This morning Pope Benedict XVI made public his message for the 24th World Youth Day, which will be celebrated at the diocesan level this year. In his message, the Pope calls on young people to seek out true hope, a firm and reliable hope rooted in a personal encounter with Jesus.
The theme for the 2009 World Youth Day, to be held on Palm Sunday, April 5, is: "We have set our hope on the living God."
The Holy Father begins his message by mentioning his “deep gratitude” for the spiritual enthusiasm of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia.
“In Sydney,” he recalls, “our attention was focused upon what the Holy Spirit is saying to believers today, and in particular to you, my dear young people. During the closing Mass, I urged you to let yourselves be shaped by him in order to be messengers of divine love, capable of building a future of hope for all humanity.”
Youth is a time of hope, the Pope says, a time when “we cherish ideals, dreams and plans. Youth is the time when decisive choices concerning the rest of our lives come to fruition.”
Pope Benedict then goes on to ask, “where can I obtain and how can I keep alive the flame of hope burning in my heart?”
“Experience shows that personal qualities and material goods are not enough to guarantee the hope which the human spirit is constantly seeking. ... Politics, science, technology, economics and all other material resources are not of themselves sufficient to provide the great hope to which we all aspire,” the Pope writes.
“This hope 'can only be God, Who encompasses the whole of reality and Who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain,'” he answers, quoting from his encyclical Spe Salvi.
Looking at the profound lack of hope in the modern world, the Holy Father points out that those societies which ignore God experience “a loss of direction” that results “in loneliness and violence, discontent and loss of confidence that can often lead to despair."
This dearth of hope can only be filled by God, says Benedict XVI as he repeats John Paul II’s call of for a new evangelization.
“To you young people, who are in search of a firm hope, I address the very words that St. Paul wrote to the persecuted Christians in Rome at that time: 'May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.'"
With the Year of St. Paul in full swing, the Holy Father points the youth to how the Apostle to the Gentiles experienced the hope of God.
“How did this hope take root in him? asks the Pope.
“In order to answer that question we must go back to his encounter with the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. At that time, Saul was a young person like you in his early twenties, a follower of the Law of Moses and determined to fight, ... and even to kill those he regarded as God's enemies. ... After that encounter, Paul's life changed radically, ... he was inwardly transformed by the Divine Love he had met in the person of Jesus Christ. ... From being a persecutor, he became a witness and a missionary.”
"For Paul, explains Pope Benedict, “hope is not simply an ideal or sentiment, but a living person: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. ... If we are not alone, if He is with us, even more, if He is our present and our future, why be afraid?"
The Pope also provides practical advice on how to encounter Jesus, encouraging young people to “Make space for prayer in your lives!”
While praying alone is good, Benedict XVI grants, “it is even more beautiful and fruitful to pray together, because the Lord assured us He would be present wherever two or three are gathered in His name."
This means that youth should take part in their parish’s liturgies “and be abundantly nourished by the word of God and your active participation in the Sacraments,” he explains.
"If you find your sustenance in Christ, my dear young people, and if you live profoundly in Him as did the Apostle Paul, you will not be able to resist speaking about Him and making Him known and loved by many of your friends and contemporaries.”
The Holy Father’s message also emphasizes the importance of the role played by young people in the Church, saying, "The Church depends on you for this demanding mission. Do not be discouraged by the difficulties and trials you encounter. Be patient and persevering so as to overcome the natural youthful tendency to rush ahead and to want everything immediately."
Bringing his words to the youth to a close, Pope Benedict asks Mary, Mother of Hope to intercede for young people the world over.
"Mary, Star of the Sea, we ask you to guide the young people of the whole world to an encounter with your Divine Son Jesus. Be the celestial guardian of their fidelity to the Gospel and of their hope."
The full text of Pope Benedict’s 2009 World Youth Day message can be found here: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/document.php?n=804