The week leading up to World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro has been full of surprises. Our small band of 12 from EWTN embarked on a journey that has touched and, I dare say, shaken each of us to the core. We have been surprised not merely by some significant changes in events, or witnessing up close the Pope’s warmth and gestures, which have become a kind of “Francis trademark,” but the real surprise is how each of our own hearts have been deeply touched by Pope Francis' message to the youth from every continent gathered here in Brazil.
The theme, “Go, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) is a Gospel text meant for each and every Christian, not merely for the young. In his final homily with the pilgrims in Rio, the Pope told them: “Jesus is calling you to be a disciple with a mission!”
His consistent message has been that a real Christian cannot be isolated. He encouraged us:
“Do not remain locked up in your life or in the small group of your parish, your movement or your community. That would be like withholding oxygen from a flame that was burning strongly. 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, the Lord of life and history (Romans 10:9).”
These words should ring true in the ears of every Christian. He has told each of us that we possess the power within us to either keep the flame of faith burning bright or to let the flame be snuffed out by our own attachments to material possessions. He posed the question: Do we possess things, or do we let the “things” and “possessions” of life possess us?
At the vigil on Saturday evening, the Pope urged the youth not to be “part-time Christians.” Each of Pope Francis’ addresses were packed with so many impactful expressions and phrases that they can’t all be commented on in this column. But here are two, worth looking at closer.
First, on Saturday night, he used the Parable of the Sower and the Seed in the Gospel of Matthew 13. Said the Pope, “The seed is the word of God sown in our hearts. This, dear young people, means that the real Campus Fidei, the field of faith, is your own heart; it is your life. It is your life that Jesus wants to enter with his word, with his presence. Please, let Christ and his word enter your life, blossom and grow.”
Our hearts are the fields that must be cultivated and nourished. But who is the cultivator? Who is the one who brings about this springtime of faith? The Pope’s answer has been consistent all week. It is God who makes the first move toward us! We do not bring this about by ourselves!
Second, also on Saturday night, the Pope made reference to a training ground. The field of faith in our hearts becomes the “training” ground on which each of us must take the responsibility of cooperating with the Lord.
He asked the young people, “How do we get in shape?” And he answered his own question:
“By talking with him: by prayer, which is our daily conversation with God, who always listens to us. By the sacraments, which make his life grow within us and conform us to Christ. By loving one another, learning to listen, to understand, to forgive, to be accepting and to help others, everybody, with no one excluded or ostracized.”
In a nutshell, prayer, the sacraments and charity are essential to every Christian.
Originally, the vigil and closing Mass were scheduled to be at Campus Fidei (Field of Faith) in Guaribita outside of Rio. But perhaps by the design of God’s providence, these messages to the youth were delivered beside the beautiful scene of the Copacabana beach.
Jesus Christ gave most of his teaching alongside a body of water, the Sea of Galilee, where he told his disciples to “cast your nets out.” This message has the same relevance for us today! We are not somehow cut off from the missionary mandate that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, gave 2,000 years ago.
During his Sunday homily, Pope Francis asked the young people another question, “Where does Jesus send us?”
“There are no borders, no limits: he sends us to everyone,” said the Pope. “The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some. It is not only for those who seem closer to us, more receptive, more welcoming. It is for everyone.”
How much clearer can the Pope be? We must proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone! Pope Francis reminded us several times not to remain isolated and closed in on ourselves. In one of his many unique expressions, he described the image of each one of us “letting Jesus out of our hearts” so he can meet everyone.
It is safe to say that we have been “sent forth.” We worship a God who is full of surprises! He has a plan, a purpose, a surprise for each one of us.
The theme of the Pope’s closing homily was “Go, do not be afraid, and serve.” And there you have it. We have our marching orders.
Let’s get moving Christians! “Jesus Christ is counting on you! The Church is counting on you! The Pope is counting on you!”
Father John Paul Mary Zeller is part of the
Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word.
He writes from Rio.