The Power and Beauty
of Gospel Witness
(ANS – Rio de Janeiro) – World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro has ended. Fr. Fabio Attard, general councilor for youth ministry, has re-read the talks given by Pope Francis and, in an ANS item posted on July 29, highlights some aspects of the papal visit.
These days in Rio we saw and lived a profound experience. Pope Francis has emphasized two priorities: to strengthen the faith of young people in the person of Jesus, and to reawaken the consciences of those who bear responsibility for the common good in its various forms – social, political, educational, and ethical.
Strengthen the faith of young peopleIn all his talks to the young, Pope Francis tried first of all to touch their hearts, asking them gently to enter dialog. The Pope tried not to preach to young people, but to engage them with simple words and gestures, with an open heart, and in a genuinely human relationship.
Pope Francis asked young people to listen to the voice of Jesus in their hearts. He invited them to enter the sanctuary of their hearts and listen to the silence that carries the message of Jesus. The Pope wasn’t afraid to ask young people to take this step. What he asked of them was what the young people felt the Pope himself was doing. The Pope asked young people to do what he does as a believer and pastor.Finally, the Pope challenged the young people to create a “mess” – perhaps not a politically correct word, but a very appropriate one! He told them not to accept the culture that sees people as disposable, as in euthanasia. He called on them to be active, to say “yes” to the message of the Gospel, without fear and with heads held high. Being disciples is not a call to a closed life. It is a way to overcome rigid models that adapt and privatize the faith. At the concluding Mass at Copacabana, he told them, “Go out, without fear, to serve.”
Reawaken conscienceWe should study carefully two of the Pope’s talks: the one he gave to the leaders of Brazil and his “informal talk” to the country’s bishops. The latter has a navigation map, rich in reflections and proposals drawn from the document of Aparecida.
Although the audiences were quite different, the message of the Pope in these two speeches was very similar. Pope Francis asked them to discover the real call to service. He invited the leaders to allow themselves to be guided by an ethical vision based on respect for the human person and for life, for the rights of the person, for people’s legitimate expectations for a more dignified way of life. He called on the bishops to discover their true vocation of service, to renew their hearts in a permanent attitude of pastoral conversion. He called for a conversion that changes what is broken; conversion from a cold, rigid Church to a Church that nourishes and allows itself to be nourished; from a closed Church to one that is a home; from an indifferent Church to one that can walk with people who are suffering, that hears their cry and comes to serve them.
A personal reflection: from Pope Francis we did not hear words about the faith, but we saw the beauty of faith in Jesus. We saw it in his acts of charity, his closeness to people, his hope. These actions and gestures were constant homilies that touched the hearts of all. The Pope’s ministry at Rio was a ministry of deeds that became words that spoke to all, and we all understood very well. His deeds and gestures made us reflect. They may even have left us in crisis!The language of Pope Francis is that of witness. His message is a simple, authentic gesture which is very convincing. There is nothing formal or artificial about him. Young people are keen observers, quick to take note facial expressions and recognize when words are empty. In Pope Francis they saw an expression of profound charity, of total freedom and complete self-giving. When he greeted the young people on the stage, the millions that were out there disappeared for an instant. He saw only the person in front of him, who felt listened to and welcomed. All his attention, his warm smile, his blessing, and even the words he spoke, were, at that instant, for that person alone.
Pope Francis’s theology is that of everyday lifeThe examples drawn from everyday life hide, in small doses, his pedagogical wisdom. He is able to convey a powerful message in a way that is immediate, direct, and lasting. Young people who have heard Pope Francis are left with an image of a fellow pilgrim and a friend who shares all that he is with them. Not only do they understand immediately, but they are struck by what he says. They sense no trace of arrogance or power. Their individual personal space has not been invaded. On the contrary, they want him to stay there with them.
Pope Francis is continuing the way of Blessed John Paul II and Pope BenedictThe Rio experience has all the ingredients of life and evangelical mission: called by God (contemplation, being with Jesus) and mission (the missionary mandate). The young people who took part in WYD, and not only the young people, were challenged to be honestly open to the call that God has for each one of them, and his plan for their lives. Their present life and their future depend on this. This plan is discovered and matures in the silence of the mystical relationship with Jesus. There is nothing to be ashamed of in this plan and this way of life, and nothing to be afraid of, because it is a way of service. It is Jesus’ offer to them of a love that is multiplied in sharing.
It is interesting to note that in all Pope Francis’s talks at WYD in Rio de Janeiro, the words that occur most frequently are Church, young people, love, life, today, and world. These words, taken together, are a synthesis of WYD experience: the Church, through young people, shows the world of today the true meaning of life – the love of Christ!