Christians are called to be disciples of Jesus with a mission, going out from their small circles to make disciples of all nations, Pope Francis taught today during the closing Mass of World Youth Day.
“Jesus is speaking to each one of us, saying: ‘It was wonderful to take part in World Youth Day, to live the faith together with young people from the four corners of the earth, but now you must go; now you must pass on this experience to others,’” Pope Francis told the crowd of pilgrims on Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach July 28 during his homily for the Mass for the Evangelization of Peoples.
The first need for evangelization is to “go,” Pope Francis taught. “During these days here in Rio, you have been able to enjoy the wonderful experience of meeting Jesus … and you have sensed the joy of faith,” he reflected with the pilgrims.
“But the experience of this encounter must not remain locked up in your life or in the small group of your parish, your movement or your community.”
When faith stays “locked up” within a small Christian community, it is “like withholding oxygen from a flame that was burning strongly,” Pope Francis preached.
“Faith is a flame that grows stronger the more it is shared and passed on, so that everyone may know, love and confess Jesus Christ.”
“Jesus did not say: ‘If you would like to, if you have the time,’” the Bishop of Rome admonished his fellow pilgrims.
The command to evangelize, to make disciples of all nations, is not optional, not conditional.
Said the Pope, “It is a command that is born not from a desire for domination or power, but from the force of love, from the fact that Jesus first came into our midst and gave us, not a part of himself, but the whole of himself; he gave his life in order to save us and to show us the love and mercy of God.”
In sending us out, Christ remains always with us, the Pope assured his listeners: “He is always beside us in our mission of love.”
The Church is meant to evangelize all persons, Pope Francis taught, saying there are “no borders, no limits” to where Christians are sent to evangelize.
“The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some,” he continued. “It is not only for those who seem closer to us, more receptive, more welcoming.”
“Do not be afraid to go and to 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.”
He appealed in particular to the youth of Latin America to proclaim the Gospel in their homes “with fresh power.” The best tool for evangelizing young people, he said, is “another young person.”
Pope Francis’ second point about evangelization was: “Do not be afraid.” Being a Christian does not require “particular preparation,” he said, but a realization that Christ accompanies us.
“When we go to proclaim Christ, it is he himself who goes before us and guides us.”
Not only is Christ with us when we go on mission, but the Church and the communion of saints accompany us as well, because “we are sent together,” the Pope reminded the pilgrims.
“When we face challenges together, then we are strong; we discover resources we did not know we had. Jesus did not call the apostles to live in isolation; he called them to form a group, a community.”
Pope Francis added that service is an important aspect of evangelization. The “new song” sung to the Lord “does not consist of words; it is not a melody,” he said, but is, rather, “the song of your life; it is allowing our life to be identified with that of Jesus. It is sharing his sentiments … his actions.”
“And the life of Jesus is a life for others. It is a life of service.”
Evangelization, the Roman Pontiff taught, 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.”
The three marks of evangelization, going, being unafraid and serving, will end up evangelizing the evangelist, the Pope assured the young pilgrims.
“Dear young friends, as you return to your homes, do not be afraid to be generous with Christ, to bear witness to his Gospel.”
Evangelization, he said, brings “God’s power to pluck up and break down evil and violence, to overthrow the barriers of selfishness, intolerance and hatred, so as to build a new world.”
“Jesus Christ is counting on you! The Church is counting on you! The Pope is counting on you,” he told them.
Pope Francis concluded by praying that Mary, Christ’s Mother “and our Mother,” might “always accompany you with her tenderness.”