“Jesus is calling you to leave your mark on history! What answer will you give?” With these powerful words, Pope Francis challenged 1.6 million young people from 187 countries at the World Youth Day prayer vigil in Krakow on Saturday evening.
As he had done in Rio de Janeiro in 2013, Francis gave a stellar speech that reached the hearts of his audience, among them 35,000 from the United States and 3,500 from Canada, The evening also included music, dance and testimonies from three young people who told how they had overcome major problems in their lives through faith.
Natalia, a young Polish woman, said she had been chief editor of a fashion magazine for many years and led a dissolute life until one day she felt the need to go to confession. That changed everything.
Rand, 26, a Syrian woman from the war-torn city of Aleppo, said she lives in constant fear of being killed but keeps going, thanks to her faith and work at that city’s Don Bosco Center.
Miguel, 34, a Paraguayan man, said that after experiencing problems in his family he became a drug addict and committed crimes that led to six years in prison. But after being rehabilitated in a faith center in Brazil, he now runs a house of hope in Uruguay.
After listening attentively to these testimonies, Francis recalled what Rand had said about the war in Syria and responded, “For us, here, today, coming from different parts of the world, the suffering and the wars that many young people experience are no longer anonymous, something we read about in the papers. They have a name, they have a face, they have a story, they are close at hand.”
Some situations seem distant “until in some way we touch them,” he said, and “when we do, then something powerful happens. We feel the need to get involved.”
He also thanked Natalia and Miguel “for sharing their own battles and inner conflicts” and told them “both of you are a living sign of what God’s mercy wants to accomplish in us.”
Referring to the state of the world, Francis said, “this is no time for denouncing anyone or fighting. We do not want to tear down. We have no desire to conquer hatred with more hatred, violence with more violence, terror with more terror.”
Then, in a remark that provoked strong applause, he told them: “Our response to a world at war has a name: its name is fraternity, its name is brotherhood, its name is communion, its name is family.” He said that “our best word” is “our unity in prayer.” At this point, he invited people to hold others’ hands and pray together in silence.
Aware that many young people are afraid of what is happening in the world, Francis reminded them of what happened to the disciples at Pentecost: “they were together behind locked doors, out of fear. They felt threatened.”
But then “something spectacular, something grandiose, occurred,” he said. The Holy Spirit “came to rest upon each of them, propelling them towards an undreamt-of adventure.”
Francis counseled his listeners not to succumb to fear, because that leads to the feeling of being closed in on oneself, or trapped, which then leads to the feeling of being paralyzed. In that way, he said, “we miss the magic of encountering others, making friends, sharing dreams, walking at the side of others.”
He went onto warn against an “even more dangerous” paralysis “that comes from confusing happiness with a sofa.” That confusion, he said, “makes us feel comfortable, calm, safe and promises us hours of comfort so we can escape to the world of videogames and spend all kinds of time in front of a computer screen. A sofa that keeps us safe from any kind of pain and fear.”
This sofa happiness “is probably the most harmful and insidious form of paralysis,” he said, because “little by little, without even realizing it, we start to nod off, to grow drowsy and dull while others decide our future for us.”
But “we didn’t come into this world to vegetate,” he said; on the contrary, “we came for another reason: to leave a mark in history.”
The pope continued, “Jesus is the Lord of risk, of the eternal ‘more.’ He is not the Lord of comfort, security and ease.” To follow Jesus, he said, “demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths.”
To follow Jesus, he said, also means ““to take the path of the ‘craziness’ of our God, who teaches us to encounter him in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the friend in trouble, the prisoner, the refugee and the migrant, and our neighbors who feel abandoned.” It means “to take the path of our God, who encourages us to be politicians, thinkers, social activists. The God who asks us to devise an economy inspired by solidarity.”
Francis told the vast audience in Krakow, “God expects something from you. God wants something from you. God hopes in you. He comes to open the doors of our lives, our dreams, our ways of seeing things. He is encouraging you to dream. He wants to make you see that, with you, the world can be different. For the fact is, unless you offer the best of yourselves, the world will never be different.”
He said the world today “demands that you be a protagonist of history because life is always beautiful when we choose to live it fully, when we choose to leave a mark. History today calls us to defend our dignity and not to let others decide our future.”
As at Pentecost, he said, “the Lord wants to work one of the greatest miracles we can experience. He wants to turn your hands, my hands, our hands, into signs of reconciliation, of communion, of creation. He wants your hands to continue building the world of today. And he wants to build that world with you.”
Francis continued, “Jesus is inviting you, calling you, to leave your mark on life, to leave a mark on history, your own and that of many others as well.”
Commenting that the world today tells us that “it’s much easier to concentrate on what divides us, what keeps us apart,” Francis invited his listeners to “have the courage to teach us that it is easier to build bridges than walls!”
Concluding the much applauded talk, he told them, “Today Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life, is calling you to leave your mark on history. He, who is life, is asking each of you to leave a mark that brings life to your own history and that of many others. He, who is truth, is asking you to abandon the paths of rejection, division and emptiness.”
When he ended by asking, “Are you up to this?” the audience shouted a resounding Yes! and broke into thunderous applause.