World Youth Day 2021: Pope Francis asks young people to ‘testify joyfully that Christ is alive’

Pope Francis addresses young people at Lokomotiva Stadium in Košice, Slovakia, Sept. 14, 2021 Pope Francis addresses young people at Lokomotiva Stadium in Košice, Slovakia, Sept. 14, 2021. | Vatican Media.

Pope Francis encouraged young Catholics on Monday to “testify joyfully that Christ is alive.”

In a message for World Youth Day 2021, released on Sept. 27, the pope invited youth to join a “spiritual pilgrimage leading to the celebration of the 2023 World Youth Day” in Lisbon, Portugal.

Reflecting on the dramatic conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, the pope made a series of appeals to young people ahead of the annual celebration on Nov. 21.

He said: “In Jesus’ name, I ask you: Arise! Testify that you too were blind and encountered the light. You too have seen God’s goodness and beauty in yourself, in others, and in the communion of the Church, where all loneliness is overcome.”

“Arise! Testify to the love and respect it is possible to instill in human relationships, in the lives of our families, in the dialogue between parents and children, between the young and the elderly.”

“Arise! Uphold social justice, truth, and integrity, human rights. Protect the persecuted, the poor and the vulnerable, those who have no voice in society, immigrants.”

He continued: “Arise! Testify to the new way of looking at things that enables you to view creation with eyes brimming with wonder, that makes you see the Earth as our common home, and gives you the courage to promote an integral ecology.”

“Arise! Testify that lives of failure can be rebuilt, that persons spiritually dead can rise anew, that those in bondage can once more be free, that hearts overwhelmed by sorrow can rediscover hope.”

“Arise! Testify joyfully that Christ is alive! Spread his message of love and salvation among your contemporaries, at school and in the university, at work, in the digital world, everywhere.”

As well as international World Youth Day (WYD) gatherings typically held every three years, the Catholic Church also sponsors local youth day events for which the pope sends a message each year.

This year, WYD will be celebrated at the diocesan level on the Solemnity of Christ the King with the theme “Arise! I make you a witness of what you have seen,” inspired by Jesus’ words to St. Paul recorded in Acts 26:16.

In his message dated Sept. 14, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the pope praised young people for their resilience throughout the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 4.7 million lives worldwide.

“All over the world, we saw great numbers of individuals, including many young people, helping to save lives, sowing seeds of hope, upholding freedom and justice, and acting as peacemakers and bridge builders,” he wrote.

“Whenever a young person falls, in some sense all humanity falls. Yet it is also true that when a young person rises, it is as if the whole world rises as well. Young people, what great potential you have in your hands! What great strength you have in your hearts!”

“Today too, God is saying to each one of you: ‘Arise!’ I fervently hope that this message may help us prepare for new times and a new page in the history of humanity. Yet we cannot begin anew without you, dear young people. If our world is to arise, it needs your strength, your enthusiasm, your passion.”

Pope Francis said that Paul’s life-changing encounter with Jesus underlined the need for humility.

“St. Thérèse of Lisieux, like so many other saints, loved to say that humility is truth,” the pope recalled.

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“Nowadays we fill up our time, especially on social media, with any number of ‘stories,’ often carefully constructed with backdrops, web cameras, and special effects. More and more, we want to be in the spotlight, perfectly framed, ready to show our ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ an image of ourselves that does not reflect who we really are.”

“Christ, the noonday sun, comes to enlighten us and to restore our authenticity, freeing us from all our masks. He shows us clearly who we are, for that is exactly how he loves us.”

The Vatican released pastoral guidelines in May for local celebrations to encourage Church leaders to “give more importance to the diocesan celebration of WYD.”

The guidelines outlined six “cornerstones that must be at the heart of every WYD,” whether diocesan, regional, or international. These include making the event a joyful festival of faith, an experience of ecclesial communion, an opportunity for discernment, and an experience of pilgrimage.

Young people themselves should play an active role in organizing local celebrations, according to the guidelines.

The pope concluded his message: “I hope that all of us can experience these steps along the way as true pilgrims, and not merely as ‘religious tourists.’”

“May we be increasingly open to God’s surprises, for he wants to light up our path. May we be more and more open to hearing his voice, also through the voices of our brothers and sisters.”

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“In this way, we will help one another to arise together and, at this troubled time in our history, we will become the prophets of a new and hope-filled future! May the Blessed Virgin Mary intercede for all of us.”

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