PANAMA CITY — Reflecting on the Blessed Virgin Mary’s fiat, Pope Francis encouraged World Youth Day participants Saturday night to say yes to God’s grace in their lives.

“In a few moments, we will encounter the living Jesus in Eucharistic adoration. You can be sure that he has many things to say to you, about different situations in your lives, families and countries,” the Holy Father said in his address at the vigil with young people for World Youth Day at Campo San Juan Pablo II in Panama City, Jan. 26.

“Face to face with him, don’t be afraid to open your heart to him and to ask him to renew the fire of his love, so that you can embrace life with all its frailty and flaws, but also with its grandeur and beauty. May he help you to discover the beauty of being alive.”

The Pope concluded: “Do not be afraid to tell him that you too want to be a part of his love story in this world, that you are ready for something greater!”

The life that Christ gives “is a love story, a life history that wants to blend with ours and sink roots in the soil of our own lives,” Pope Francis said. “The salvation the Lord offers us is an invitation to be part of a love story interwoven with our personal stories; it is alive and wants to be born in our midst so that we can bear fruit just as we are, wherever we are and with everyone all around us. The Lord comes there to sow and to be sown. He is the first to say ‘yes’ to our lives and our history, and he wants us to say ‘yes’ along with him.”

When asked “to be part of this love story” at the Annunciation, Mary said yes and was able “to trust in the love and promises of God,” the Pope said.

“We are always struck by the strength of that young woman’s ‘yes’, the words ‘be it done’ that she spoke to the angel. This was no merely passive or resigned acceptance or a faint ‘yes’ … It was something else, something different. It was the “yes” of someone prepared to be committed and take a risk, ready to stake everything she had, with no more security than the certainty of knowing that she was the bearer of a promise.”

While Mary faced an undoubtedly difficult mission, Francis reflected, “the challenges that lay ahead were no reason to say ‘no.’ Things would get complicated, of course, but not in the same way as happens when cowardice paralyzes us because things are not clear or sure in advance. The ‘yes’ and the desire to serve were stronger than any doubts and difficulties.”

The Pope then spoke of how Mary’s fiat “echoes and expands in every generation” as people continue to “take a risk and stake their future on a promise.”

He pointed to a testimony given earlier by a Panamanian couple, Erika and Rogelio, who chose to welcome the birth of their daughter Inés, who has Down syndrome.

“Before her birth, when faced with all the issues and problems that came up, you made a decision and said, like Mary, ‘let it be done’; you decided to love her,” Pope Francis said to Erika and Rogelio. “Presented with the life of your frail, helpless and needy daughter, your answer was ‘yes’, and so we have Inés. You believed that the world is not only for the strong!”

Pope Francis stated: “Saying ‘yes’ to the Lord means preparing to embrace life as it comes, with all its fragility, its simplicity, and often enough too, with its conflicts and annoyances, and to do so with the same love with which Erika and Rogelio spoke. It means embracing our country, our families and our friends as they are, with all their weak points and their flaws.”

To embrace life is also to accept “things that are not perfect, pure or ‘distilled’, yet no less worthy of love. Is a disabled or frail person not worthy of love? Is a person who happens to be a foreigner, a person who made a mistake, a person ill or in prison, not worthy of love? We know what Jesus did: he embraced the leper, the blind man, the paralytic, the Pharisee and the sinner. He embraced the thief on the cross and even embraced and forgave those who crucified him.”

Christ did this “because only what is loved can be saved,” Pope Francis said. “Only what is embraced can be transformed. The Lord’s love is greater than all our problems, frailties and flaws. Yet it is precisely through our problems, frailties and flaws that he wants to write this love story. He embraced the prodigal son, he embraced Peter after his denials and he always embraces us whenever we fall: he helps us to get up and get back on our feet. Because the worst fall, the fall that can ruin our lives, is to remain down and not allow ourselves to be helped up.”

While it can be difficult to understand God’s love, “what a gift it is to know that we have a Father who embraces us despite all our imperfections,” the Pope said.

Thus “the first step is not to be afraid to welcome life as it comes, to embrace life!

Pope Francis then reflected on the testimony of Alfredo Martínez Andrión, a Panamanian youth who turned to drugs after dropping out of school and losing his job, saying that our lives are “rootless and parched” when we lack work, education, community, and family.

“It is impossible for us to grow unless we have strong roots to support us and to keep us firmly grounded. It is easy to drift off, when nothing holds us down,” he said, adding that older people need to ask, “What roots are we providing for you, what foundations for you to grow as persons?”

“It is easy enough to criticize and complain about young people if we are depriving them of the jobs, education and community opportunities they need to take root and to dream of a future,” the Pope said. “Without education, it is difficult to dream of a future; without work, it is very difficult to dream of a future; without a family and community, it is almost impossible to dream of a future. Because dreaming of a future means learning how to answer not only the question for what I am living, but also for whom I am living, who makes it worthwhile for me to live my life.”

Communities in which people have something to contribute are essential to human well-being, the Holy Father said, adding this was understood by the saints, pointing to John Bosco, who “learned to see with God’s eyes everything that was going on in his city. So, he was struck by the hundreds of children and young people left to themselves, without education, without work and without the helping hand of a community.”

“Many other people were living in the same city, and many criticized those young people, but they were unable to see them with God’s eyes. Don Bosco did, and found the energy to take the first step: to embrace life as it presented itself. From there, he was not afraid to take the second step: to create a community, a family with them, where through work and study they could feel loved. He gave them roots from which they could reach up to heaven.”

Human persons can always flourish “when there is a community, a warm home that enables us to take root … Through real faces, the Lord makes himself present.”

“Be guardians of everything that can make us feel part of one another, to feel that we belong,” Francis exhorted.

He quoted the early 20th century Chilean Jesuit St. Alberto Hurtado, asking, “Will the progress of society consist only in owning the latest car or buying the newest gadget on the market? Is that the extent of our greatness as human beings? Is that all there is to live for?”

“So let me ask you: Is that your idea of greatness? Weren’t you created for something more? The Virgin Mary understood this and said, ‘Let it be done!’ Erika and Rogelio understood this and said, ‘Let it be done!’ Alfredo understood this and said, ‘Let it be done!’ Nirmeen understood this and said, ‘Let it be done!’”

“Young friends, I ask you: Are you willing to say ‘yes’? The Gospel teaches us that the world will not be better because there are fewer sick, weak, frail or elderly people to be concerned about, or because there are fewer sinners. Rather it will be better when more people, like these friends, are willing and enthused enough to give birth to the future and believe in the transforming power of God’s love.”

The Pope said, “Only love makes us more human and fulfilled; everything else is a pleasant but useless placebo.”