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World Youth Day 2018

This 33rd World Youth Day was celebrated with Papa Francisco on Palm Sunday (25th March 2018) in St Peter's Square. (When not in Holy Week, 25th March is the Feast of the Annunciation.)

Right/double click on play button to download free mp3 audio recording - more on Totus2us's World Youth Days podcast.

Pope Francis's Message      
for XXXIII WYD - in Arabic, Chinese (China), Chinese (Taiwan), English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Slovenian & Spanish  

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found grace close to God” (Lk 1, 30)

Dear young people,
World Youth Day 2018 is another step forward on the pathway of preparation for the international WYD, which will take place in Panama in January 2019.  This new stage of our pilgrimage falls in the year in which the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops has been convoked on the theme: Young people, faith and vocational discernment.  This is a good coincidence.  The attention, prayer and reflection of the Church will be directed to you young people, in the desire to understand and, above all, to "welcome" the precious gift that you represent for God, for the Church and for the world.

As you already know, we have chosen Mary, the young woman of Nazareth, whom God chose as the Mother of his Son, to accompany us on this journey with her example and her intercession.  She walks with us towards the Synod and the WYD in Panama.  If last year we were guided by the words of her canticle of praise – “The Almighty has done great things in me” (Lk 1, 49) – teaching us to remember the past, this year we are seeking to listen with her to the voice of God who infuses courage and gives the grace necessary to respond to his call: “Do be afraid, Mary, because you have found grace close to God” (Lk 1, 30).  These are the words pronounced by God's messenger, the Archangel Gabriel, to Mary, a simple girl from a small town in Galilee.

1. Do not be afraid!

It is understandable that the sudden apparition of the angel and his mysterious greeting: “Rejoice, O full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1, 28), cause a strong tumult in Mary, surprised by this first revelation of her identity and vocation, hitherto unknown to her.  Mary, like other characters in the Sacred Scriptures, trembles before the mystery of God's call, which in an instant places her before the immensity of his own design and makes her feel all her littleness, as a humble creature.  The angel, reading in the depths of her heart, says to her: “Do not be afraid!”  God also reads in our hearts.  He well knows the challenges that we have to face in life, above all when we are faced with the fundamental decisions on which depend what we will be and what we will do in this world.  It is the “emotion” that we feel facing decisions about our future, our state of life, our vocation.  In these moments we feel troubled and are seized by so many fears.

And you young people, what fears do you have?  What worries you most deeply? In many of you there exists a fear "in the background" (which is that) of not being loved, well-liked, of not being accepted for who you are. Nowadays, many young people feel they have to be different from who they are in reality, so as to try to adapt to often artificial and unattainable standards.  They do continuous “photo-retouchs” of their image, hiding behind masks and false identities, until they almost become themselves a "fake". Many are obsessed with receiving the greatest possible number of “likes”.  And this sense of inadequacy produces many fears and uncertainties.  Others are afraid of not being able to find an affective security and remain alone.  Faced with the precariousness of work, many are afraid of not being able to achieve a satisfactory professional situation, of not seeing their dreams accomplished.  These are fears that are present today in many young people, whether believers or non-believers.  And even those who have embraced the gift of faith and seriously seek their vocation are not exempt from fears either.  Some think: perhaps God is asking me or will ask me too much; perhaps, by travelling along the pathway He has pointed out to me, I will not really be happy, or I will not be able to live up to what he asks of me.  Others ask themselves: if I follow the pathway that God is indicating me, who guarantees to me that I will be able to travel all the way to the end?  Will I become discouraged? Will I lose enthusiasm? Will I be able to persevere throughout my whole life?

In the moments when doubts and fears flood our hearts, discernment is essential.  It allows us to put order into the confusion of our thoughts and feelings, so as to act in a just and prudent way. In this process, the first thing to do to overcome the fears is to identify them with clarity, so as not to waste time and energy with ghosts that have no face nor consistency.  For this, I invite you to look inside yourselves and to “give a name” to your fears.  Ask yourselves: today, in my concrete situation, what is it that anguishes me, what is it that I fear the most?  What is it that blocks me and impedes me from moving forward?  Why do I not have the courage to make the important decisions that I must make?  Do not be afraid to look with sincerity at your fears, to recognize them with realism and to face them.  The Bible does not deny the human feeling of fear nor its many causes.  Abraham was afraid (cf Gen 12, 10s), Jacob was afraid (cf Gen 31, 31; 32, 7), and so were Moses (cf Ex 2, 14; 17, 4), Peter (cf Mt 26, 69ff) and the Apostles (cf Mk 4, 38-40; Mt 26, 56).  Jesus himself, albeit at an incomparable level, experienced fear and anguish (cf Mt 26, 37; Lk 22, 44).

“Why are you so afraid? Do you still not have faith?” (Mk 4, 40).  This reproach by Jesus to his disciples allows us to understand how the obstacle to faith is often not incredulity, but fear.  Thus, the effort of discernment, once the fears are identified, should help us to overcome them by opening us to life and by facing with serenity the challenges presented to us.  For Christians, concretely, fear should never have the last word, but it gives us the occasion to realize an act of faith in God… and also in life!  This means believing in the fundamental goodness of the existence that God has given us, trusting that He leads us to a good ending even if through circumstances and vicissitudes that are often mysterious to us.  If on the contrary we feed the fear, we will tend to close in on ourselves, to raise a barricade to defend ourselves against everything and everyone, remaining paralyzed.  We must react!  Never close in on ourselves!  In the Sacred Scriptures we find 365 times the expression “do not be afraid”, in all its variations. As if to say that every day of the year the Lord wants us free from fear.

Discernment becomes indispensable when it comes to the search for one’s own vocation.  Most of the time this is not clear or totally evident, but is understood little by little.  Discernment, in this case, does not aim to be an individual effort of introspection, with the objective of learning more about our internal mechanisms so as to strengthen ourselves and achieve a certain equilibrium.  In such a case, the person can become stronger, but remains enclosed in the limited horizon of his possibilities and points of view.  Vocation, on the other hand, is a call that comes from above and discernment consists above all in opening oneself to the Other who calls. The silence of prayer is then necessary so as to listen to the voice of God which resonates in the conscience.  He knocks at the door of our hearts, as He did with Mary, with the desire to enter into friendship with us through prayer, to speak to us through the Sacred Scriptures, to offer us his mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation, to be one with us in Eucharistic communion.

But it is important as well to talk and dialogue with others, our brothers and sisters in faith, who have more experience and help us to see better and to choose between the different options.  The young Samuel, when he hears the voice of the Lord, does not recognize it immediately and three times went to Eli, the old priest, who in the end suggests to him the correct response that he should give to the call of the Lord: “If he calls you again, say: ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening.’” (1 Sam 3, 9).  When you doubt, know that you can count on the Church.  I know there are good priests, consecrated men and women, lay faithful, many of them young in turn, who can accompany you as older brothers and sisters in faith; moved by the Holy Spirit, they will help you to decipher your doubts and to read the design of your personal vocation.  The "other" is not only a spiritual guide, but also the one who helps us to open ourselves to all the infinite riches of the existence that God has given us.  It is necessary that we leave space in our cities and communities so as to grow, to dream, to look at new horizons.  Never lose the taste of enjoying (the) encounter, friendship, the taste of dreaming together, of walking with others.  Authentic Christians are not afraid to open up to others, to share their vital space transforming it into a space of fraternity.  Dear young people, do not let the sparkle of youth go out in the darkness of a closed room in which the only window see the world is a computer and a smartphone.  Open wide the doors of your lives!  May your surroundings and your time be inhabited by concrete people, profound relationships, with whom you can share authentic and real experiences in your daily lives.

2.  Mary!

“I have called you by your name” (Is 43, 1).  The first reason not to be afraid is precisely the fact that God calls us by our name.  The angel, messenger of God, called Mary by her name.  To give names is proper to God.  In the work of creation, He calls into existence each creature by its name. Behind the name there is an identity, that which is unique in each thing, in each person, that intimate essence that only God knows in depth.  This divine prerogative was shared with man, to whom God granted to give names to the animals, the birds and also his own children (Gen 2, 19-21; 4, 1).  Many cultures share this profound biblical vision, recognizing in the name the revelation of the deepest mystery of a life, the meaning of an existence.

When God calls a person by name, He reveals at the same time his vocation, his plan of holiness and good, through which this person will become someone unique and a gift for others.  And also when the Lord wants to broaden the horizons of an existence, He decides to give to the person He calls a new name, as He does with Simon, by calling him “Peter”.  From here comes the custom of assuming a new name when entering a religious order, so as to indicate a new identity and a new mission.  The divine call, being personal and unique, requires that we have the courage to free ourselves from the homogenizing pressure of the commonplace, so that our lives may each truly be an original and unrepeatable gift for God, for the Church and for others.

