.- Departing from the cathedral in Assisi, Benedict XVI traveled by car to meet the youth at the basilica of St. Mary of the Angels. Along the route he blessed disabled people from Assisi's Seraphic Institute.
The Holy Father greeted the young people awaiting him in the square of the basilica with a message of encouragement and challenge.
Benedictâs challenge to imitate the life of Saint Francis began with a small biography of the saint.
"It was here," said the Pope, that Francis "established the 'headquarters' of his order, where the friars could come together, as if in a maternal bosom, regenerating themselves before starting out again full of apostolic energy.â
Francis' conversion at the age of 25 "came about when he at the peak of his vitality, his experiences, his dreams," said Benedict XVI. He also dwelt on Francis' character before his conversion, describing him as a "carefree and generous," person "who wandered the city of Assisi day and night with his friends."
"How can it be denied," the Pope went on, "that may people are tempted to follow the life of the young Francis before his conversion? That lifestyle hides the desire for happiness that dwells in every human heart." Yet the saint did not find "true joy" there, because "the truth is that finite things can give glimmers of joy but only the infinite can fill the heart."
Another feature of St. Francis was "his ambition, his thirst for glory and adventure," said the Pope, noting how the Lord used this characteristic in order to attract the saint "showing him the path of a saintly ambition projected towards the infinite."
"As He did to Francis, Christ also speaks to our heart. We risk passing our entire lives being deafened by loud but empty voices. We risk missing His voice, the only one that counts because it is the only one that saves."
"Do not be afraid to imitate Francis," said the Holy Father to the young people, "above all in your capacity to go back to yourselves. He knew how to create a silence within himself, listening to the Word of God. Step by step he let himself be guided by the hand towards the full encounter with Jesus, to the point of making this the treasure and light of his life."
"Francis was truly enamoured of Jesus. He met Him in the Word of God, in his fellow man, in nature, but above all in His presence in the Eucharist. ... The nativity scene of Greccio well expresses his need to contemplate [the Lord] in the tender human form of a baby. ... His experience on the mountain of La Verna where he received the stigmata shows what level of intimacy he reached in his relationship with the crucified Christ."
"Precisely because he was a man of Christ, Francis was also a man of the Church. From the crucifix of St. Damian he received the command to repair the house of Christ, in other words the Church. ... In the final analysis, that task was nothing other than the responsibility attributed by Christ to all the baptized. The Church grows and is repaired, above all, in the measure to which each of us converts and seeks sanctification."
"Like concentric circles, Francis' love for Jesus expands not only over the Church but over all things, seen in Christ and for Christ. Here are the origins of his 'Canticle of the Sun' in which his eye rests upon the splendor of the Creation" and which "even before being an exalted piece of poetry and an implicit invitation to respect creation, is a prayer."
"Francis' commitment to peace is also to be seen as a form of prayer. This aspect of his life is of great contemporary importance in a world which has so much need of peace yet does not manage to achieve it. Francis was a man of peace and an architect of peace. He showed as much in the mildness with which he approached men of other faiths, yet without silencing his own faith. ... If inter-religious dialogue today, and especially after Vatican Council II, has become a shared and indispensable patrimony of Christianity,
Francis can help us to discover true dialogue without lapsing into a position of indifference towards the truth or lessening our Christian announcement."
After the meeting, the Pope traveled to the Migaghelli sports field where he boarded the helicopter that took him back to the Vatican.