08 Mar 2018
Commentary on Holy Father’s Message for 33rd World Youth Day
By Fr. Abe Feliciano, SDB
On February 11 (feast of Our Lady of Lourdes), Pope Francis delivered his message to the young for the Thirty-Third World Youth Day. This particular message, part of three years of Marian-themed preparation leading to the World Youth Day Pilgrimage in 2019, is based on Luke 1:30: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” The Holy Father contextualizes his message in the light of the upcoming synod of bishops, which will address the topic “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” Inspired by the Angel Gabriel’s words to our Lady, Pope Francis invites the young not to be afraid, to recognize that, like Mary, they are each called by name, that they, too are blessed with God’s favor, and that they can be courageous.
As is typical of his style, the Holy Father’s message is warm, simple, inspiring, and challenging. Any opportunity to share it with young and offer them the occasion to reflect on his words would be of certain benefit. This message, however, is also of deep significance to those of us who are privileged to journey with the young. If we use the Holy Father’s four points as a sort of “ministerial/vocational examination of conscience,” his words could assist us in deepening our understanding of our Salesian identity and motivate us to enhance further our effectiveness as Salesian educators.
- “Do not be afraid!”
Pope Francis invites the young to acknowledge and identify their fears, and he encourages them to discern in the face of those fears. He urges them to respond to fear with faith through prayer, dialogue, and allowing themselves to be guided by “our brothers and sisters in the faith who have more experience.” We Salesian educators are certainly counted among those brothers and sisters in the faith that the young turn to in their need, and, quite often, in the midst of their fears. If we are to accompany them readily and effectively in those moments, we must also be aware of and work through our own fears. Are there issues in the life of the young that we are afraid of? Do the very fears of the young frighten us? Do we fear that we are ill-equipped to accompany the young? Is it possible that we fear the young themselves? Salesian educators, like the young, needs to face their fears and respond with faith, trusting in both their vocational call and the One who calls them.
Our Holy Father reflects on the significance of Mary being called by name. He states that the biblical vision of a name indicates that “in a name is the revelation of the profound mystery of life and the meaning of existence.” God has a specific plan for every young person because “the divine call is unique and personal.” Do we know our young people well enough to recognize their uniqueness? Does the experience that the young have in our presence and our interactions with them communicate that they are precious in God’s eyes? Do we ensure that they know that they are worthy of love and respect? Do we know the profound mystery present in them?
- “You have found favor with God”
The Pope reassures the young that like Mary, they can count on God’s continuous grace, and his love will never fail them. God’s love is “freely given, not owed.” In a world in which the young are constantly being exploited, criticized, disregarded, or pushed away, as Salesian educators, do we communicate to them that God’s favor rests upon them? Do we incarnate God’s continual presence in “moments of trial and darkness” by patiently accompanying them? Do they know that they do not have to face tomorrow or the unknown alone because we are there to remind them of God’s favor? Do we reflect God’s unconditional love for them?
- “Courage in the present moment”
Finally, Pope Francis exhorts the young to be courageous to fulfill God’s plan and embrace their vocation. He reminds them that with “God’s grace, the impossible becomes reality.” And he reaffirms his confidence in them, as well as that of the Church. The Holy Father consistently speaks to the young about their vocation and repeatedly emphasizes to them how much the world needs them. In each instance, he simultaneously expresses his great confidence in them. Do we have this same confidence in the young? Do they know that we have confidence in them? Even after they make mistakes or commit errors, as we all do, do we reassure them that they still have our confidence? Do they know that we believe in them, just as God believes in them?
The young whom we are blessed to accompany are full of life, hope, and promise. They are a precious gift to our world, our Church, and our Salesian Family. They each reveal the mystery of God in their own special way, as distinct as their fingerprints. And they desire to live lives of significance. The world can be a frightening place for them, as much as it us for many of us. Let us face our fears together with them in faith, trusting in God, in his plan for us, and in his love. Finally, let us assure the young that we, as Salesian Family, will be their lifelong companions on the Salesian journey of faith. And let us be sure that they know that we need them to be our companions, as well, every step of the way.
To read the Message: