ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay — Meeting Saturday afternoon with representatives of Paraguayan society, Pope Francis addressed young people in particular, telling them they must realize that happiness is a result of working to make a more fraternal world.
“Youth is a time of high ideals,” he said July 11 at Leon Condou stadium in Asuncion. “It is important that you, the young, realize that genuine happiness comes from working to make a more fraternal world.”
“It comes from realizing that happiness and pleasure are not synonymous. Happiness is demanding; it requires commitment and effort. You are too important to be satisfied with living life under a kind of anesthesia.”
While pleasure is fleeting, he said, “happiness is a dream that builds, that constructs.”
Before Pope Francis spoke, he was greeted by Bishop Adalberto Martinez Flores of the Paraguayan Military Ordinariate, who said that Paraguay “urgently needs to strengthen the social and moral fabric of the nation and also to build and strengthen social peace.”
The Pope was then posed with five questions, from a young person, an indigenous person, a peasant woman, a businesswoman and the national development minister.
The young person, a Catholic, noted Paraguay’s inequality, weak government institutions, high poverty rates and corruption, and, despite these, the country’s enjoyment of civil liberty, strengthening democracy and strong youth. He asked what this juxtaposed situation meant for the reign of fraternity, justice, peace and dignity, which the Pope had written about in his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World).
Pope Francis responded, noting the idealism of youth and the large number of young people in Paraguay, calling it “a great source of enrichment for the nation. … I think that the first thing to do is to make sure that all that energy, that light, does not grow dim in your hearts and to resist the growing mentality which considers it useless and absurd to aspire to things that demand effort. Be committed to something; be committed to someone. Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Don’t be afraid to give the best of yourselves. … Don’t look out for the easy wicket, in order to avoid having to do real, hard work.”
“But don’t do this alone,” he cautioned. “Try to talk about these things among yourselves; profit from the lives, the stories and the wisdom of your elders, of your grandparents. ‘Waste’ lots of time listening to all the good things they have to teach you. They are the guardians of that spiritual legacy of faith and values which define a people and illumine its path. Find comfort, too, in the power of prayer, in Jesus. Keep praying to him daily. He will not disappoint you.”
Christ, he said, “is the secret to keeping a joyful heart in your quest for fraternity, justice, peace and dignity for everyone. … Yes, God is the guarantee of the dignity of man.”
Fraternity, justice, peace and dignity run the risk of “becoming mere words,” the Pope said. “But justice, peace, solidarity, are concrete things. … They are to be worked on every day. So I ask you, young people, work on these things, every day, even if you make mistakes. If you do, rectify them, and keep going.”
The Pope then turned to the indigenous person’s question, which regarded the role of dialogue in building up society. He affirmed that it is “not easy. There are many difficulties to be overcome, and sometimes it seems as if our efforts only make things even harder.”
True dialogue entails “serious commitment,” he reflected, lamenting that “there’s also such a thing as theatrical dialogue — we act, we play at dialogue, and then we forget. Just talking is useless.”
Dialogue, he said, “presupposes and demands a culture of encounter … which acknowledges that diversity is not only good, it is necessary.”
“So we cannot start off by thinking that the other person is wrong. The common good is sought by starting from our differences, constantly leaving room for new alternatives. … Discuss, think and discover together a better solution for everybody. Many times, this culture of encounter can involve conflict. This is logical and even desirable. It is not something we should be afraid of or ignore. Rather, we are called to resolve it.”
Pope Francis added that unity should not “cancel differences, but experience them in communion through solidarity and understanding. By trying to understand the thinking of others, their experiences, their hopes, we will be able to see more clearly our shared aspirations. This is the basis of encounter: All of us are brothers and sisters, children of the same heavenly Father; and each of us, with our respective cultures, languages and traditions, has much to contribute to the community.”
“True cultures are not closed in on themselves, but called to meet other cultures and to create new realities. Without this essential presupposition, without this basis of fraternity, it will be very difficult to arrive at dialogue. If someone thinks that there are persons, cultures or situations which are second, third or fourth class … surely things will go badly, because the bare minimum, a recognition of the dignity of the other, is lacking.”
The third question regarded poverty and inclusion, and Pope Francis answered that “a fundamental part of helping the poor involves the way we see them.” He then discussed the problem of seeing the poor through an ideological lens: “Ideologies always end badly; they are useless. Ideologies have a sick and evil, an incomplete relationship with peoples. … Sure, ideologues and those who subscribe to ideologies have good intentions, but they end up doing nothing, and ultimately caring nothing, for the people.”
“An ideological approach is useless: It ends up using the poor in the service of other political or personal interests. To really help them, the first thing is for us to be truly concerned for their persons, valuing them for their goodness. Valuing them, however, also means being ready to learn from them. The poor have much to teach us about humanity, goodness and sacrifice,” he said.
“As Christians, we have an additional reason to love and serve the poor; for in them, we see the face and the flesh of Christ, who made himself poor, so to enrich us with his poverty.”
He reflected that every country needs economic growth and the extension of this wealth to each citizen, adding, “The creation of this wealth must always be at the service of the common good, and not only for the benefit of a few. … Those charged with promoting economic development have the responsibility of ensuring that it will always have a human face. They have in their hands the possibility of providing employment for many persons, and in this way of giving hope to many families.”
Recalling the tradition of Catholic social teaching, the Pope said that “work is a right, and it bestows dignity. Putting bread on the table, putting a roof over the heads of one’s children, giving them health and an education — these are essential for human dignity, and business men and women, politicians, economists, must feel challenged in this regard. I ask them not to yield to an economic model which is idolatrous, which needs to sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit.”
“In economics, in business and in politics, what counts first and foremost is the human person and the environment in which he or she lives.”
He then discussed the Reductions, settlements for indigenous peoples which were first set up by Jesuit missionaries in Paraguay in the 17th century. He called the Reductions “among the most significant experiences of evangelization and social organization in history. There, the Gospel was the soul and the life of communities which did not know hunger, unemployment, illiteracy or oppression.”
“This historical experience shows us that, today too, a more humane society is possible. Where there is love of people and a willingness to serve them, it is possible to create the conditions necessary for everyone to have access to basic goods, so that no one goes without.”
Pope Francis concluded by saying that “it is a great pleasure to see the number and variety of associations sharing in the creation of an ever more prosperous Paraguay. I see you as a great symphony, each one with his or her own specificity and richness, yet all working together towards a harmonious end. That is what counts.”
He then spoke again of justice and said that “another thing that takes away liberty and restricts a people’s ability to build a real society is the cultural ill of blackmail, of corruption, of threat. … Without dialogue, no one can go anywhere. And if there is blackmail, threat, tit for tat, then there will be stagnation, and the country won’t go anywhere.”
“Love your country, your fellow citizens, and, above all, love the poor,” he exhorted. “In this way, you will bear witness before the world that another model of development is possible.
“I ask Our Lady of Caacupe, our Mother, to watch over you and protect you, and to encourage you in all your efforts. God bless you.”