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World Youth Day 2016

This 31st World Youth Day was celebrated with Pope Francis at a diocesan level on Palm Sunday in St Peter's Square and internationally in August in Cracow, Poland.

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Francis's Message for XXXI WYD    
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“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy” (Mt 5, 7)

Dearest Young People,
We have come to the last stage of our pilgrimage to Krakow, where in July next year we will celebrate together the XXXI World Youth Day. On our long and challenging pathway we are guided by the words of Jesus taken from the Sermon on the Mount. We began this journey in 2014, meditating together on the first Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 5, 3). In 2015 the theme was: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5, 8). In the year that lies before us we want to let ourselves be inspired by the words: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Mt 5, 7).

1. The Jubilee of Mercy

With this theme, WYD Krakow 2016 fits into the Holy Year of Mercy, becoming a real Jubilee of Young People at a world level. It is not the first time that an international gathering of young people has coincided with a Jubilee Year. Indeed, it was during the Holy Year of the Redemption (1983/1984) that for the first time Saint John Paul II convoked young people from around the world for Palm Sunday. Next it was during the Great Jubilee of the year 2000 that more than two million young people from about 165 countries met in Rome for the XV World Youth Day. As happened on these two previous occasions, I am sure that the Jubilee of Young People in Krakow will be one of the high points of this Holy Year!

Perhaps some of you are asking yourselves: what is this Jubilee Year being celebrated in the Church? The biblical text of Leviticus 25 helps us to understand what a “jubilee” means for the people of Israel: every fifty years the Jews heard the sounding of a trumpet (jobel) which convoked them (jobil) to celebrate a holy year, as a time of reconciliation (jobal) for everyone. During this period they had to regain a good relationship with God, with their neighbour and with creation, based on gratuity. Therefore the forgiveness of debts, particular help for those who had fallen into poverty, the improvement of relations between persons and the liberation of slaves were, among other things, promoted.

Jesus Christ came to announce and realise the perennial time of the Lord's grace, bringing the good news to the poor, liberty to prisoners, sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed (cf Lk 4, 18-19). In Him, especially in his Paschal Mystery, the deeper meaning of the jubilee finds full completion. When in the name of Christ the Church convokes a jubilee, we are all invited to live an extraordinary time of grace. The Church herself is called to offer in abundance signs of the presence and closeness of God, to awaken in hearts the capacity to look at the essentials. In particular, this Holy Year of Mercy “is the time for the Church to rediscover the meaning of the mission that the Lord entrusted to her on the day of Easter: to be the instrument of the Father’s mercy” (Homily, First Vespers of Divine Mercy Sunday, 11 April 2015).

2. Merciful like the Father

The motto for this extraordinary Jubilee is “Merciful like the Father” (cf Misericordiae Vultus, 13) and it harmonizes with the theme of the next World Youth Day. Therefore let us try to understand better what divine mercy means.

The Old Testament uses various terms to speak about mercy, the most significant of these are hesed and rahamim. The first, applied to God, expresses his untiring faithfulness to the Covenant with his people, whom He loves and forgives for eternity. The second, rahamim, can be translated as “bowels”, by recalling in particular the maternal womb and making us understand the love of God for his people as that of a mother for her child. Thus it is presented by the prophet Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you” (Is 49, 15). A love of this kind implies making space for the other within oneself, feeling, suffering and rejoicing with one's neighbour.

The biblical concept of mercy also includes the concreteness of a love that is faithful, gratuitous (freely given) and that knows how to forgive. In this passage from Hosea we have a most beautiful example of God’s love, likened to that of a father for his child: “When Israel was a child, I loved him and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called them, the further they went from me... I taught Ephraim to walk by holding his hand, but they do not know that I healed them. I led them with ties of goodness, with bonds of love, I was to them like one who raises an infant to his cheek ... I bent down to feed my child” (Hos 11, 1-4). Despite the wrong attitude of the child, who deserves a punishment, the love of the father is faithful and always forgives a repentant child. As we see, forgiveness is always included in mercy; it “is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality with which He reveals his love like that of a father or a mother who are moved from the depths of their bowels for their child... It comes from within as a profound, natural feeling, made of tenderness and compassion, of indulgence and forgiveness” (Misericordiae Vultus, 6).

The New Testament speaks to us of divine mercy (eleos) as a synthesis of the work that Jesus came to accomplish in the world in the name of the Father (cf Mt 9, 13). The mercy of our Lord is manifested above all when He bends down to human misery and demonstrates his compassion for those who need understanding, healing and forgiveness. Everything in Jesus speaks of mercy, indeed, He himself is mercy.

In Chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel we can find the three parables of mercy: the one about the lost sheep, the one about the lost coin and the one we know as the parable "of the prodigal son". In these three parables we are impressed by the joy of God, the joy that He feels when He finds again the sinner and forgives him. Yes, the joy of God is to forgive! Here we have the synthesis of the whole Gospel. “Each of us is that lost sheep, that lost coin; each of us is that son who has squandered his own freedom following false idols, illusions of happiness, and has lost everything. But God does not forget us, the Father never abandons us. He is a patient father, he is always waiting for us! He respects our freedom, but remains always faithful. And when we return to Him, he welcomes us like children, into his house, because he never stops, not even for a moment, waiting for us, with love. And his heart celebrates for every child who comes back. It is celebrating because it is joyous. God has this joy, when one of us sinners goes to Him and asks his forgiveness” (Angelus, 15 September 2013).

God's mercy is very concrete and we are all called to experience it at firsthand. At the age of seventeen, one day when I had to go out with friends, I decided to pass by a church first. There I encountered a priest who inspired in me a special trust, in such a way that I felt the desire to open my heart in Confession. That encounter changed my life! I discovered that when we open our hearts with humility and transparency, we can in a very concrete way contemplate God's mercy. I had the certainty that in the person of that priest God was waiting for me, before I had taken the first step to go into that church. We seek him, but it is He who always goes before us, for he has always been seeking us, and is the first to encounter us. Perhaps some of you have a weight on your heart and are thinking: I have done this, I have done that.... Do not be afraid! He is waiting for you! He is the father: he is always awaiting us! How beautiful it is to encounter in the sacrament of Reconciliation the merciful embrace of the Father, to discover the confessional as the place of Mercy, let us be touched by this merciful love of the Lord who always forgives us!

And you, dear young man, dear young woman, have you ever felt this gaze of infinite love upon you which, beyond all your sins, limitations and failures, continues trusting in you and gazing upon your existence with hope? Are you aware of the value that you have before God who for love has given you everything? As St Paul teaches us “the proof that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners” (Rom 5, 8). But do we really understand the power of these words?

I know how much you appreciate the Cross of the WYDs - the gift of Saint John Paul II - which since 1984 has accompanied all your world meetings. How many changes, how many true and authentic conversions have arisen in the lives of so many young people from the encounter with this bare cross! Maybe you have asked the question: where does this extraordinary power of the cross come from? Here is the answer: the cross is the most eloquent sign of the mercy of God! It testifies to us that the measure of God’s love for humanity is to love without measure! In the cross we can touch the mercy of God and let ourselves be touched by his mercy! Here I would like to recall the episode of the two criminals crucified alongside Jesus. One of them is conceited, not recognising himself a sinner, he laughs at the Lord; the other, instead, recognising that he has done wrong, turns to the Lord and says: “Jesus, remember me when you come to establish your Kingdom”. Jesus gazes at him with infinite mercy and replies: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (cf Lk 23, 32, 39-43). Which of the two do we identify with? With the one who is conceited and does not recognise his mistakes? Or maybe with the other who recognises he needs divine mercy and implores it with all his heart? In the Lord, who gave his life for us on the cross, we will always encounter the unconditional love that recognises our lives as a good and gives us always the possibility of starting again.

3. The extraordinary joy of being instruments of God’s mercy

The Word of God teaches us that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20, 35). Precisely for this reason the fifth Beatitude declares blessed are the merciful. We know that the Lord loved us first. But we will only be truly blessed, happy, when we enter into the divine logic of the gift, of gratuitous love, if we discover that God has loved us infinitely so as for us to be capable of loving like Him, without measure. As St John says: “My beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God, and whoever loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. .. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as victim of expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God has loved us so much, we also must love one another” (1 Jn 4, 7-11).

After having explained to you in a very summarized way how the Lord exercises his mercy with us, I would like to suggest how we can concretely be instruments of this same mercy towards our neighbour.

The example of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati comes to mind. He said, “Jesus pays me a visit every morning in Communion, and I return it in the miserable way that I can, by visiting the poor”. Pier Giorgio was a young man who had understood what it means to have a merciful heart, sensitive to those most in need. He gave them much more than material things; he gave himself, employing time, words, the capacity to listen. He always served the poor with great discretion, without ostentation. He really lived the Gospel which says: “When you give alms, your left hand know should not know what your right hand is doing, so that your almsgiving may remain in secret” (Mt 6, 3-4). To think that the day before his death, gravely ill, he gave instructions on how to help his friends in need. At his funeral, his relatives and friends were astonished by the presence of so many poor people, unknown to them, who had been visited and helped by the young Pier Giorgio.

I always like to associate the Beatitudes with chapter 25 of Matthew, when Jesus presents to us the works of mercy and says that based on them we will be judged. I invite you therefore to discover anew the corporal works of mercy: to give food to the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to welcome the stranger, to assist the sick, to visit the imprisoned, to bury the dead. And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, to teach the ignorant, to admonish sinners, to console the afflicted, to forgive offences, to bear patiently with bothersome people, to pray to God for the living and the dead. As you see, mercy is not 'goodism' nor is it a mere sentimentality. Here is demonstrated the authenticity of our being disciples of Jesus, of our credibility as Christians in today’s world.

To you, young people, who are very concrete, I would like to propose that for the first seven months of 2016 you choose a corporal and a spiritual work of mercy to put into practice each month. Let yourself be inspired by the prayer of Saint Faustina, the humble apostle of Divine Mercy of our time:

“Help me, O Lord,
that my eyes may be merciful, so that I will never suspect or judge from appearances, but look for what is beautiful in the soul of my neighbour and come to their help ...
that my ears may be merciful, so that I will be attentive to the needs of my neighbour and will not be indifferent to their pains and groans ...
that my tongue may be merciful, so that I will never speak negatively about my neighbour but have a word of comfort and forgiveness for everyone ....
that my hands may be merciful and of good deeds ....
that my feet may be merciful, so that I will always hasten to assist my neighbour, overcoming my own fatigue and weariness  ...
that my heart may be merciful, so that I myself will feel all the sufferings of my neighbour” (Diary, 163).

The message of Divine Mercy therefore constitutes a very concrete and demanding programme of life since it implies works. One of the most obvious works of mercy, but perhaps the most difficult to put into practice, is that of forgiving someone who has offended you, who has hurt you, whom we consider an enemy. “How difficult it is many times to forgive! And yet, forgiveness is the instrument placed in our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart. To let drop rancour, anger, violence and revenge are the necessary conditions so as to live happy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 9).

I encounter so many young people who speak of being tired of this world so divided, in which supporters of different factions clash, where there are so many wars and where there are even those who use religion as justification for violence. We must beg the Lord to give us the grace to be merciful to those who hurt us. Like Jesus who on the cross prayed for those who had crucified him: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk 23, 34). The only pathway to overcome evil is mercy. Justice is necessary, and how, but by itself is not enough. Justice and mercy must walk together. How I wish that we could all unite in unanimous prayer, imploring from the depths of our hearts, that the Lord have mercy on us and on the whole world!

4. Krakow awaits us!

Only a few months are left before our meeting in Poland. Krakow, the city of St John Paul II and St Faustina Kowalska, awaits us with open arms and heart. I believe that Divine Providence has guided us to celebrate the Jubilee of Youth precisely there, where these two great apostles of mercy of our times lived. John Paul II intuited that this was the time of mercy. At the beginning of his pontificate he wrote the encyclical Dives in Misericordia. In the Holy Year 2000 he canonized Sister Faustina, also instituting the Feast of Divine Mercy on the Second Sunday of Easter. And in 2002 he personally consecrated in Krakow the Shrine of Merciful Jesus, entrusting the world to Divine Mercy and hoping that this message would reach all the inhabitants of the earth, filling their hearts with hope: “This spark of God's grace needs to be lit. This fire of mercy needs to be transmitted to the world. In the mercy of God the world will encounter/find peace, and man happiness!” (Homily at the Consecration of the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow, 17 August 2002).

Dearest young people, merciful Jesus, portrayed in the image venerated by the people of God in the Shrine in Krakow dedicated to Him, awaits you. He trusts you and counts on you! He has so many important things to say to each and every one of you... Do not be afraid to contemplate his eyes filled with infinite love for you and let yourselves be touched by his merciful gaze, ready to forgive each one of your sins, a gaze that is capable of changing your lives and of healing your souls, a gaze that satisfies the deep thirst that dwells in your young hearts: the thirst for love, for peace, for joy and for authentic happiness. Come to Him and do not be afraid! Come to tell him from the depths of your hearts: “Jesus, I trust in You!” Let yourselves be touched by his limitless mercy, so that you in turn may become apostles of mercy through works, words and prayer, in our world wounded by egoism, hatred and so much despair.

Carry the flame of the merciful love of Christ – of which St John Paul II spoke – to the environments of your daily life and to the very ends of the earth. On this mission, I accompany you with my best wishes and my prayers, entrusting you all to the Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, on this last stretch of the pathway of spiritual preparation towards the next WYD in Krakow, and I bless you with all my heart.

From the Vatican, 15 August 2015, Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary