Pope Francis bade farewell on July 31 to an estimated 1.6 million young people from 187 countries in Krakow, Poland, for World Youth Day. In his homily at the festival Mass, he challenged them “to have the courage to be more powerful than evil by loving everyone, even our enemies.”
Francis concelebrated with 70 cardinals and over 800 bishops at the Field of Mercy, 10 miles from Krakow. “He comes like a friend to everyone, so open, so calm, so very, very friendly, smiling, so joyful like the young people here,” said Dorota, a 30-year-old Polish woman.
During his homily, Francis commented on the Gospel story read at Mass about Zacchaeus, the tax collector, who because he was so short climbed a tree to see Jesus. Just as Jesus met Zacchaeus, so too “Jesus wants to draw near to us personally, to accompany our journey to its end, so that his life and our life can truly meet,” the pope said. Zacchaeus’s encounter with Jesus “changed his life, just as it has changed, and can daily still change, each of our lives,” the pope told the young people.
But Zacchaeus “had to face a number of obstacles in order to meet Jesus,” the pope continued, adding that modern young people face similar obstacles. First, like Zacchaeus, they feel “small of stature” and don’t think themselves “worthy.” This, the pope said, “has to do not only with self-esteem, but with faith itself.” He reminded them that “our real stature” is that “we are God’s beloved children, always!” As such, “no one is insignificant.”
Zacchaeus faced a second obstacle in meeting Jesus, Francis said: “the paralysis of shame.” But “he mastered his shame” and climbed a tree “because the attraction of Jesus was more powerful.” Recalling that Zacchaeus “took a risk, he put his life on the line,” Francis said, “for us too, this is the secret of joy: not to stifle a healthy curiosity, but to take a risk, because life is not meant to be tucked away.”
Francis then referred to the third obstacle Zacchaeus faced: “the grumbling of the crowd, who first blocked him and then criticized him,” and asked, “How could Jesus have entered his house, the house of a sinner!” Francis said people “will try to block you, to make you think that God is distant, rigid and insensitive, good to the good and bad to the bad,” but instead, “our heavenly Father ‘makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good’ alike.”
He told his young audience: “People may laugh at you because you believe in the gentle and unassuming power of mercy. But do not be afraid. Think of the motto of these days: ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy’” (Mt 5:7).
Then, using the language of the internet, as he has done several times in these days, he encouraged them to “download the best ‘link’ of all, that of a heart which sees and transmits goodness without growing weary. The joy that you have freely received from God, freely give away, so many people are waiting for it!”
Francis concluded by recalling that Jesus told Zacchaeus, “I must stay at your house today” and telling the young people that Jesus extends that same invitation to them. Indeed, he said, “We can say that World Youth Day begins today and continues tomorrow, in your homes, since that is where Jesus wants to meet you from now on.”