In his message for the 29th World Youth Day, Pope Francis draws his theme from the beatitude on poverty, emphasizing that it teaches us joy, as well as the proper attitude to have towards those who are poor.
“To be blessed means to be happy. Tell me: Do you really want to be happy?” the Pope asked in his Feb. 6 message for the 29th World Youth Day, which takes place this Palm Sunday, on April 13.
“In an age when we are constantly being enticed by vain and empty illusions of happiness, we risk settling for less and ‘thinking small’ when it come to the meaning of life. Think big instead! Open your hearts!”
World Youth Day (WYD) is a gathering of youths from all over the world to meet with the Pope in order to build and strengthen the bonds of faith, friendship and hope, symbolizing the union between people of different cultures and countries.
This year’s theme, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:3),” is the first in a series of three that will focus on the Beatitudes, culminating in the international event to be held in Krakow, Poland in 2016.
In his message to the youth, Pope Francis reflected on the revolutionary power of the Beatitudes, noting that in proclaiming them “Jesus asks us to follow him and to travel with him along the path of love, the path that alone leads to eternal life.”
Highlighting how the Beatitudes are “new and revolutionary,” the Pope observed that “they present a model of happiness contrary to what is usually communicated by the media and by the prevailing wisdom” of our culture.
Warning the youth against the many forms “low cost” happiness that the world presents, the pontiff cautioned them not to “stuff themselves” with the wrong things, but to “swim against the tide” and to “say no to an ephemeral, superficial and throwaway culture.”
Turning to the beatitude itself, the Pope explained that we can understand the meaning of being “poor in spirit” when Jesus “became man” and “chose the path of poverty and self-emptying.”
Looking to the Greek roots of the expression, Pope Francis revealed that the Greek word for poor, “ptochós,” does not “have a purely material meaning,” but “suggests lowliness, a sense of one’s limitations and existential poverty.”
Recalling the life of St. Francis of Assisi, the Pope noted that he “understood perfectly the secret of the Beatitude of the poor in spirit.”
“When Jesus spoke to him through the leper and from the crucifix, Francis recognized both God’s grandeur and his own lowliness,” the pontiff observed, highlighting how he imitated “Christ in his poverty and in love for the poor,” adding that “for him the two were inextricably linked – like two sides of one coin.”
In order to make poverty real in our own lives, the Pope explained that we need to “try to be free with regard to material things,” to “experience conversion in the way we see the poor,” and to understand that “the poor are not just people to whom we can give something.”
“The Lord calls us to a Gospel lifestyle marked by sobriety, by a refusal to yield to the culture of consumerism,” he said, urging the youth to “put Jesus first” and to “be detached from possessiveness and from the idolatry of money and lavish spending.”
Pope Francis also encouraged the youth to care for the poor and to “be sensitive to their spiritual and material needs,” entrusting to them “the task of restoring solidarity to the heart of human culture.”
Using the example of Saint Benedict Joseph Labré, who begged on the streets of Rome and gave spiritual advice to many, including “nobles and prelates,” the pontiff emphasized that the poor “have much to offer us and to teach us.”
“They show us that people’s value is not measured by their possessions or how much money they have in the bank. A poor person, a person lacking material possessions, always maintains his or her dignity.”
Moving to the second part of the beatitude, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” the Pope noted that “Jesus is the kingdom of God in person,” and although we have already seen the Kingdom of God through him, “it has yet to be realized in its fullness.”
He also highlighted that there is “a close connection between poverty and evangelization,” drawing attention to the passage in scripture where Jesus sends his out disciples, telling them to “take no gold, no silver,” and “not staff.”
“Evangelical poverty is a basic condition for spreading the kingdom of God,” the pontiff explained, adding that “the most beautiful and spontaneous expressions of joy which I have seen during my life were by poor people who had little to hold onto.”
“Evangelization in our time will only take place as the result of contagious joy.”
Drawing attention to the Canticle of Mary, who was “poor in spirit,” the pontiff noted that “The joy of the Gospel arises from a heart which, in its poverty, rejoices and marvels at the works of God, like the heart of Our Lady, whom all generations call ‘blessed.’”
The theme for next year’s WYD will focus on the beatitude “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8), and the international event in 2016 will conclude the reflection on the beatitudes by examining the meaning of “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7).