Pope Francis’ historic visit to Bahrain continued Saturday with a meeting with young people at a Catholic school in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation.
Sacred Heart School, located in Isa Town, a middle-class suburb in north-central Bahrain, educates a diverse student body of 1,215 students encompassing 29 nationalities. They include Catholics, Muslims, and young people of other faiths.
Founded in the 1940s, the school has been run by the Apostolic Carmelite Sisters since 2003.
In her welcoming remarks, the school’s principal, Sister Roselyn Thomas, AC, greeted the pope as “an agent of peace to the world and to all people of goodwill.”
“Sacred Heart School is a miniature symbol of this peaceful coexistence and culture of care,” she said. “All live and grow here under the benign mantle of the Sacred Heart. Your presence here with us will surely raise awareness about our cultural diversity and shared beliefs, as well as our commitment to establish a vibrant and respectful society for present and future generations.”
The pope picked up that theme of diversity and fraternity in his address to the youth.
“As I look out at you, who are not all of the same religion and are not afraid of being together, I think that without you this coexistence of differences would not be possible. And it would have no future!” he emphasized.
“In the dough of the world, you are the good leaven destined to rise, to break down many social and cultural barriers, and to foster the growth of fraternity and innovation,” he said.
“You are young people who, as restless travelers open to the unexpected, are not afraid to exchange ideas with one another, to dialogue, to ‘make some noise’ and mingle among yourselves; and so you become the basis of a society marked by friendship and solidarity.”
The pope offered the young people gathered for the event what he called three “invitations.” They were: to develop a “culture of care” for others and the wider world; to strive to foster a spirit of brotherhood with those they encounter; and to consult God and wise mentors to make prudent decisions.
Before his address, Merina Joseph Motha, a young parishioner of Sacred Heart parish, asked the pope to share some of his experiences as a teenager and to offer some words of advice on how to develop a habit of prayer and manage the many social pressures that young people of faith experience today.
In response, the pope said these questions all relate to a crucial question: what direction to take in life?
“I can speak from my own experience,” the pope said.
“I, too, was an adolescent like yourselves, like everyone else, and my life was that of a normal young person. As we know, adolescence is a process, that period in our growth when we begin to face the complexity of life and confront certain challenges for the first time,” he said.
“Well, my advice is to press forward without fear, but never go it alone! God never leaves you alone; he waits for you to ask him to give you a hand. He accompanies and guides us, not by powerful signs and miracles, but by speaking gently through our thoughts and feelings.”
But how can a young person learn how to hear this voice? Here Pope Francis spoke in greater detail about prayer. He encouraged his audience to speak naturally and candidly to God, as one speaks to a close friend.
“Dear friends, how beautiful it is to care for others, to build relationships! Yet, like everything in life, this calls for constant training. So do not forget, first of all, to care for yourself: not so much outside as inside, in the deepest and most precious part of yourselves. What part is that? It is your soul, your heart! And how can you care for the heart? By trying to be silent and listen to it,” he urged.
“Try to make time to keep in touch with what is going on inside you, to appreciate the gift that you are, to take hold of your life and not let it slip through your fingers. Do not be ‘tourists of life,’ who only see it from the outside, who only see the surface of things. In silence, following the rhythm of your heart, talk to God. Tell him about yourself and the people you meet each day, those he has given you as companions on your journey. Bring him their faces, their joys and sorrows, for there is no prayer without relationships, just as there is no joy without love,” he said.
“You young people are eager to travel and learn about new lands, to go beyond your usual surroundings. I would say this: Learn how to travel within yourselves as well, to expand your inner borders, so that prejudices against others can vanish, margins of distrust can narrow, fences of fear can be torn down, and fraternity and friendship can blossom!” he said.
“Let yourselves be helped by prayer, for prayer opens the heart, enabling us to encounter God and to see a brother or sister in everyone we meet.”
To navigate the many social pressures and other struggles young people face requires prudent decision-making, the pope noted.
“Friends, making decisions is not something we do alone,” he stressed.
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“Before you go to the internet for advice, always seek out good counselors in life, wise and reliable people who can guide and help you. I am thinking of parents and teachers, but also of the elderly, your grandparents, and a good spiritual guide. Each of us needs to be accompanied on the road of life!” he said.
Pope Francis concluded his remarks by stressing that much depends on how young people decide to live their lives.
“Dear young people, we need you. We need your creativity, your dreams and your courage, your charm and your smiles, your contagious joy and that touch of craziness that you can bring to every situation, which helps to break us out of our stale habits and ways of looking at things,” he said.
“As pope, I want to tell you: the Church is with you and needs each one of you very much, so that we can be renewed, explore new paths, experiment with new languages, and become more joyful and hospitable. Never lose the courage to dream big and to live life to the full! Adopt the culture of care and spread it. Become champions of fraternity. Face life’s challenges by letting yourselves be guided by God’s faithful creativity and by good counselors,” he said.
“And lastly, please remember me in your prayers. I will do the same for you, carrying you in my heart. Thank you!”
The pope’s visit to Bahrain concludes Sunday with a prayer meeting and Angelus with bishops, priests, consecrated persons, seminarians, and pastoral workers in Sacred Heart Church in Manama, after which he will make remarks at the airport before departing for Rome.
Shannon Mullen is the Editor-in-Chief of CNA. He previously worked as a features writer, investigative reporter, and editor with the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press. He has received numerous national reporting awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
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