At the heart of World Youth Day is the catechesis of our young people to form and strengthen their faith. This morning pilgrims gathered for their first catechesis session followed by Mass.
Pilgrims began by introducing themselves to three new people and shared their intentions for World Youth Day with them, praying together before beginning the catechesis.
In our English language group we were joined by groups from across the world, including Australia, South Africa, the Philippines and Canada. Giving the catechesis was Cardinal Mafi, Bishop of Tonga, the first cardinal to be appointed from that country and the youngest member of the College of Cardinals.
Standing before us, Cardinal Mafi proclaimed that this was the biggest crowd he’d ever addressed. He described the world as being in ‘a crisis of all levels’, whether is be financial, environmental or humanitarian. This, therefore, is a critical time and the ‘message of mercy is the answer’. We need now more than ever to ‘feel the warmth of being touched by mercy’. Each young person carries this key, and it is to be found in the ministry of Jesus.
Cardinal Mafi explained that, for many people, our parents are our first experience of love and mercy. The next step is whether we want to accept this mercy in our lives. Mercy is an invitation, a door that can only be opened from within.
Before answering questions, Cardinal Mafi left pilgrims with the following challenge: ‘Do not be afraid. If the saints made it, why not us? I challenge you to open your hearts and minds and long for Christ…Do not be afraid to become instruments of his mercy.’
Excitement built throughout the afternoon as pilgrims anticipated the arrival of Pope Francis at Blonia Park that evening and his first address of World Youth Day.
The welcoming ceremony was a testament to the diversity and unity of the pilgrims gathered there and to the saints, such as St Josephine Bakhita and St Vincent de Paul, who embody mercy and who inspire us by their lives.
Pope Francis entered in traditional papal style, driving through the crowds in the Popemobile. Addressing young pilgrims, he thanked St John Paul II ‘who first came up with the idea of these meetings and gave them such momentum’. At this 31st gathering, Pope Francis explained that, ‘we are going to make this World Youth Day an authentic Jubilee celebration’.
It is clear from his address that he is inspired by the joy and passion of young people: ‘Nothing is more beautiful than seeing the enthusiasm, dedication, zeal and energy with which so many young people lives their lives. When Jesus touches a young person’s heart, he or she becomes capable of truly great things.’
As one pilgrim described: 'He encouraged us to be passionate about life, to never be bored or boring. I felt a knot in my throat...We all felt so connected to him; we almost felt like crying.'
Pope Francis’ message of mercy is at the heart of this World Youth Day as he told pilgrims: ‘Whoever welcomes Jesus, learns to love as Jesus does. So he asks us if we want a full life: Do you want a complete life? Start by letting yourself be open and attentive! Because happiness is sown and blossoms in mercy. That is his answer, his offer, his challenge, his adventure: mercy. Mercy always has a youthful face.’
Photos from yesterday are available to view here.
Read one pilgrim's account of welcoming Pope Francis here.
The full text of the Holy Father’s address is as follows:
Dear Young Friends, good evening!
At last we are together! Thank you for your warm welcome! I thank Cardinal Dziwisz, the bishops, priests, men and women religious, the seminarians and those who have accompanied you. I am also grateful to all those who made it possible for us to be here today, who ‘went the extra mile’ so that we could celebrate our faith.
In this, the land of his birth, I especially want to thank Saint John Paul II, who first came up with the idea of these meetings and gave them such momentum. From his place in heaven, he is with us and he sees all of you: so many young people from such a variety of nations, cultures and languages but with one aim, that of rejoicing that Jesus is living in our midst. To say that Jesus is alive means to rekindle our enthusiasm in following him, to renew our passionate desire to be his disciples. What better opportunity to renew our friendship with Jesus than by building friendships among yourselves! What better way to build our friendship with Jesus than by sharing him with others! What better way to experience the contagious joy of the Gospel than by striving to bring the Good News to all kinds of painful and difficult situations!
Jesus called us to this Thirty-first World Youth Day. Jesus tells us: ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall find mercy’ (Mt 5:7). Blessed indeed are they who can forgive, who show heartfelt compassion, who are capable of offering the very best of themselves to others.
Dear young people, in these days Poland is in a festive mood; in these days Poland wants to be the ever-youthful face of mercy. From this land, with you and all those young people who cannot be present today yet join us through the various communications media, we are going to make this World Youth Day an authentic Jubilee celebration.
