Pope Francis’ first World Youth Day was a huge success! Close to three million pilgrims took part in the closing Mass at Copacabana Beach; with millions more glued to their television screens all around the world. The energy and enthusiasm that the first South American pope generated during his first papal visit to his home continent was palpable even for those of us who followed this momentous occasion via satellite. At every step, Pope Francis challenged, encouraged, and surprised us. In his closing homily, he captured what he had done and what he was challenging us, young people, as we continue in this pilgrimage.
“Go, do not be afraid, and serve.” These were the ideas at the center of the Pope’s final message to the young people gathered in Rio de Janeiro, and those watching around the world.
Noting that the young pilgrims had encountered Jesus at WYD and had sensed the “joy of faith,” Pope Francis challenged them to share this experience with others. He urged them not to keep this encounter locked up in their lives, their prayer groups or parish walls. He explained that Jesus had not said, “if you would like to, if you have time.” Rather, Christ commanded, “go and make disciples of all nations.” The pope added, “bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. The Lord seeks all; he wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love.” If we do not share the Gospel, it would be like withholding oxygen from a burning flame, the pope said.
The Gospel has no borders or limits, the Gospel is for everyone. That is the challenge for the young in the Church today. The Gospel message has been deposited in our hearts. Our parents, grandparents and ancestors passed on the faith that we now profess. As we come of age, we must step up to this challenge which every generation before us has carried out. Passing of the faith is the duty of the baptized. The 21st century requires new methods to deliver and preach the Gospel, and as Pope Francis reminded us; “do you know what the best tool is for evangelizing the young? Another young person.” It is now our turn!
Some young people think that they are ill-equipped to proclaim the Gospel. To this Pope Francis says: “my dear friend, your fear is not so very different from that of Jeremiah, a young man like you, when he was called by God to be a prophet. We have just heard his words: ‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.’ God says the same thing to you as he said to Jeremiah: ‘Be not afraid… for I am with you to deliver you.’” With a gentleness that has come to characterize him, Pope Francis reminds us that Christ is always with us. Christ goes before us. Jesus guides us as we respond to His call. And Jesus will never leave us alone!
Besides Christ always being by our side, Pope Francis explains that Jesus did not say: “one of you go.” No, Jesus said, “all of you go!” We are sent together, as companions, as a Church, as a communion of saints. When we rely on each other, God surprises us by revealing the resources we did not know we had.
Acknowledging the presence of hundreds of bishops and priests, Pope Francis reminded them that while it is wonderful to share this experience with young people, they are to continue to “accompany them with generosity and joy, help them to become actively engaged in the Church; [and] never let them feel alone!” Perhaps it is time for the priest in our diocese to pause and reflect on this invitation; to take an honest look at their efforts to accompany the young people in their communities.
Finally, the last word Pope Francis asked us to reflect on was: “serve.” The opening words of the Psalm used during this liturgy was “Sing to the Lord a new song.” “What is this new song?” the pope asked. “It does not consist of words, it is not a melody, it is the song of your life, it is allowing your life to be identified with that of Jesus… And the life of Jesus is a life for others. It is a life of service.” It is this word that we come to understand the previous messages more fully. We are sent to preach the Gospel, and we should not be afraid because we already posses the Gospel. The Gospel, more than proclamation, is how we live out our faith. The best preaching is humble service. The song we are to sing is our lives.
The desire for service is a strong characteristic of today’s young people. Our generation spends countless of hours fighting for others. We are engaged in service and united in solidarity with those suffering in all corners of the earth. And as Pope Francis reminds us, this is evangelization. It is “bearing personal witness to the love of God, it is overcoming our selfishness; it is serving by bending down to wash the feet of our brethren, as Jesus did.”
Often times, this generation is judged for their lack of Mass attendance. But in many ways they live out the Gospel message in a real way through their selfless service. It is here where they experience a real imitation of Christ. For those of us in ministry, it is our job to offer them a source of strength and encouragement.
“If you follow these three ideas (go, do not be afraid, and serve),” Pope Francis said, “You will experience that the one who evangelizes is evangelized, the one who transmits the joy of faith receives joy.”
How are we, the young people in the Church, going to respond to this invitation? How are you, the young in Metuchen, going to respond? For those young people in Metuchen who hear the invitation to go, seek to put aside all fears, and want to live for others, remember “Jesus Christ is counting on you! The Church is counting on you! The Pope is counting on you!”
Javier Bustamente is the director of the diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry