On Tuesday Pope Francis released a video message to youth in advance of the next World Youth Day, to be held in Panama in 2019. He said that like the Virgin Mary, they are needed, and they should not be afraid to leave their mark on the world.
“Like the young woman of Nazareth, you can improve the world and leave an imprint that makes a mark on history, your history and that of many others,” Pope Francis said in the message, released March 21. “The Church and society need you.”
“With your plans and with your courage, with your dreams and ideals, walls of stagnation fall and roads open up that lead us to a better, fairer, less cruel and more humane world.”
The message, made in advance of the annual diocesan-level “World Youth Day” which takes place on April 9 this year, reflects specifically on the spiritual journey pilgrims will take before reaching Panama, encouraging young people to cultivate a strong friendship with Our Lady, saying they “will not regret it.”
“Speak to her as you would to a Mother. Together with her, give thanks for the precious gift of faith that you have received from your elders, and entrust your whole life to her. She is a good Mother who listens to you and embraces you, who loves you and walks together with you,” he said.
The theme for the upcoming local World Youth Day is taken from the words of Mary in the Magnificat: “The Mighty has done great things for me” (Luke 1:49).
Mary “recognized the great things that God was accomplishing in her life,” gave thanks for it, and then put it into action, going to help her cousin Elizabeth, the Pope said. She “was not a young couch potato who looks for comfort and safety where nobody can bother them.”
“Dear young people, God is also watching over you and calling you, and when God does so, he is looking at all the love you are able to offer,” Francis said.
In anticipation of World Youth Day in Panama January 22-27, 2017, the Pope also released a longer written message to youth, reflecting on themes from the last international World Youth Day in Krakow in July 2016 and on the themes of each year’s meeting leading up to Panama.
Continuing the Marian themes, in 2018 the theme will be “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:49) and in 2019, in Panama, it will be “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), the Pope said.
Francis said that he hopes preparations for World Youth Day in Panama and for the Synod of Bishops in October 2018, “will move forward in tandem,” since the topic of the Synod will be youth, faith and vocational discernment.
At the Synod, “we will talk about how you, as young people, are experiencing the life of faith amid the challenges of our time,” the Pope said. “We will also discuss the question of how you can develop a life project by discerning your personal vocation…”
In discerning the plan God has for our lives, we can look to Mary, who was very young herself, as an example of the gift of faith lived out, he said.
Referencing an address he gave at World Youth Day in Krakow, Francis said to not be afraid, for though we might think, but “I am a sinner, what can I do?” the truth is that “when the Lord calls us, he doesn’t stop at what we are or what we have done.”
“On the contrary, at the very moment that he calls us, he is looking ahead to everything we can do, all the love we are capable of giving.”
How do we prepare to, like Mary, give this love? Pope Francis offered four practical suggestions. One, is to end each day doing an examination of conscience – reflecting on our day, remembering both “the good times and the challenges, what went well and those that went wrong.”
These can also be recorded in a journal if we like and is a good way of noticing what God is doing in our lives, he said.
Another suggestion the Pope made is to spend more time reading the Bible. If you, as young people, want to make your life a “gift for humanity” it is “essential to connect with the historical tradition and the prayer of those who have gone before you,” he said.
Doing lectio divina, a method of prayerfully reading the Bible and applying God’s word to your own life will help to “illumine your steps.”
Thirdly, Francis stressed the importance of going to Mass and frequent reception of the Eucharist, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
And lastly, he said that young people must speak to and learn from the wisdom of their elders, especially grandparents or other relatives. “Do you realize how extraordinarily enriching the encounter between the young and the elderly can be?” he asked.
“Young people have strength, while the elderly have memory and wisdom.”
“The genuine experience of the Church is not like a flash mob, where people agree to meet, do their thing and then go their separate ways,” Pope Francis continued.
“The Church is heir to a long tradition which, passed down from generation to generation, is further enriched by the experience of each individual. Your personal history has a place within the greater history of the Church.”
Even young people should be mindful of tradition and the past, he said, though this is not the same as being nostalgic or remaining stuck on a certain period of history as being the best. One of the gifts of youth is questioning and dreaming about the future, he said.
“God came to enlarge the horizons of our life in every direction. He helps us to give due value to the past so as to better build a future of happiness.”
“Many people think that young people are distracted and superficial,” Francis explained. “They are wrong! Still, we should acknowledge our need to reflect on our lives and direct them towards the future.”
“When God touches the heart of a young man or woman, they become capable of doing tremendous things.”