MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
FOR THE XXXVI WORLD YOUTH DAY
21 November 2021
“Stand up. I appoint you as a witness of what you have seen." (cf. Acts 26:16)
“It hurts you to kick against the goads”
With these words, the Lord speaks to Saul after he had fallen to the ground. Yet for some time he had no doubt been mysteriously repeating those same words to Saul, in an attempt to draw him to himself. Saul, however, had resisted. Our Lord addresses that same gentle “reproach” to every young person who turns away from him: “How long will you flee from me? Why can’t you hear me calling you? I am waiting for you to come back to me”. There are times when we too say, like the prophet Jeremiah: “I will no longer think about him” (cf. Jer 20:9). Yet a fire burns in every person’s heart: even if we try to stifle it, we will not succeed, because it is stronger than we are.
Recognizing our blindness
We can imagine that, before his encounter with Christ, Saul was to some extent “full of himself”, thinking he was “great” on the basis of his moral integrity, zeal, background and education. Certainly, he was convinced of being right.
Once the Lord reveals himself, Saul “falls to the ground”, blinded. Suddenly, he is unable to see, both physically and spiritually. His certainties are shaken. In his heart, he realizes that his passionate zeal to kill Christians was utterly wrong. (...)
Such humility – the awareness of our limitations – is essential!
Saul, once blinded, lost his reference points. Alone in darkness, the only clear things were the light he saw and the voice he heard. How paradoxical! Only when we are blinded, do we start to see!
After his overpowering experience on the road to Damascus, Saul preferred to be called Paul, a name that means “small”. This was not like those nicknames or made-up names so common today. His encounter with Christ changed his life; it made him feel truly small and tore down everything preventing him from truly coming to know himself. As he tells us: “I became the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God” (1 Cor 15:9). (...)
Paul’s conversion did not involve turning back, but being open to a completely new way of seeing things. (...) Conversion can renew our everyday lives. We continue to do what we did before, but our hearts and motives are now changed. (...)
From this point on, Paul will view things with new eyes, no longer as a persecutor and executioner, but as a disciple and a witness. In Damascus, Ananias will baptize him and present him to the Christian community. In silence and prayer, Paul would deepen his experience and the new identity bestowed on him by the Lord Jesus.
Do not dissipate the strength and passion of youth
Paul’s attitude prior to his encounter with the risen Jesus is not so strange for us.
How much strength and passion also well up in your own hearts, dear young people! Yet the darkness around and inside you can prevent you from seeing things rightly. You can risk finding yourselves lost in fighting meaningless and even violent battles. Sadly, the first victims will be yourselves and those closest to you.
How many young people today inspired, perhaps driven, by political or religious convictions, end up becoming instruments of violence and destruction in the lives of many others! Some, moving with ease in the digital world, use virtual reality and social networks as a new battlefield, unscrupulously employing the weapon of fake news to spread venom and to wipe out their adversaries.
When the Lord broke into Paul’s life, he did not suppress his personality or passionate zeal. Instead, he brought those gifts of his to full flower by making him a great herald of the Gospel to the very ends of the earth.
Henceforth, Paul would be called the “apostle of the nations”. Paul, who had been a Pharisee, a scrupulous follower of the Law! Here we see yet another paradox: the Lord putting his trust in the very one who had persecuted him. Like Paul, each of us can hear a voice in our heart saying: “I trust you. I know your story and I lay hold of it, together with you. Even if you have often been against me, I choose you and make you my witness”. God’s ways of thinking can turn the worst persecutor into a great witness. (...)
“Arise and bear witness!”
When we embrace the new life bestowed on us in baptism, the Lord gives us an important and life-changing mission: “You are to be my witness!”
Today Christ speaks to you the same words that he spoke to Paul: Arise! Do not remain downcast or caught up in yourself: a mission awaits you! You too can testify to what Jesus has begun to accomplish in your lives. In Jesus’ name, I ask you:
- Arise! Testify that you too were blind and encountered the light. You too have seen God’s goodness and beauty in yourself, in others and in the communion of the Church, where all loneliness is overcome.
- Arise! Testify to the love and respect it is possible to instil in human relationships, in the lives of our families, in the dialogue between parents and children, between the young and the elderly.
- Arise! Uphold social justice, truth and integrity, human rights. Protect the persecuted, the poor and the vulnerable, those who have no voice in society, immigrants.
- Arise! Testify to the new way of looking at things that enables you to view creation with eyes brimming with wonder, that makes you see the Earth as our common home, and gives you the courage to promote an integral ecology.
- Arise! Testify that lives of failure can be rebuilt, that persons spiritually dead can rise anew, that those in bondage can once more be free, that hearts overwhelmed by sorrow can rediscover hope.
- Arise! Testify joyfully that Christ is alive! Spread his message of love and salvation among your contemporaries, at school and in the university, at work, in the digital world, everywhere.
Arise and celebrate WYD in the particular Churches!
Once again, I invite all of you, young people throughout the world, to take part in this spiritual pilgrimage leading to the celebration of the 2023 World Youth Day in Lisbon.
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