were among the crowd, including groups traveling with their bishops who making their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican to report on the status of their dioceses.
At the end of the audience, Pope Francis prayed for the victims of a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that struck the border area of Iran and Pakistan April 16, killing at least 40 people.
"I pray for the victims and all those who are hurting, and I wish to express my closeness to the Iranian and Pakistani people," he said.
In his main audience talk, the pope continued a series of audience talks for the Year of Faith, reflecting on basic Christian beliefs.
He spoke about the meaning of Christ's ascension into heaven and his being seated at the right hand of God, and what impact it has for Christians today.
When Jesus returned to the glory of his father, the disciples headed back to Jerusalem "with great joy," the pope said.
He said it seems strange they would be so happy when losing someone normally brings sadness, knowing "we will never see their face, we won't hear their voice, we won't be able to enjoy their affection, their presence anymore."
The disciples felt joy because they realized Jesus' ascension did not mean he was gone or that he had abandoned them, but that Jesus was still there, "supporting them, guiding them, interceding for them," the pope said.
"The Ascension doesn't indicate Jesus' absence, but it tells us that he is alive, among us in a new way," he said. Jesus is "close to every one of us. We are never alone in our life."
Having Jesus at the right hand of the father in heaven is also like having an advocate or lawyer defending God's children on earth, he said.
Speaking off-the-cuff, the pope said, "it's beautiful" knowing Jesus is there on people's behalf. The pope said it is as reassuring as knowing that when one goes on trial or is called to court, there are defense lawyers on hand to offer protection.
However, as Christians, "we have someone who always defends us. He defends us from the traps of the devil, he defends us from ourselves and our sins," he said to applause.
"He always forgives us," he said, "always defends us. Don't forget that."
The Ascension offers people great consolation knowing Jesus is close to them and leading the way he opened up for them to heaven, he said.
"He is like the lead rope climber -- when you climb a mountain -- who has reached the summit and he pulls us toward him leading us to God."
"If we entrust our lives to him, if we let ourselves be guided by him, we are surely in safe hands, in the hands of our savior, our advocate," Pope Francis said.
The pope entered St. Peter's Square about 20 minutes earlier than usual so he could take a longer ride through the large crowds in the open-air popemobile.
He also spent a long time greeting, hugging and blessing a long line of disabled children and adults at the end of the audience. Many parents, relatives and the disabled themselves were visible moved, many joyful, others crying when they received the pope's blessing and words of support.
At one point, a disabled woman slowly got off her wheelchair to kneel on the ground and kiss the pope's feet. The pope gently helped her back up and into her wheelchair with the assistance of two undercover guards, then he blessed her.
At the end of the general audience, the pope met privately with Saleh Mohammed al Ghambi, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Italy, who was delivering a letter to the pope from King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz.