Pope John Paul II issued a message to Russian youth, who are gathering in Irkutsk, Russia, in preparation for the 20th World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, next August. The youth gathering, promoted by the Russian Catholic bishops, begins today and will conclude Aug. 15, on the feast of the Assumption.
“I greet each one of you with affection,” said the Pope in his message. “This gathering is an important moment for the Church, living in the Russian Federation, a Church which in the past knew many tribulations, which was persecuted and martyred…but which persevered in Christ, and in the proclamation of the perennial truths of the faith.
“In this proclamation of faith were Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Protestants. Their testimony became for us a common patrimony,” he said.
The Pope spoke of the ecumenical nature of the Church. “The ecumenism of the saints, of martyrs, is perhaps the most convincing,” he said.
“It is for this reason that the Church has great hope in you, dear young people, and with trust looks to your enthusiasm and the vigor of your youth to infuse new blood in the Church’s mission,” he continued.
“You must resist, dear young people, temptation, today which is subtle and lethal, of letting God out of your life or of reducing faith to formal gestures or occasions.
“The Church needs witnesses, ready to follow Christ to the cross,” he wrote. “This radical faithfulness to the Gospel is needed more than ever for your contemporaries, who are easily distracted by illusions of an easy and comfortable life, by the temptations of drugs and hedonism…becoming slaves to violence and desperation.
“Do not let the freedom, which was regained in your dear nation, at the price of great sacrifice and suffering, be lost to false ideals,” he warned. “Christ is our true freedom, having freed us from the slavery of sin. Only in Him can we find meaning and peace in our hearts.
“Unite yourselves to other young Christians the world over in the ideal pilgrimage to Cologne, to live together the 20th World Youth Day. At this time, I cordially invite you not to miss this great ecclesial meeting,” he said.