Pope Francis addresses 600,000 young people at Panama City’s Metro Park for the WYD Vigil and challenges them to imitate Mary, the “influencer” of God.
The Pope’s Speech
Dear young friends, good afternoon!
We have watched that beautiful presentation about the Tree of Life. It shows us how the life that Jesus gives us is a love story, a life history that wants to blend with ours and sink roots in the soil of our own lives. That life is not a salvation up “in the cloud” and waiting to be downloaded, a new “app” to be discovered, or a technique of mental self-improvement. Still less is it a “tutorial” for finding out the latest news. The salvation the Lord offers us is an invitation to be part of a love story interwoven with our personal stories; it is alive and wants to be born in our midst so that we can bear fruit just as we are, wherever we are and with everyone all around us. The Lord comes there to sow and to be sown. He is the first to say “yes” to our lives and our history, and he wants us to say “yes” along with him.
That was how he surprised Mary, and asked her to be part of this love story. Obviously, the young woman of Nazareth was not part of the “social networks” of the time. She was not an “influencer”, but without wanting or trying to, she became the most influential woman in history.
Mary, the “influencer” of God. With just a few words, she was able to say “yes” and to trust in the love and promises of God, the only force capable of making all things new.
We are always struck by the strength of that young woman’s “yes”, the words “be it done” that she spoke to the angel. This was no merely passive or resigned acceptance or a faint “yes”, as if to say, “Well, let’s give it a try, and see what happens”. It was something else, something different. It was the “yes” of someone prepared to be committed and take a risk, ready to stake everything she had, with no more security than the certainty of knowing that she was the bearer of a promise. Hers would undoubtedly be a difficult mission, but the challenges that lay ahead were no reason to say “no”. Things would get complicated, of course, but not in the same way as happens when cowardice paralyzes us because things are not clear or sure in advance. The “yes” and the desire to serve were stronger than any doubts and difficulties.
This afternoon we also heard how Mary’s “yes” echoes and expands in every generation. Many young people, like Mary, take a risk and stake their future on a promise. Thank you, Erika and Rogelio, for the witness you gave us. You shared your fears and difficulties and the risks you faced with the birth of your daughter Inés. At one point, you said, “We parents, for various reasons, find it hard to accept that our child will be born with an illness or disability”. That is true and understandable. Yet the amazing thing was what you went on to say, “When our daughter was born, we decided to love her with all our heart”. Before her birth, when faced with all the issues and problems that came up, you made a decision and said, like Mary, “let it be done”; you decided to love her. Presented with the life of your frail, helpless and needy daughter, your answer was “yes”, and so we have Inés. You believed that the world is not only for the strong!
Saying “yes” to the Lord means preparing to embrace life as it comes, with all its fragility, its simplicity, and often enough too, with its conflicts and annoyances, and to do so with the same love with which Erika and Rogelio spoke. It means embracing our country, our families and our friends as they are, with all their weak points and their flaws. Embracing life is also seen in accepting things that are not perfect, pure or “distilled”, yet no less worthy of love. Is a disabled or frail person not worthy of love? Is a person who happens to be a foreigner, a person who made a mistake, a person ill or in prison, not worthy of love? We know what Jesus did: he embraced the leper, the blind man, the paralytic, the Pharisee and the sinner. He embraced the thief on the cross and even embraced and forgave those who crucified him.
Why did he do this? Because only what is loved can be saved. Only what is embraced can be transformed. The Lord’s love is greater than all our problems, frailties and flaws. Yet it is precisely through our problems, frailties and flaws that he wants to write this love story. He embraced the prodigal son, he embraced Peter after his denials and he always embraces us whenever we fall: he helps us to get up and get back on our feet. Because the worst fall, the fall that can ruin our lives, is to remain down and not allow ourselves to be helped up.
How hard it is at times to understand God’s love! But what a gift it is to know that we have a Father who embraces us despite all our imperfections!
So, the first step is not to be afraid to welcome life as it comes, to embrace life!
Thank you, Alfredo, for your testimony and your courage in sharing it with us all. I was impressed when you told us: “I started working on a construction project, but once it was finished, I was without a job and things changed fast: without an education, a trade and a job”. Let me summarize this in four “withouts” that leave our life rootless and parched: without work, without education, without community, without family.
It is impossible for us to grow unless we have strong roots to support us and to keep us firmly grounded. It is easy to drift off when nothing holds us down. There is a question that we older people have to ask ourselves, but also a question that you need to ask us and we have to answer: What roots are we providing for you, what foundations for you to grow as persons? It is easy enough to criticize and complain about young people if we are depriving them of the jobs, education and community opportunities they need to take root and to dream of a future. Without education, it is difficult to dream of a future; without work, it is very difficult to dream of a future; without a family and community, it is almost impossible to dream of a future. Because dreaming of a future means learning how to answer not only the question what I am living for but also who I am living for, who makes it worthwhile for me to live my life.
As Alfredo told us, when we find ourselves at a loss and without work, without education, without community and without family, at the end of the day we feel empty and we end up filling that emptiness with anything we can. Because we no longer know for whom to live, to fight and to love.
I remember once talking with some young people, and one of them asked me: “Father, why are so many young people today not interested in whether God exists or find it difficult to believe in him, and they seem so bored and aimless in life? I asked them in return what they thought. I remember one particular answer that touched me and it relates to the experience Alfredo shared – “it’s because many of them feel that, little by little, they stopped existing for others; often they feel invisible”. This is the culture of abandonment and lack of concern for others. Not everyone, but many people feel that they have little or nothing to contribute because there is no one around to ask them to get involved. How can they think that God exists, if others have long since stopped thinking that they exist?
We know well that to feel acknowledged or loved it is not enough to be connected all day long. To feel respected and asked to get involved is greater than simply being “on-line”. It means finding spaces where, with your hands, your heart and your head, you can feel part of a larger community that needs you and that you yourselves need.
The saints understood this very well. I think, for example, of Saint John Bosco. He did not go off to seek young people in far-off places but learned to see with God’s eyes everything that was going on in his city. So, he was struck by the hundreds of children and young people left to themselves, without education, without work and without the helping hand of a community. Many other people were living in the same city, and many criticized those young people, but they were unable to see them with God’s eyes. Don Bosco did, and found the energy to take the first step: to embrace life as it presented itself. From there, he was not afraid to take the second step: to create a community, a family with them, where through work and study they could feel loved. He gave them roots from which they could reach up to heaven.
I think of many places in our Latin America that promote what they call familia grande hogar de Cristo. With the same spirit as the John Paul II Foundation that Alfredo spoke of and many other centres, they seek to accept life as it comes, in its totality and complexity, because they know that “there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease” (Job 14:7).
It is always possible to “sprout shoots and grow” when there is a community, a warm home that enables us to take root, that provides the confidence we need and prepares our hearts to discover a new horizon: the horizon of a beloved son or daughter who is sought, found and entrusted with a mission. Through real faces, the Lord makes himself present. To say “yes” to this love story is to say “yes” to becoming a means of building in our neighbourhoods those ecclesial communities capable of walking the streets of our cities, embracing and weaving new relationships. To be an “influencer” in the twenty-first century is to be guardians of roots, guardians of all that prevents our life from dissipating and evaporating into nothingness. Be guardians of everything that can make us feel part of one another, to feel that we belong.
That was what Nirmeen experienced at World Youth Day in Krakow. She found a lively, happy community that welcomed her, gave her a sense of belonging and allowed her to live the joy that comes from being found by Jesus.
A saint once asked: “Will the progress of society consist only in owning the latest car or buying the newest gadget on the market? Is that the extent of our greatness as human beings? Is that all there is to live for?” (Cf. SAINT ALBERTO HURTADO, Holy Week Meditation for Young People, 1946). So let me ask you: Is that your idea of greatness? Weren’t you created for something more? The Virgin Mary understood this and said, “Let it be done!” Erika and Rogelio understood this and said, “Let it be done!” Alfredo understood this and said, “Let it be done!” Nirmeen understood this and said, “Let it be done!” Young friends, I ask you: Are you willing to say “yes”? The Gospel teaches us that the world will not be better because there are fewer sick, weak, frail or elderly people to be concerned about, or because there are fewer sinners. Rather it will be better when more people, like these friends, are willing and enthused enough to give birth to the future and believe in the transforming power of God’s love. Are you willing to be an “influencer” like Mary, who dared to say, “Let it be done”? Only love makes us more human and fulfilled; everything else is a pleasant but useless placebo.
In a few moments, we will encounter the living Jesus in Eucharistic adoration. You can be sure that he has many things to say to you, about different situations in your lives, families and countries.
Face to face with him, don’t be afraid to open your heart to him and to ask him to renew the fire of his love so that you can embrace life with all its frailty and flaws, but also with its grandeur and beauty. May he help you to discover the beauty of being alive.
Do not be afraid to tell him that you too want to be a part of his love story in this world, that you are ready for something greater!
Friends: when you meet Jesus face to face, I ask you also to pray for me, so that I too will be unafraid to embrace life, to care for its roots and to say, like Mary, “Let it be done, according to your word!”.9