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World Youth Day 2013

This, the 28th World Youth Day, was celebrated with Pope Francis at a diocesan level on Palm Sunday in St Peter's Square and internationally in July in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Papa Benedict XVI's Message for XXVIII WYD / JMJ
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“Go and make disciples of all nations!” (cf Mt 28:19)      

Dear young people,
I would like to extend to all of you my greetings full of joy and affection. I am sure that many of you returned from World Youth Day Madrid all the more “planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith” (cf Col 2:7). This year, in the various dioceses, we celebrated the joy of being Christians, inspired by the theme: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4). And now we are preparing for the next World Youth Day, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, in July 2013.

I desire first of all to renew my invitation to you to participate in this important event. The famous statue of Christ the Redeemer, which overlooks this beautiful Brazilian city, will be the eloquent symbol: his open arms are a sign of the welcome that the Lord will reserve for all those who will come to Him and his heart depicts the immense love that He has for each and every one of you. Let yourselves be attracted by Him! Live this experience of encounter with Christ, together with so many other young people who will converge on Rio for the next World Youth Day! Let yourselves be loved by Him and you will be the witnesses the world needs.

I invite you to prepare for World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro by meditating from now on upon the theme of the meeting: “Go and make disciples of all nations!” (cf Mt 28:19). This is the great missionary exhortation which Christ left to the whole Church and which remains actual still today, 2000 years later. Now this mandate must resonate with force in your hearts. The year of preparation for the gathering in Rio coincides with the Year of Faith, at the beginning of which the Synod of Bishops dedicated their work to 'The New Evangelization for the transmission of the Christian Faith'. So I am happy that you too, dear young people, are involved in this missionary outreach of the whole Church: to make Christ known is the most precious gift that you can make for others.

1. A pressing call

History has shown us how many young people, through the generous gift of themselves, have contributed greatly to the Kingdom of God and to the development of this world by proclaiming the Gospel. With great enthusiasm, they have brought the Good News of the Love of God made manifest in Christ, with means and possibilities far inferior to that which we have at our disposal today. I'm thinking, for example, of Blessed José de Anchieta, a young Spanish Jesuit of the 16th century, who left on mission for Brazil when he was under 20 and became a great apostle of the New World. But I am also thinking of the many of you who generously dedicate yourselves to the mission of the Church: I saw an amazing testimony of this at World Youth Day Madrid, in particular at the meeting with the volunteers.

Today many young people profoundly doubt that life is good and do not see clearly on their pathway. More generally, faced with the difficulties of the contemporary world, many wonder: what can I do? The light of faith illumines this darkness, makes us understand that every existence has an inestimable value, because it is the fruit of the love of God. He loves even those who have distanced themselves from Him or have forgotten Him: God is patient and waits; indeed, He gave his Son, who died and rose again, in order radically to free us from evil. And Christ sent his disciples to bring this joyful message of salvation and new life to all nations.

The Church, in continuing this mission of evangelization, is counting also on you. Dear young people, you are the first missionaries among your contemporaries! At the end of the Second Vatican Council, whose 50th anniversary we are celebrating this year, Paul VI consigned a Message to the youth of the world which opens with these words: “It is to you, young men and women of the whole world, that the Council wishes to address its final message. For it is you who are to receive the torch from the hands of your elders and to live in the world at a time of the most gigantic transformations in its history. It is you who, collecting the best from the example and teaching of your parents and your teachers, will form the society of tomorrow: you will save yourselves or perish with it.” And it concluded with an  appeal: “With enthusiasm build a world better than the present one!” (Message to Young People, 8 December 1965).

Dear friends, this invitation is very timely. We are going through a very particular historical period: technical advances have offered us unprecedented possibilities for interaction between men and between populations, but the globalization of these relationships will be positive and help the world to grow in humanity only if it is founded not on materialism but on love, the only reality capable of filling the heart of each person and of uniting people. God is love. The man who forgets God is without hope and becomes incapable of loving his neighbour. This is why it is urgent to witness to the presence of God so that everyone can experience it: the salvation of humanity and the salvation of each of us is at stake. Whoever understands this need, can only exclaim with Saint Paul: “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16).

2. Become Christ’s disciples

This missionary vocation is given to you for another reason as well: it is necessary for our pathway of personal faith. Blessed John Paul II wrote: “Faith is strengthened by giving it to others” (Redemptoris Missio, 2). By announcing the Gospel you yourselves grow in grounding yourselves ever more profoundly in Christ, becoming mature Christians. The missionary commitment is an essential dimension of faith: there are not true believers without evangelization. And the proclamation of the Gospel can only be the consequence of the joy of having met Christ and having found in Him the rock on which to build ones life. By committing yourselves to serve others and proclaim to them the Gospel, your life, often fragmented between different activities, will find its unity in the Lord, you will also build yourselves up, you will grow and mature in humanity.

But what does it mean to be missionaries? It means above all to be disciples of Christ, to listen ever anew to the invitation to follow Him, the invitation to look at Him: “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29). A disciple, in effect, is a person who listens to the Word of Jesus (cf Lk 10:39), recognized as the Master who has loved us all the way to the very gift of his life. It is therefore for each of you to let yourselves be shaped each day by the Word of God: this will render you friends of the Lord Jesus and enable you to lead other young people into this friendship with Him.

I advise you to remember the gifts you have received from God so as in turn to pass them on. Learn to reread your personal story, to be conscious also of the wonderful inheritance of the generations who have preceded you: so many believers have passed on the faith with courage, in the face of trials and incomprehension. Let us never forget: we are part of an immense chain of men and women who have passed on the truth of the faith and who count on us for it to be received by others. To be missionaries presupposes knowledge of this received heritage, which is the faith of the Church: it is necessary to know in what you believe, so as to be able to proclaim it. As I wrote in the introduction to the YouCat, the Catechism for young people which I gave you at the World Youth meeting in Madrid, “you must know your faith with the same precision with which an IT specialist knows the operating system of a computer; you must understand it like a good musician knows his piece; yes, you must be much more deeply rooted in the faith than the generation of your parents, in order to be able to resist with strength and decision the challenges and temptations of this time” (Foreward).

3. Go!

Jesus sent his disciples out on mission with this mandate: “Go to the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk 16:15-16). To evangelize means to bring to others the Good News of salvation and this Good News is a person: Jesus Christ. When I meet him, when I discover to what extent I am loved by God and saved by Him, not only the desire is born in me, but also the necessity, of making him known to others. At the beginning of John's Gospel we see Andrew who, after meeting Jesus, hastened to lead his brother Simon to Him (cf 1:40-42). Evangelization always starts with an encounter with the Lord Jesus: those who approached Him and experienced his love wanted immediately to share the beauty of this encounter and the joy that is born of this friendship. The more we know Christ, the more we desire to announce Him. The more we speak with Christ, the more we desire to speak about Him. The more we are won over by Christ, the more we desire to lead others to Him.

Through Baptism, which generates us to new life, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us and inflames our minds and our hearts: it is He who guides us to know God and to enter into an ever deeper friendship with Christ; it is the Spirit who urges us to do good, to serve others, to give of ourselves. Then through Confirmation we are strengthened by his gifts so as to bear witness to the Gospel in an ever more mature way. Thus it is the Spirit of love that is the soul of mission: it impels us to come out of ourselves, to “go” and evangelize. Dear young people, let yourselves be led by the force of the love of God, let this love overcome the tendency to be enclosed in ones own world, in ones own problems, in ones own habits; have the courage to “come out” of yourselves so as to “go” towards others and to guide them to an encounter with God.

4. Reach all nations

The risen Christ sent his disciples to bear witness to his saving presence before all nations, because God in his superabundant love wants everyone to be saved and no one to be lost. With the sacrifice of the love of the Cross, Jesus has opened the road for every man and woman to be able to know God and enter into a communion of love with Him. And a community of disciples was established so as to bring the message of the salvation of the Gospel to the ends of the earth, so as to reach the men and women of every place and of every time. Let us make this desire of God's our own!

Dear friends, open your eyes and look around you: so many young people have lost the sense of their existence. Go forth! Christ needs you too. Let yourselves be involved by his love, be instruments of this immense love, so that it can reach everyone, especially those “far away”. Some are far away geographically, while others are far away because their culture leaves no space for God; some have not yet received the Gospel personally, while others despite having received it, live as if God did not exist. Let us open the door of our hearts to everyone; let us try to enter into dialogue, in simplicity and respect; this dialogue, if it is lived in a true friendship, will bear fruit. The “nations” to which we are sent are not only the other countries of the world, but also the different areas of life: families, neighbourhoods, places of study and work, groups of friends and places of leisure. The joyful announcement of the Gospel is destined for all the areas of our lives, without any limits.

I would like to highlight two areas in which your missionary commitment must be all the more attentive. The first is that of social communications, in particular the world of the internet. As I have had the opportunity to tell you before, dear young people, “Be committed to introduce into the culture of this new environment of communications and information technology the values on which your lives are based!. [...] Particularly to you, young people, who have an almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, lies the task of the evangelization of this ‘digital continent’” (Message for the 43rd World Communications Day). Know therefore how to use this medium wisely, considering also the dangers that it contains, in particular the risk of dependence, of confusing the real world with the virtual, of replacing encounter and direct dialogue with people with contacts on the internet.

The second area is that of mobility. Nowadays more and more young people travel, whether for their studies or work, or for pleasure. But I am also thinking of all the movements of migration, in which millions of people, often young people, move around and change regions or countries for financial or social reasons. These phenomena can also become providential occasions for sharing the Gospel. Dear young people, do not be afraid to witness to your faith in these settings as well: it is a precious gift for those whom you meet when you communicate the joy of your encounter with Christ.

5. Make disciples!

I think you have experienced more than once the difficulty of engaging your contemporaries in the experience of faith. You will have often noticed that in many young people, especially at certain stages on their pathway of life, there is a desire to know Christ and to live the values of the Gospel, but this is accompanied by a feeling of inadequacy and incapability. What can be done? First of all, your closeness and your simple testimony will be a channel through which God will be able to touch their hearts. The announcement of Christ does not pass solely through words, but must involve our whole life and be translated into gestures of love. An evangelist is born from the love that Christ has infused in us; thus our love must be conformed more and more to his. Like the Good Samaritan, we must always be attentive to those we meet, able to listen, to understand, to help, so as to lead those who are in search of truth and meaning in life to the house of God which is the Church, where there is hope and salvation (cf Lk 10:29-37). Dear friends, never forget that the first act of love that you can do for your neighbour is to share the source of our hope: the one who does not give God, gives too little! Jesus commanded his Apostles: “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19-20). The means that we have to “make disciples” are principally Baptism and catechesis. Hence we must lead the people we are evangelizing to encounter the living Christ, in particular in his Word and in the Sacraments: in this way they will be able to believe in Him, they will know God and live in his grace. I would like each of you to ask yourself: Have I ever had the courage to propose Baptism to young people who have not yet received it? Have I invited anyone to follow a pathway of discovery of the Christian faith? Dear friends, do not be afraid to propose to your contemporaries an encounter with Christ. Invoke the Holy Spirit: He will guide you to enter more and more profoundly into the knowledge and love of Christ and He will make you creative in transmitting the Gospel.

6. Firm in the faith

Faced with the difficulty of the mission to evangelize, at times you will be tempted to say, like the prophet Jeremiah: “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But God will also respond to you: “Do not say, ‘I am a youth.’ You will go to all those to whom I send you” (Jer 1:6-7). When you feel inadequate, incapable, weak in proclaiming and witnessing to the faith, do not be afraid. Evangelization is not our initiative and it does not depend primarily on our talents, but is a faithful and obedient response to God’s call, and so it is based not on our force, but on his. The Apostle Paul experienced this: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that this extraordinary power belongs to God, and does not come from us” (2 Cor 4:7).

For this reason, I invite you to ground yourselves in prayer and in the Sacraments. Authentic evangelization is always born from prayer and is sustained by it: we must first speak with God in order to be able to speak of God. And in prayer, we entrust to the Lord the people to whom we have been sent, beseeching Him to touch their hearts; we request the Holy Spirit to make us his instruments for their salvation; we ask Christ to put words on our lips and to make us signs of his love. And, more generally, we pray for the mission of the whole Church, according to Jesus' explicit request: “Pray therefore to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest” (Mt 9:38). Learn to find in the Eucharist the source of your life of faith and of your Christian witness, participating with fidelity at Mass on Sunday and every time that you can during the week. Frequently have recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation: it is a precious encounter with the mercy of God who welcomes us, forgives us and renews our hearts in charity. And do not hesitate to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation if you have not already received it, preparing yourselves with care and commitment. With the Eucharist, it is the Sacrament of mission, because it gives us the force and the love of the Holy Spirit to profess the faith without fear. I also encourage you to practice Eucharistic adoration: to stop so as to listen to and talk with Jesus present in the Sacrament becomes the starting point for a new missionary impulse.