In my years as a bishop, I have learned one thing. Nothing is more beautiful than seeing the enthusiasm, dedication, zeal and energy with which so many young people live their lives. When Jesus touches a young person’s heart, he or she becomes capable of truly great things. It is exciting to listen to you share your dreams, your questions and your impatience with those who say that things cannot change. For me, it is a gift of God to see so many of you, with all your questions, trying to make a difference. It is beautiful and heartwarming to see all that restlessness! Today the Church looks to you and wants to learn from you, to be reassured that the Father’s Mercy has an ever-youthful face, and constantly invites us to be part of his Kingdom.
Knowing your enthusiasm for mission, I repeat: mercy always has a youthful face! Because a merciful heart is motivated to move beyond its comfort zone. A merciful heart can go out and meet others; it is ready to embrace everyone. A merciful heart is able to be a place of refuge for those who are without a home or have lost their home; it is able to build a home and a family for those forced to emigrate; it knows the meaning of tenderness and compassion. A merciful heart can share its bread with the hungry and welcome refugees and migrants. To say the word “mercy” along with you is to speak of opportunity, future, commitment, trust, openness, hospitality, compassion and dreams.
Let me tell you another thing I have learned over these years. It pains me to meet young people who seem to have opted for ‘early retirement’. I worry when I see young people who have ‘thrown in the towel’ before the game has even begun, who are defeated even before they begin to play, who walk around glumly as if life has no meaning. Deep down, young people like this are bored... and boring! But it is also hard, and troubling, to see young people who waste their lives looking for thrills or a feeling of being alive by taking dark paths and in the end having to pay for it... and pay dearly. It is disturbing to see young people squandering some of the best years of their lives, wasting their energies running after peddlers of fond illusions (where I come from, we call them ‘vendors of smoke’), who rob you of what is best in you.
We are gathered here to help one another other, because we do not want to be robbed of the best of ourselves. We don’t to be robbed of our energy, our joy, our dreams by fond illusions.
So I ask you: Are you looking for empty thrills in life, or do you want to feel a power that can give you a lasting sense of life and fulfilment? Empty thrills or the power of grace? To find fulfilment, to gain new strength, there is a way. It is not a thing or an object, but a person, and he is alive. His name is Jesus Christ.
Jesus can give you true passion for life. Jesus can inspire us not to settle for less, but to give the very best of ourselves. Jesus challenges us, spurs us on and helps us keep trying whenever we are tempted to give up. Jesus pushes us to keep our sights high and to dream of great things.
In the Gospel, we heard how Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, stopped at a home – the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus – and was welcomed. He stopped, went in and spent time with them. The two women welcomed him because they knew he was open and attentive. Our many jobs and responsibilities can make us a bit like Martha: busy, scattered, constantly running from place to place... but we can also be like Mary: whenever we see a beautiful landscape, or look at a video from a friend on our cellphone, we can stop and think, stop and listen... In these days, Jesus wants to stop and enter our home. He will look at us hurrying about with all our concerns, as he did with Martha... and he will wait for us to listen to him, like Mary, to make space for him amid the bustle. May these be days given over to Jesus and to listening to one another. May they help us welcome Jesus in all those with whom we share our homes, our neighbourhoods, our groups and our schools.
Whoever welcomes Jesus, learns to love as Jesus does. So he asks us if we want a full life: Do you want a complete life? Start by letting yourself be open and attentive! Because happiness is sown and blossoms in mercy. That is his answer, his offer, his challenge, his adventure: mercy. Mercy always has a youthful face. Like that of Mary of Bethany, who sat as a disciple at the feet of Jesus and joyfully listened to his words, since she knew that there she would find peace. Like that of Mary of Nazareth, whose daring “Yes” launched her on the adventure of mercy. All generations would call her blessed; to all of us she is the ‘Mother of Mercy’.
All together, then, we ask the Lord: Launch us on the adventure of mercy! Launch us on the adventure of building bridges and tearing down walls, barriers and barbed wire. Launch us on the adventure of helping the poor, those who feel lonely and abandoned, or no longer find meaning in their lives. Send us, like Mary of Bethany, to listen attentively to those we do not understand, those of other cultures and peoples, even those we are afraid of because we consider them a threat. Make us attentive to our elders, as Mary of Nazareth was to Elizabeth, in order to learn from their wisdom.
Here we are, Lord! Send us to share your merciful love. We want to welcome you in our midst during this World Youth Day. We want to affirm that our lives are fulfilled when they are shaped by mercy, for that is the better part, and it will never be taken from us.