Pope Francis waves as he leaves his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Feb. 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Translation from Vatican Information Services:
MESSAGE FOR 29TH WORLD YOUTH DAY
Vatican City, 6 February 2014
(VIS) We publish below the full text of the message the Holy Father
has sent to the young people preparing for the 29th World Youth Day
2014, which will take as its theme: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for
theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.
“Dear Young Friends,
vividly I recall the remarkable meeting we had in Rio de Janeiro for
the Twenty-eighth World Youth Day. It was a great celebration of faith
and fellowship! The wonderful people of Brazil welcomed us with open
arms, like the statue of Christ the Redeemer which looks down from the
hill of Corcovado over the magnificent expanse of Copacabana beach.
There, on the seashore, Jesus renewed his call to each one of us to
become his missionary disciples. May we perceive this call as the most
important thing in our lives and share this gift with others, those near
and far, even to the distant geographical and existential peripheries
of our world.
The next stop on our intercontinental youth
pilgrimage will be in Krakow in 2016. As a way of accompanying our
journey together, for the next three years I would like to reflect with
you on the Beatitudes found in the Gospel of Saint Matthew. This year we
will begin by reflecting on the first Beatitude: 'Blessed are the poor
in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven'. For 2015 I suggest:
'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God'. Then, in 2016,
our theme will be: 'Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain
1. The revolutionary power of the Beatitudes
always a joyful experience for us to read and reflect on the
Beatitudes! Jesus proclaimed them in his first great sermon, preached on
the shore of the sea of Galilee. There was a very large crowd, so Jesus
went up on the mountain to teach his disciples. That is why it is known
as 'the Sermon on the Mount'. In the Bible, the mountain is regarded as
a place where God reveals himself. Jesus, by preaching on the mount,
reveals himself to be a divine teacher, a new Moses. What does he tell
us? He shows us the way to life, the way that he himself has taken.
Jesus himself is the way, and he proposes this way as the path to true
happiness. Throughout his life, from his birth in the stable in
Bethlehem until his death on the cross and his resurrection, Jesus
embodied the Beatitudes. All the promises of God’s Kingdom were
fulfilled in him.
In proclaiming the Beatitudes, Jesus asks us to
follow him and to travel with him along the path of love, the path that
alone leads to eternal life. It is not an easy journey, yet the Lord
promises us his grace and he never abandons us. We face so many
challenges in life: poverty, distress, humiliation, the struggle for
justice, persecutions, the difficulty of daily conversion, the effort to
remain faithful to our call to holiness, and many others. But if we
open the door to Jesus and allow him to be part of our lives, if we
share our joys and sorrows with him, then we will experience the peace
and joy that only God, who is infinite love, can give.
Beatitudes of Jesus are new and revolutionary. They present a model of
happiness contrary to what is usually communicated by the media and by
the prevailing wisdom. A worldly way of thinking finds it scandalous
that God became one of us and died on a cross! According to the logic of
this world, those whom Jesus proclaimed blessed are regarded as
useless, 'losers'. What is glorified is success at any cost, affluence,
the arrogance of power and self-affirmation at the expense of others.
challenges us, young friends, to take seriously his approach to life
and to decide which path is right for us and leads to true joy. This is
the great challenge of faith. Jesus was not afraid to ask his disciples
if they truly wanted to follow him or if they preferred to take another
path. Simon Peter had the courage to reply: 'Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life'. If you too are able to say 'yes' to
Jesus, your lives will become both meaningful and fruitful.
2. The courage to be happy
does it mean to be 'blessed' (makarioi in Greek)? To be blessed means
to be happy. Tell me: Do you really want to be happy? In an age when we
are constantly being enticed by vain and empty illusions of happiness,
we risk settling for less and 'thinking small' when it come to the
meaning of life. Think big instead! Open your hearts! As Blessed
Piergiorgio Frassati once said, 'To live without faith, to have no
heritage to uphold, to fail to struggle constantly to defend the truth:
this is not living. It is scraping by. We should never just scrape by,
but really live' (Letter to I. Bonini, 27 February 1925). In his homily
on the day of Piergiorgio Frassati’s beatification (20 May 1990), John
Paul II called him 'a man of the Beatitudes' (AAS 82 , 1518).
you are really open to the deepest aspirations of your hearts, you will
realize that you possess an unquenchable thirst for happiness, and this
will allow you to expose and reject the 'low cost' offers and
approaches all around you. When we look only for success, pleasure and
possessions, and we turn these into idols, we may well have moments of
exhilaration, an illusory sense of satisfaction, but ultimately we
become enslaved, never satisfied, always looking for more. It is a
tragic thing to see a young person who 'has everything', but is weary
Saint John, writing to young people, told them: 'You
are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the
evil one'. oung people who choose Christ are strong: they are fed by
his word and they do not need to ‘stuff themselves’ with other things!
Have the courage to swim against the tide. Have the courage to be truly
happy! Say no to an ephemeral, superficial and throwaway culture, a
culture that assumes that you are incapable of taking on responsibility
and facing the great challenges of life!
3. Blessed are the poor in spirit...
first Beatitude, our theme for the next World Youth Day, says that the
poor in spirit are blessed for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. At a
time when so many people are suffering as a result of the financial
crisis, it might seem strange to link poverty and happiness. How can we
consider poverty a blessing?
First of all, let us try to
understand what it means to be 'poor in spirit'. When the Son of God
became man, he chose the path of poverty and self-emptying. As Saint
Paul said in his letter to the Philippians: 'Let the same mind be in you
that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did
not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself,
taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness'. Jesus is
God who strips himself of his glory. Here we see God’s choice to be
poor: he was rich and yet he became poor in order to enrich us through
his poverty. His is the mystery we contemplate in the crib when we see
the Son of God lying in a manger, and later on the cross, where his
self-emptying reaches its culmination.
The Greek adjective
ptochos (poor) does not have a purely material meaning. It means 'a
beggar', and it should be seen as linked to the Jewish notion of the
anawim, 'God’s poor'. It suggests lowliness, a sense of one’s
limitations and existential poverty. The anawim trust in the Lord, and
they know that they can count on him.
As Saint Therese of the
Child Jesus clearly saw, by his incarnation Jesus came among us as a
poor beggar, asking for our love. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
tells us that 'man is a beggar before God' and that prayer is the
encounter of God’s thirst and our own thirst.
Saint Francis of
Assisi understood perfectly the secret of the Beatitude of the poor in
spirit. Indeed, when Jesus spoke to him through the leper and from the
crucifix, Francis recognized both God’s grandeur and his own lowliness.
In his prayer, the Poor Man of Assisi would spend hours asking the Lord:
'Who are you?' 'Who am I?' He renounced an affluent and carefree life
in order to marry 'Lady Poverty', to imitate Jesus and to follow the
Gospel to the letter. Francis lived in imitation of Christ in his
poverty and in love for the poor for him the two were inextricably
linked like two sides of one coin.
You might ask me, then: What
can we do, specifically, to make poverty in spirit a way of life, a
real part of our own lives? I will reply by saying three things.
of all, try to be free with regard to material things. The Lord calls
us to a Gospel lifestyle marked by sobriety, by a refusal to yield to
the culture of consumerism. This means being concerned with the
essentials and learning to do without all those unneeded extras which
hem us in. Let us learn to be detached from possessiveness and from the
idolatry of money and lavish spending. Let us put Jesus first. He can
free us from the kinds of idol-worship which enslave us. Put your trust
in God, dear young friends! He knows and loves us, and he never forgets
us. Just as he provides for the lilies of the field, so he will make
sure that we lack nothing. If we are to come through the financial
crisis, we must be also ready to change our lifestyle and avoid so much
wastefulness. Just as we need the courage to be happy, we also need the
courage to live simply.
Second, if we are to live by this
Beatitude, all of us need to experience a conversion in the way we see
the poor. We have to care for them and be sensitive to their spiritual
and material needs. To you young people I especially entrust the task of
restoring solidarity to the heart of human culture. Faced with old and
new forms of poverty unemployment, migration and addictions of various
kinds we have the duty to be alert and thoughtful, avoiding the
temptation to remain indifferent. We have to remember all those who feel
unloved, who have no hope for the future and who have given up on life
out of discouragement, disappointment or fear. We have to learn to be on
the side of the poor, and not just indulge in rhetoric about the poor!
Let us go out to meet them, look into their eyes and listen to them. The
poor provide us with a concrete opportunity to encounter Christ
himself, and to touch his suffering flesh.
However and this is
my third point the poor are not just people to whom we can give
something. They have much to offer us and to teach us. How much we have
to learn from the wisdom of the poor! Think about it: several hundred
years ago a saint, Benedict Joseph Labre, who lived on the streets of
Rome from the alms he received, became a spiritual guide to all sorts of
people, including nobles and prelates. In a very real way, the poor are
our teachers. They show us that people’s value is not measured by their
possessions or how much money they have in the bank. A poor person, a
person lacking material possessions, always maintains his or her
dignity. The poor can teach us much about humility and trust in God. In
the parable of the pharisee and the tax-collector, Jesus holds the
tax-collector up as a model because of his humility and his
acknowledgement that he is a sinner. The widow who gave her last two
coins to the temple treasury is an example of the generosity of all
those who have next to nothing and yet give away everything they have.
4. … for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
central theme of the Gospel is the kingdom of God. Jesus is the kingdom
of God in person; he is Immanuel, God-with-us. And it is in the human
heart that the kingdom, God’s sovereignty, takes root and grows. The
kingdom is at once both gift and promise. It has already been given to
us in Jesus, but it has yet to be realised in its fullness. That is why
we pray to the Father each day: 'Thy kingdom come'.
There is a
close connection between poverty and evangelisation, between the theme
of the last World Youth Day 'Go therefore, and make disciples of all
nations!' and the theme for this year: 'Blessed are the poor in
spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven'. The Lord wants a poor
Church which evangelises the poor. When Jesus sent the Twelve out on
mission, he said to them: 'Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your
belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a
staff; for the labourers deserve their food'. Evangelical poverty is a
basic condition for spreading the kingdom of God. The most beautiful and
spontaneous expressions of joy which I have seen during my life were by
poor people who had little to hold onto. Evangelisation in our time
will only take place as the result of contagious joy.
seen, then, that the Beatitude of the poor in spirit shapes our
relationship with God, with material goods and with the poor. With the
example and words of Jesus before us, we realize how much we need to be
converted, so that the logic of being more will prevail over that of
having more! The saints can best help us to understand the profound
meaning of the Beatitudes. So the canonization of John Paul II, to be
celebrated on the Second Sunday of Easter, will be an event marked by
immense joy. He will be the great patron of the World Youth Days which
he inaugurated and always supported. In the communion of saints he will
continue to be a father and friend to all of you.
This month of
April marks the thirtieth anniversary of the entrustment of the Jubilee
Cross of the Redemption to the young. That symbolic act by John Paul II
was the beginning of the great youth pilgrimage which has since crossed
the five continents. The Pope’s words on that Easter Sunday in 1984
remain memorable: 'My dear young people, at the conclusion of the Holy
Year, I entrust to you the sign of this Jubilee Year: the cross of
Christ! Carry it throughout the world as a symbol of the love of the
Lord Jesus for humanity, and proclaim to everyone that it is only in
Christ, who died and rose from the dead, that salvation and redemption
are to be found'.
Dear friends, the Magnificat, the Canticle of
Mary, poor in spirit, is also the song of everyone who lives by the
Beatitudes. The joy of the Gospel arises from a heart which, in its
poverty, rejoices and marvels at the works of God, like the heart of Our
Lady, whom all generations call 'blessed'. May Mary, Mother of the poor
and Star of the new evangelisation help us to live the Gospel, to
embody the Beatitudes in our lives, and to have the courage always to be