MAPUTO, Mozambique — Pope Francis encouraged young people of different faiths in Mozambique Thursday to not give up in the face of their country’s challenges, but to confront them with joy and hope.
“How do you make your dreams come true? How do you help to solve your country’s problems?” the Pope asked Sept. 5, repeating questions asked him by Mozambican young people.
“My words to you are these: Do not let yourselves be robbed of joy. Keep singing and expressing yourselves in fidelity to all the goodness that you have learned from your traditions. Let no one rob you of your joy!”
Pope Francis arrived in Maputo, Mozambique, in the evening Sept. 4, kicking off a Sept. 4-10 trip to three countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including the island-nations of Madagascar and Mauritius.
The interreligious meeting with youth was held at the Maxaquene Pavilion. Maxaquene is a sports club based in Maputo.
Pope Francis entered the pavilion to joyful cheers, singing and chants of “reconciliation.” The meeting opened up with a song, followed by musical and dance performances by groups of Christian, Mulim, Hindu and Catholic youth. The Pope’s speech was followed by a prayer.
During the encounter, Pope Francis told the estimated 4,500 young people present that “together, you are the beating heart of this people, and all of you have a fundamental role to play in one great creative project: to write a new page of history, a page full of hope, peace and reconciliation.”
“I would like to ask you a question,” he added. “Do you want to write this page? When you were singing, you sang the word ‘reconciliation.’”
He also told them, “God loves you, and this is something on which all our religious traditions are agreed.”
“For him, you have worth; you are not insignificant. You are important to him, for you are the work of his hands, and he loves you,” he said.
Quoting Christus Vivit, his post-synodal exhortation to young people, Francis said that “the love of the Lord has to do more with raising up than knocking down, with reconciling than forbidding, with offering new changes than condemning; the love of God has more to do with the future than the past.”
“I know that you believe in this love that makes reconciliation possible, and I thank you.”
The Pope warned against resignation and anxiety, which he said are two attitudes fatal to dreams and hope.
“These are great enemies of life, because they usually propel us along an easy but self-defeating path, and the toll they take is high indeed. … We pay with our happiness and even with our lives,” he said.
It can be easy to give up when things are painful and difficult and everything seems to be falling apart, but that is not the solution, he continued.
He referenced popular Mozambican soccer player the “Black Panther,” Eusébio da Silva.
“He began his athletic career in this city. The severe economic hardships of his family and the premature death of his father did not prevent him from dreaming,” the Pope stated. “His passion for football [soccer] made him persevere, keep dreaming and moving forward.”
This led him to score 77 goals for his team, Maxaquene, “despite having plenty of reasons to give up,” Francis noted.
He said being part of a team was an important part of da Silva’s success. On a team, everyone has differences, different gifts, he stated, just like at the meeting today. “We come from different traditions, and we may even speak different languages, but this has not stopped us from being here together as a group,” he said.
The Pope argued that a lot of suffering is caused by people dividing and separating others, choosing those who can “play” and those who have to sit “on the bench.”
You can do something for your country by staying united, building friendships and avoiding enmity, he said. He had the young people repeat that “social enmity, social division is destructive.”
“An old proverb says: “If you want to get somewhere in a hurry, walk alone; if you want to go far, walk with others.’ We need always to dream together, as you are doing today. Dream with others, never against others.”
“Keep dreaming the way you dreamed and prepared for this meeting: all together and without barriers. This is part of Mozambique’s ‘new page of history,’” he stated.
The Pope also encouraged young people not to fear mistakes, but to persevere, and to not let worry make them abandon their dreams.
He used another Mozambican athlete as an example: Olympic champion runner Maria Mutola.
She did not win a gold medal in her first three Olympic Games, the Pope noted, but on her fourth attempt, the 800-meter athlete won the gold medal in Sydney. And this did not make her self-absorbed. Despite her Olympic gold medal and her nine world titles, she did not forget her people or her roots, he said.
Pope Francis advised young people to listen to their elders and to stay rooted in their history and tradition, saying the older generations have much to offer.
“Sometimes we older people put you in difficulty; we frighten you. We can try to make you act, speak and live the same way we do. You will have to find your own way, but by listening to and appreciating those who have gone before you,” he said.
Noting the two cyclones that struck Mozambique earlier this year, Pope Francis said there is “a pressing challenge of protecting our common home.”
“Many of you were born at a time of peace, a hard-won peace that was not always easy to achieve and took time to build,” he said. “Peace is a process that you too are called to advance, by being ever ready to reach out to those experiencing hardship.”
“How important it is to learn to offer others a helping and outstretched hand! Try to grow in friendship with those who think differently than you, so that solidarity will increase among you and become the best weapon to change the course of history.”