It’s two years until the next World Youth Day, which will take place in the city of Lisbon in 2022. In that intervening time, Pope Francis is inviting young people to reflect on the themes for the diocesan World Youth Days of 2020 and 2021.
“Young man, I say to you, arise!” is the 2020 theme taken from Luke’s Gospel. 2021 features the biblical text taken from the Acts of the Apostles: “Stand up. I appoint you as a witness of what you have seen.”
Focusing his attention on this year’s message, Pope Francis says that for the young person who has lost his or her vitality, dreams, optimism and enthusiasm, there is hope. That hope is in Jesus, who the Pope says, “stands before you as once he stood before the dead son of the widow, and with all the power of His resurrection He urges you: ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’” That passage in the Bible, the Pope explains, “tells us how Jesus, upon entering the town of Nain in Galilee, came upon the funeral procession of a young person, the only son of a widowed mother. Jesus, struck by the woman’s heartrending grief, miraculously restored her son to life.”
In the message, Pope Francis reflects on Jesus’s “ability to see pain and death.” He points out that Jesus, “in the midst of the crowd, makes out the face of a woman in great pain. His ability to see generates encounter, the source of new life.”
In today’s world the Pope asks, “how often do we end up being eyewitnesses of events without ever experiencing them in real time?” Sometimes “our first reaction is to take a picture with our cell phone, without even bothering to look into the eyes of the persons involved.”
Pope Francis goes on to say that many young people “feel hopeless.” Others, he continues, “waste their lives with superficial things, thinking they are alive while in fact they are dead within.”
“Negative situations can also be the result of personal failure, whenever something we care about, something we were committed to, no longer seems to be working or giving the desired results.” But failures, he underlines, “are part of the life of every human being; sometimes they can also end up being a grace.”
The Pope says to continue “to have compassion.” He counsels young people not to be robbed of this sensitivity. “If you can learn to weep with those who are weeping, you will find true happiness. So many of your contemporaries are disadvantaged and victims of violence and persecution. Let their wounds become your own, and you will be bearers of hope in this world.”
Pope Francis goes on to says that “if you can feel God’s immense love for every living creature – especially our brothers and sisters who experience hunger and thirst, or are sick or naked or imprisoned – then you will be able to draw near to them as He does.”
Pope Francis writes that “people who are not on a journey never fall; then again, neither do they move forward. This life is really a new creation, a new birth, not just a form of psychological conditioning.”
He also stresses that young people need to look deeper than mere fashionable phrases and words. It is Jesus’s Word, he says, that has a deeper resonance, because “it goes infinitely deeper. It is a divine and creative Word, which alone can bring the dead to life.”
Talking about “living the new life as ‘risen ones,’” Pope Francis returns to the Gospel passage which recounts that the young man “began to speak.” Those touched and restored to life by Jesus, the Pope says, “immediately speak up and express without hesitation or fear what has happened deep within them: their personality, desires, needs and dreams.”
Concluding his message, the Pope points out that today, “we are often ‘connected’ but not communicating. The indiscriminate use of electronic devices can keep us constantly glued to the screen.” With this message, Pope Francis writes, “I would like to join you, young people, in calling for a cultural change, based on Jesus’s command to ‘arise’. He calls us to embrace a reality that is so much more than virtual.”
“Arise!” he adds, is also an invitation to “dream,” to “take a risk,” to be “committed to changing the world, to rekindle your hopes and aspirations, and to contemplate the heavens, the stars and the world around you.” The Pope then invites young people to “give their passions and dreams free rein, and, through them, offer the world, the Church and other young people something beautiful, whether in the realm of the spirit, the arts or society… Make your voices heard.” Diocesan World Youth Day 2020 is marked on Palm Sunday, April 5.