One could make the argument that World Youth Day messages are among the most significant a pope can make. Young Catholics are the future — the hope — of the Church, particularly in a society growing ever more secularized. And a rousing commission given to millions of youths on an international stage has the potential to both inspire and resonate with Catholics of all ages.
Pope Francis’ impassioned remarks at the Saturday evening vigil in Campus Misericordiae to millions of young people served as such a commission — reminding young and old alike that they are on this earth for a purpose. It was strong and frank.
“God expects something from you. God wants something from you,” Pope Francis told the young people. “God hopes in you. God comes to break down all our fences. He comes to open the doors of our lives, our dreams, our ways of seeing things. God comes to break open everything that keeps you closed in. He is encouraging you to dream. He wants to make you see that, with you, the world can be different. For the fact is, unless you offer the best of yourselves, the world will never be different.”
Responding to this great call, he acknowledges, is not easy and cannot be met by “couch potatoes” — but rather those “with shoes, or better, boots laced.”
“Jesus is not the Lord of comfort, security and ease,” Pope Francis said. “Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths. To blaze trails that open up new horizons capable of spreading joy, the joy that is born of God’s love and wells up in your hearts with every act of mercy. To take the path of the ‘craziness’ of our God, who teaches us to encounter him in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the friend in trouble, the prisoner, the refugee and the migrant, and our neighbors who feel abandoned. To take the path of our God, who encourages us to be politicians, thinkers, social activists. The God who encourages us to devise an economy marked by greater solidarity than our own.”
Pope Francis did more than inspire, he gave concrete instructions on how to move forward with this challenge the next day in his homily at the closing World Youth Day Mass. He preached on the Gospel story of Zacchaeus, the small-statured tax collector who climbs a tree to catch a glimpse of the Lord as he passes, only to have Jesus call him by name and visit his house. The pope cited three obstacles Zacchaeus had to overcome for his encounter with Christ: his small stature, his overpowering shame and the grumblings of the crowd who didn’t understand how Jesus could visit the home of such a sinner. We, too, face internal and external obstacles when it comes to meeting Jesus, requiring us to overcome our own sense of inadequacy and unworthiness, as well as the detractions of others, and to have the courage to say “yes” to Jesus and to follow him out into the world. This is what propels us from this life to the next.
As Pope Francis told young people during his address at the welcoming ceremony July 28, this is a way to find “a lasting sense of life and fulfillment.”
“It is not a thing or an object, but a person, and he is alive,” he said. “His name is Jesus Christ.”
Editorial Board: Scot Landry, chief mission officer; Greg Willits, editorial director; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor