St. John Paul II started World Youth Day in 1985 to encourage young people in the faith. Every three years, World Youth Day is marked with a large international gathering of Catholic youth in different countries.
The last World Youth Day took place in 2016 in St. John Paul II’s native country of Poland. This year marks the first time World Youth Day is hosted in Central America.
Echoing the words of Christ often repeated by St. John Paul II to young people, Francis opened his remarks by encouraging the youth “not to be afraid.”
He encouraged them “to go forward with the same fresh energy and restlessness that helps make us happier and more available, better witnesses to the Gospel.”
The point of World Youth Day, Francis noted, is “not to create a parallel Church that would be more ‘fun’ or ‘cool’ thanks to a fancy youth event, as if that were all you needed or wanted.”
Rather, he said, “we want to rediscover and reawaken the Church’s constant freshness and youth, opening ourselves to a new Pentecost.”
He thanked the pilgrims for the sacrifices they made in order to get to Panama, and said it shows their determination to “take risks” on their journey with Christ.
“A disciple is not merely someone who arrives at a certain place, but one who sets out decisively, who is not afraid to take risks and keeps walking. This is the great joy: to keep walking. You have not been afraid to take risks and to keep journeying. Today we were all able to ‘get here’ because for some time now, in our various communities, we have all been ‘on the road’ together,” he said.
In the course of his address, Francis quoted homilies of both Benedict XVI and St. Oscar Romero.
The Pope asked the youth to say yes to the love of Christ through a culture of encounter, which unites people from different places and cultures.
“...we know that the father of lies prefers people who are divided and quarrelling to people who have learned to work together,” he said.
“You teach us that encountering one another does not mean having to look alike, or think the same way or do the same things, listening to the same music or wearing the same football jersey. No, not at all…The culture of encounter is a call inviting us to dare to keep alive a shared dream,” he said.
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“Yes, a great dream, a dream that has a place for everyone. The dream for which Jesus gave his life on the cross, for which the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost and brought fire to the heart of every man and woman, in your hearts and mine, in the hope of finding room to grow and flourish. A dream named Jesus, sown by the Father in the confidence that it would grow and live in every heart,” he said.
Just as Christ told his disciples to love one another as he loved them, Christ is calling the pilgrims of World Youth Day to love one another as Christ has loved them, the Pope noted.
“It means pursuing the dream for which he gave his life: loving with the same love with which he loved us,” he said.
“We can ask: What keeps us united? Why are we united? What prompts us to encounter each other? The certainty of knowing that we have been loved with a profound love that we neither can nor want to keep quiet about a love that challenges us to respond in the same way: with love. It is the love of Christ that urges us on.”
“Do you want this dream to come alive? Do you want to make it take flesh with your hands, with your feet, with your gaze, with your heart? Do you want the Father’s love to open new horizons for you and bring you along paths never imagined or hoped for, dreamt or expected, making our hearts rejoice, sing and dance?” he asked the youth.
The hope of World Youth Day, the Pope noted, is not a joint document or program that will be issued at the end. Rather, it is that pilgrims will return to their homes, filled with the Holy Spirit and the love of Christ that they encountered in Panama.