If you follow this pathway, Christ Himself will give you the ability to be completely faithful to his Word and to bear witness with loyalty and courage. Sometimes you will be called to demonstrate your perseverance, particularly when the Word of God arouses closure or opposition. In certain regions of the world, some of you live the pain of not being able to bear witness publicly to your faith in Christ, because of the lack of religious freedom. And many have already paid with their lives the price of belonging to the Church. I encourage you to stand firm in the faith, confident that Christ is by your side in every trial. He repeats to you: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely utter all kinds of evil against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Mt 5:11-12).

7. With the whole Church

Dear young people, in order to remain steadfast in the confession of the Christian faith wherever you are sent, you need the Church. No one can be a witness to the Gospel on their own. Jesus sent forth his disciples on mission together: 'make disciples' is addressed in the plural. It is therefore always as members of the Christian community that we offer our testimony, and our mission is made fruitful by the communion that we live in the Church: it is by the unity and love that we have for one another that others will recognize us as Christ’s disciples (cf Jn 13:35). I am grateful to the Lord for the precious work of evangelization being carried out by our Christian communities, our parishes and our ecclesial movements. The fruits of this evangelization belong to the whole Church: as Jesus said “one sows and another reaps” (Jn 4:37).

In this regard, I can only give thanks for the great gift of missionaries, who devote their entire life to announcing the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Similarly I thank the Lord for priests and consecrated persons, who offer themselves entirely so that Jesus Christ may be announced and loved. Here I would like to encourage young people who are called by God, to engage themselves with enthusiasm in these vocations: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). To those who leave everything to follow Him, Jesus has promised a hundredfold and eternal life  (cf Mt 19:29)!

I am also grateful for all the lay faithful who strive to live their daily lives as mission there where they are, at home or at work, so that Christ may be loved and served and the Kingdom of God may grow. I am thinking in particular of all those who work in the fields of education, health, business, politics and finance, and in the many other areas of the apostolate of the laity. Christ needs your commitment and your testimony. Let nothing – neither difficulties nor misunderstandings – make you give up bringing the Gospel of Christ into the places where you are: each of you is precious in the great mosaic of evangelization!

8. “Here I am, Lord!”

In conclusion, dear young people, I would like to invite you to listen deep within yourselves to the call of Jesus to announce his Gospel. As the great statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro shows, his heart is open with love for everyone, without distinction, and his arms are outstretched so as to reach each person. Be the heart and arms of Jesus! Go bear witness to his love, be the new missionaries animated by love and welcome! Follow the example of the great missionaries of the Church, like St Francis Xavier and so many others.

At the end of World Youth Day in Madrid, I blessed some young people from the different continents who were leaving on mission. They represented the many young people who, echoing the prophet Isaiah, have said to the Lord: “Here I am, send me!” (Is 6:8). The Church has confidence in you and is deeply grateful to you for the joy and dynamism that you bring: use your talents generously at the service of the proclamation of the Gospel! We know that the Holy Spirit is given to those who, in humility of heart, put themselves at the service of this proclamation. And do not be afraid: Jesus, Saviour of the world, is with us every day, until the end of the world (cf Mt 28:20)!

This appeal, which I address to the young people of the whole world, assumes a particular resonance for you, dear young people of Latin America! In fact, at the 5th General Conference of the Latin American Bishops which was held in Aparecida in 2007, the Bishops launched a “continental mission”. And the young people, who in this continent constitute the majority of the population, represent an important and precious force for the Church and for society. Be then the first missionaries! Now that World Youth Day is returning to Latin America, I urge all the young people of the continent: transmit to your contemporaries from around the world the enthusiasm of your faith!

May the Virgin Mary, Star of the New Evangelization, invoked also under the titles of Our Lady of Aparecida and Our Lady of Guadalupe, accompany each of you in your mission as witnesses to God’s love. To all of you, with particular affection, I impart my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 18 October 2012