Dear young people: to be called by our name is, therefore, a sign of the great dignity that we have in the eyes of God, of his predilection for us.  And God calls each one of you by your name.  You are the “you” of God, precious in his eyes, worthy of esteem and loved (cf Is 43, 4).  Welcome with joy this dialogue that God proposes to you, this call that He directs to you by calling you by your name.

3. You have found grace close to God

The principal reason for which Mary does not have to be afraid is because she has found grace close to God.  The word “grace” speaks to us of gratuitous and unmerited love.  How much it encourages us to know that we do not have to obtain the closeness and help of God by presenting in advance a “curriculum of excellence”, full of merit and success.  The angel says to Mary that she has already found grace close to God, not that she will obtain it in the future.  And the same formulation of the angel’s words gives us to understand that divine grace is continuous, not something passing or momentary, and as such it will never fail.  In the future as well we will always be sustained by God's grace, above all in moments of trial and darkness.

The continuous presence of divine grace encourages us to embrace with trust our vocation, which demands a commitment of fidelity that has to be renewed every day.  In fact, the pathway of vocation is not free from crosses: not only the initial doubts, but also the frequent temptations that are encountered along the pathway.  The feeling of not being up to the task accompanies the disciple of Christ all the way to the end, but he knows that he is assisted by God's grace.

The angel’s words alight upon human fears, dissolving them with the strength of the good news of which they are the bearers. Our lives are not pure chance nor mere struggle for survival, but each of us is a story loved by God.  To have “found grace close to God” means that the Creator appreciates the unique beauty of our being and has an extraordinary design for our life.  Being aware of this certainly does not resolve all problems nor does it remove the uncertainties of life, but it has the power to transform life deeply.  The unknown that tomorrow holds for us is not a dark threat which we have to survive, but a favourable time that is granted to us so as to live the unique character of our personal vocation and to share it with our brothers and sisters in the Church and in the world.

4. Courage in the present

The strength to have courage in the present comes to us from the conviction that God’s grace is with us: the courage to carry out that which God asks of us here and now, in every area of our lives; the courage to embrace the vocation that God shows us; the courage to live our faith without hiding it or diminishing it.

Yes, when we open ourselves to God’s grace, the impossible becomes reality. “If God is with us, who will be against us?” (Rom 8, 31).  God’s grace touches the today of your lives, it "takes hold” of you just as you are, with all your fears and limits, but it also reveals God's wonderful plans!  You young people need to feel that someone really trusts in you. Know that the Pope trusts in you, that the Church trusts in you.  And you, trust in the Church! 

To the young Mary was entrusted an important task, precisely because she was young.  You young people have strength, you are traversing a phase of life in which undoubtedly there is no lack of energy.  Use this strength and this energy to improve the world, beginning with the reality closest to you.  I desire that in the Church you are entrusted with important responsibilities, that there may be the courage to make space for you; and you, be prepared to assume this responsibility.

I invite you to continue contemplating Mary’s love: an attentive, dynamic, concrete love.  A love full of audacity and completely projected towards the gift of self.  A Church replete with these Marian qualities will always be a Church going forth, which goes beyond her own limits and boundaries so as to cause the grace received to overflow.  If we let ourselves be infected by Mary’s example, we will live in a concrete way the charity that urges us to love God above everything else and above ourselves, to love the people with whom we share daily life.  And we will also be able to love those who we find hardly likeable.  It is a love that becomes service and dedication, especially towards the weakest and poorest, that transforms our faces and fills us with joy.

I would like to conclude with the beautiful words of Saint Bernard in his famous homily on the mystery of the Annunciation, words which express the expectation of all humanity before Mary’s response: “You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and give birth to a son; you have heard that it will not be by the work of man but by the work of the Holy Spirit.  See, the angel is awaiting your answer. We also hope, O Lady, in this word of mercy.. By your brief response we will now be restored so as to be called back to life. The whole world is awaiting this response, prostrate at your feet. O Virgin Mary, give your answer soon” (Sermon 4, 8-9; Opera Omnia, ed Cisterc. 4, 1966, 53-54).

Dearest young people, the Lord, the Church, the world, are also waiting for your response to the unique call that each of you receives in this life!  As the WYD in Panama approaches, I invite you to prepare for our appointment with the joy and enthusiasm of those who want to be participants in a great adventure.  WYDs are for the courageous, not for young people who seek only comfort and who back away in the face of difficulties.  Do you accept the challenge?

From the Vatican, 11 February 2018, VI Sunday of Ordinary Time, Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes