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Message for World Youth Day 2017: No ‘couch potatoes’

April 6, 2017
Pope Francis

The pope’s message for World Youth Day 2017 was released March 21 at the Vatican, centered on a verse of the Magnificat: “The Mighty One has done great things for me.”

At the conclusion of the Krakow World Youth Day, I announced the next stop in our pilgrimage, which with God’s help will bring us to Panama in 2019. On this journey we will be accompanied by the Virgin Mary, whom all generations call blessed (cf. Luke 1:48). This new leg of our journey picks up from the one that preceded it centered on the Beatitudes and invites us to press forward. I fervently hope that you young people will continue to press forward, not only cherishing the memory of the past but also with courage in the present and hope for the future.

These attitudes were certainly present in the young Mary of Nazareth and are clearly expressed in the themes chosen for the three coming world youth days. This year we will reflect on the faith of Mary, who says in the Magnificat: “The Mighty One has done great things for me” (Luke 1:49). The theme for next year – “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30) – will lead us to meditate on the courageous charity with which the Virgin welcomed the message of the angel. The 2019 World Youth Day will be inspired by the words “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), Mary’s hope-filled reply to the angel.

In October 2018, the church will celebrate the Synod of Bishops on the theme “Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment.” We will talk about how you, as young people, are experiencing the life of faith amid the challenges of our time. We will also discuss the question of how you can develop a life project by discerning your personal vocation, whether it be to marriage in the secular and professional world or to the consecrated life and priesthood. It is my hope that the journey toward the World Youth Day in Panama and the process of preparation for the synod will move forward in tandem.

No ‘couch potatoes”
According to Luke’s Gospel, once Mary has received the message of the angel and said yes to the call to become the mother of the Savior, she sets out in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was in the sixth month of her pregnancy. Mary is very young; what she was told is a great gift, but it also entails great challenges.

The Lord assured her of his presence and support, yet many things remain obscure in her mind and heart. Yet Mary does not shut herself up at home or let herself be paralyzed by fear or pride. Mary is not the type that to be comfortable needs a good sofa where she can feel safe and sound. She is no couch potato! (cf. July 30, 2016, vigil address, Krakow). If her elderly cousin needs a hand, she does not hesitate but immediately sets off.

It was a long way to the house of Elizabeth, about 150 kilometers. But the young woman from Nazareth, led by the Holy Spirit, knows no obstacles. Surely, those days of journeying helped her to meditate on the marvelous event of which she was a part. So it is with us whenever we set out on pilgrimage. Along the way, the events of our own lives come to mind, we learn to appreciate their meaning and we discern our vocation, which then becomes clear in the encounter with God and in service to others.

The Mighty One has done great things for me
The meeting of the two women, one young and the other elderly, is filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit and charged with joy and wonder (cf. Luke 1:40-45). The two mothers, like the children they bear, practically dance for joy.

Elizabeth, impressed by Mary’s faith, cries out, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (v. 45). One of the great gifts that the Virgin received was certainly that of faith. Belief in God is a priceless gift, but one that has to be received. Elizabeth blesses Mary for this, and she in turn responds with the song of the Magnificat (cf. Luke 1:46-55), in which we find the words, “The Mighty One has done great things for me” (v. 49).

Mary’s is a revolutionary prayer, the song of a faith-filled young woman conscious of her limits, yet confident in God’s mercy. She gives thanks to God for looking upon her lowliness and for the work of salvation that he has brought about for the people, the poor and the humble. Faith is at the heart of Mary’s entire story. Her song helps us to understand the mercy of the Lord as the driving force of history, the history of each of us and of all humanity.

When God touches the heart of a young man or woman, they become capable of doing tremendous things. The “great things” that the Almighty accomplished in the life of Mary speak also to our own journey in life, which is not a meaningless meandering but a pilgrimage that, for all its uncertainties and sufferings, can find its fulfillment in God (cf. Aug. 15, 2015, Angelus).

You may say to me, “But Father, I have my limits, I am a sinner, what can I do?” When the Lord calls us, he doesn’t stop at what we are or what we have done. On the contrary, at the very moment that he calls us, he is looking ahead to everything we can do, all the love we are capable of giving.

Stay connected to the past
Mary was little more than an adolescent, like many of you. Yet in the Magnificat she echoes the praises of her people and their history. This shows us that being young does not mean being disconnected from the past.

Our personal history is part of a long trail, a communal journey that has preceded us over the ages. Like Mary, we belong to a people. History teaches us that even when the church has to sail on stormy seas, the hand of God guides her and helps her to overcome moments of difficulty.

The genuine experience of the church is not like a flash mob, where people agree to meet, do their thing and then go their separate ways. The church is heir to a long tradition that, passed down from generation to generation, is further enriched by the experience of each individual.

Following Mary’s example
How do you “save” in your memory the events and experiences of your life? What do you do with the facts and the images present in your memory?

Some of you, particularly those hurt by certain situations in life, might want to “reset” your own past, to claim the right to forget it all. But I would like to remind you that there is no saint without a past or a sinner without a future. The pearl is born of a wound in the oyster! Jesus, by his love, can heal our hearts and turn our lives into genuine pearls. As St. Paul said, the Lord can show his power through our weakness (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9).

At the end of each day, we can stop for a few minutes to remember the good times and the challenges, the things that went well and those that went wrong. In this way, before God and before ourselves, we can express our gratitude, our regrets and our trust. If you wish, you can also write them down in a notebook as a kind of spiritual journal. This means praying in life, with life and about life, and it will surely help you to recognize the great things that the Lord is doing for each of you. As St. Augustine said, we can find God in the vast fields of our memory (cf. “Confessions,” X, 8, 12).

Reading the Magnificat, we realize how well Mary knew the word of God. Every verse of her song has a parallel in the Old Testament. The young mother of Jesus knew the prayers of her people by heart. Surely her parents and her grandparents had taught them to her.

Spread your wings and fly, but also realize that you need to rediscover your roots and to take up the torch from those who have gone before.

Copyright 2017 by Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved from originsonline.com, Catholic News Service documentary service. Excerpted by Catholic San Francisco.

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