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World Youth Day / JMJ / GMG / WJT 2014 

29th World Youth Day was celebrated on Palm Sunday in St Peter's Square with Papa Francisco.

Pope Francis's Message for XXIX WYD 
- in Albanian, Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish & Ukrainian

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”
(Theme from Mt 5, 3)

Dear Young People,
The extraordinary encounter that we lived in Rio de Janeiro, for the XXVIII World Youth Day, is imprinted in my memory: a great celebration of faith and fellowship! The good people of Brazil welcomed us with wide open arms, like the statue of Christ the Redeemer which from the height of Corcovado overlooks the magnificent scenery of Copacabana beach. On the shores of the sea Jesus renewed his call so that each one of us might become his missionary disciples, discover it as the most precious treasure in our own lives and share this wealth with others, near and far, to the extreme geographical and existential peripheries of our time.

The next leg of young people's intercontinental pilgrimage will be in Krakow, in 2016. To mark our pathway, over the next three years I would like to reflect with you on the evangelical Beatitudes, which we read in the Gospel of St Matthew (5, 1-12). This year we will begin by meditating on the first one: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5, 3); for 2015 I propose: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5, 8); and lastly, in 2016, the theme will be: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive/find mercy” (Mt 5, 7).

1. The revolutionary strength of the Beatitudes

It always does us much good to read and meditate on the Beatitudes! Jesus proclaimed them in his first great preaching, on the shore of the sea of Galilee. There was such a great crowd and He climbed the hill, so as to teach his disciples, which is why it is called the "Sermon on the Mount”. In the Bible, the mountain is seen as the place where God reveals himself, and Jesus by preaching on the hill presented himself as the divine teacher, the new Moses. And what does he communicate? Jesus communicates the way of life, the way that He himself walks, indeed, that He himself is, and he proposes it as the way of true happiness. Throughout his life, from his birth in the stable in Bethlehem all the way to his death on the cross and to his resurrection, Jesus incarnated the Beatitudes. All the promises of the Kingdom of God were fulfilled in Him.

In proclaiming the Beatitudes Jesus invites us to follow him, to walk with Him the way of love, the only one that leads to eternal life. It is not an easy road, yet the Lord assures us of his grace and he never leaves us on our own. Present in our lives are poverty, distress, humiliation, the fight for justice, the fatigue of daily conversion, the struggle to live the call to holiness, persecutions and so many other challenges. But if we open the door to Jesus, if we allow Him to enter into our history, if we share with Him our joys and sorrows, we will experience a peace and a joy that only God, infinite love, can give.

The Beatitudes of Jesus are the bearers of a revolutionary newness, of a model of happiness opposite to that which is usually communicated by the media, by prevailing thought. For the worldly mentality, it is a scandal that God came to be one of us, that He died on a cross! In the logic of this world, those whom Jesus proclaimed blessed are considered “losers”, weak. Instead success at any cost, comfort, the arrogance of power, self-affirmation at the expense of others, are exalted.

Jesus calls upon us, dear young people, to respond to his proposal of life, to decide which road we want to walk so as to arrive at true joy. It concerns a great challenge of faith. Jesus was not afraid to ask his disciples if they wanted really to follow him or rather to go by other ways (cf Jn 6, 67). And Simon Peter had the courage to reply: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6, 68). If you also know to say “yes” to Jesus, your young lives will be full of meaning and thus will be fruitful.

2. The courage of happiness

But what does “blessed” (makarioi in Greek) mean? Blessed means happy. Tell me: do you really aspire to happiness? In a time in which one is attracted by so many appearances of happiness, one risks settling for little, having an idea of life "in miniature". Aspire instead to great things! Expand your hearts! As Blessed Piergiorgio Frassati said, “to live without faith, without a patrimony to defend, without sustaining a continual struggle for the truth, is not to live but to just get by in life. We must never just get by in life, but live” (Letter to I. Bonini, 27 February 1925). On the day of Piergiorgio Frassati’s beatification, 20 May 1990, John Paul II called him “the man of the Beatitudes” (Homily at Mass: AAS  82 [1990], 1518).

If you truly let the deepest aspirations of your heart emerge, you will realize that in you there is an inextinguishable desire for happiness, and this is what will allow you to expose and reject the many “low price” offers you find around you. When we seek success, pleasure, possession in an egotistical way and turn them into idols, we can for sure feel moments of intoxication, a false sense of satisfaction; but in the end we become slaves, we are never satisfied, we are driven to seek always more. It is very sad to see a young person "satiated", but limp.

St John, writing to young people, said: “You are strong and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 Jn 2, 14). Young people who choose Christ are strong, they feed on his Word and do not "binge" on other things! Have the courage to go against the current. Have the courage of true happiness! Say no to the culture of the temporary, of superficiality and waste, which does not consider you capable of assuming responsibility and facing the great challenges of life!

3. Blessed are the poor in spirit...

The first Beatitude, the theme of the next World Youth Day, says happy are the poor in spirit, because to them belongs the Kingdom of heaven. In a time when so many people are suffering because of the economic crisis, to associate poverty with happiness might seem out of place. In what sense can we conceive of poverty as a blessing?

First of all, let us seek to understand what “poor in spirit” means. When the Son of God became man, he chose a way of poverty, of stripping of self. As St Paul says in his letter to the Philippians: “Have in you the same feelings as Christ Jesus; he, though being in the condition of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, assuming the condition of a servant, becoming like men” (2, 5-7). Jesus is God who strips himself of his glory. Here we see God’s choice of poverty: though he was rich, he became poor so as to enrich us through his poverty (cf 2 Cor 8, 9). It is the mystery that we contemplate in the crib, seeing the Son of God in a manger; and then on the cross, where his stripping of self reaches its culmination.

The Greek adjective ptochós (poor) does not have only a material meaning, but means “beggar”. It is linked to the Jewish concept of anawim, the “poor of Jahweh”, which evokes humility, awareness of one’s own limits, of one's own existential condition of poverty. The anawim trust in the Lord, they know they depend on Him.

As St Therese of the Child Jesus saw well, Jesus in his Incarnation presented himself as a beggar, as a needy person seeking love. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of man as of a "beggar of God” (n 2559) and tells us that prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with our own thirst (n 2560).

St Francis of Assisi understood very well the secret of the Beatitude of the poor in spirit. Indeed, when Jesus spoke to him in the person of the leper and of the Crucified one, Francis recognized the greatness of God and the humility of his own condition. In his prayer, the Poverello spent hours asking the Lord: “Who are you? Who am I?” He stripped himself of an affluent and carefree life so as to marry “Lady Poverty”, so as to imitate Jesus and follow the Gospel to the letter. Francis lived the imitation of the poor Christ and the love for the poor in an inseparable way, like two sides of the same coin.

Thus you might ask me: how can we concretely make this poverty in spirit be transformed into a style of life that concretely affects our existence? My answer to you is in three points.

First of all, seek to be free with regards to things. The Lord calls us to a Gospel lifestyle characterised by sobriety, to not give in to the culture of consumption. This means to seek the essential, to learn to strip oneself of the many superfluous and useless things that suffocate us. Let us detach ourselves from the craving to have, from money idolized and then wasted. Let us put Jesus in first place. He can free us from the idolatries that enslave us. Put your trust in God, dear young people! He knows us, He loves us, and He never forgets us. As He provides for the lilies of the field (cf Mt 6, 28), he will not let us lack for anything. Also to overcome the economic crisis there is need for us to be ready to change our lifestyle, to avoid so much waste. Just as there is a need to have the courage of happiness, so also there is a need to have the courage of sobriety.

Secondly, to live this Beatitude we all have need of conversion with regards to the poor. We must take care of them, be sensitive to their spiritual and material needs. To you young people I entrust in a particular way the task of putting solidarity back at the centre of human culture. Faced with old and new forms of poverty – unemployment, emigration, so many addictions of various kinds – we have the duty to be vigilant and attentive, overcoming the temptation of indifference. We think also of those who do not feel loved, who do not have hope for the future, who give up on engaging in life because they are discouraged, disappointed, frightened. We must learn to stay with the poor. Let us not have mouths full of beautiful words about the poor! Let us encounter them, let us look into their eyes, listen to them. The poor are for us a concrete occasion to encounter Christ himself, to touch his suffering flesh.

But – and this is the third point – the poor are not only people to whom we can give something. They also have much to offer us, to teach us. We have so much to learn from the wisdom of the poor! Think that a saint of the XVIII century, Benedict Joseph Labré, who slept on the streets of Rome and lived from the offerings given by people, became spiritual adviser to a great number of people, including nobles and prelates. In a certain way, the poor are like teachers for us. They teach us that a person is not worth the amount he possesses, the amount he has in his bank account. A poor person, a person lacking material possessions, always retains his dignity. The poor can teach us so much as well about humility and trust in God. In the parable of the pharisee and the tax-collector (Lk 18, 9-14), Jesus presents the latter as a model because he was humble and recognised himself a sinner. Also the widow who threw her last two coins into the temple treasury is an example of the generosity of all those who, although having little or nothing, give everything (Lk 21, 1-4).

4. … for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven

The central theme of Jesus' Gospel is the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the Kingdom of God in person, he is the Emmanuel, God-with-us. And it is in the heart of man that the Kingdom, the sovereignty of God, is established and grows. The Kingdom is at the same time gift and promise. It is already given to us in Jesus, but must yet be accomplished in its fullness. This is why we pray each day to the Father: “Thy kingdom come”.

There is a profound link between poverty and evangelization, between the theme of the last World Youth Day – “Go and make disciples of all nations!” (Mt 28, 19) – and that for this year: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5, 3). The Lord wants a poor Church which evangelizes the poor. When he sent the Twelve out on mission, Jesus said to them: “Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the labourer deserves his food” (Mt 10:9-10). Evangelical poverty is the fundamental condition for the Kingdom of God to be spread. The most beautiful and spontaneous joys that I have seen in the course of my life are those of poor people who have little to hold onto. Evangelization, in our time, will be possible only through the contagion of joy.

As we have seen, the Beatitude of the poor in spirit directs our relationship with God, with material goods and with the poor. Facing the example and words of Jesus, we realize how much we have need of conversion, for the logic of being more to prevail over that of having more! The saints are those who can most help us to understand the profound meaning of the Beatitudes. The canonization of John Paul II, on the Second Sunday of Easter [Divine Mercy Sunday], is in this sense an event that fills our hearts with joy. He will be the great patron of the World Youth Days, of which he was the initiator and the leader. And in the communion of saints he will continue to be for all of you a father and a friend.

This month of April also marks the 30th anniversary of the consignment to the young of the Cross of the Jubilee of the Redemption. From that symbolic act by John Paul II began the great youth pilgrimage which since then has continued to cross the five continents. Many remember the words with which the Pope, on Easter Sunday 1984, accompanied his gesture: “Dearest young people, at the end of the Holy Year I entrust to you the very sign of this Jubilee Year: the Cross of Christ! Carry it throughout the world, as the sign of the love of the Lord Jesus for humanity, and announce to everyone that only in Christ, who died and rose again, is there salvation and redemption”.

Dear young people, the Magnificat, the canticle of Mary, poor in spirit, is also the song of those who live the Beatitudes. The joy of the Gospel flows from a poor heart, which knows to rejoice and marvel in the works of God, like the heart of the Virgin, whom all generations call “blessed” (cf Lk 1, 48). May she, Mother of the poor and Star of the new evangelization, help us to live the Gospel, to incarnate the Beatitudes in our lives, and to have the courage of happiness.

From the Vatican, 21 January 2014, Memorial of Saint Agnes, Virgin and Martyr