Pope asks World Youth Day pilgrims to unite the world with Christ's love

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At the opening ceremony for World Youth Day in Panama on Thursday, Pope Francis asked participants to let themselves be united across lands and cultures by the love of Christ.

“We come from different cultures and peoples, we speak different languages and we wear different clothes. Each of our peoples has had a different history and lived through different situations. We are different in so many ways!” he said.

“But none of it has stopped us from meeting one another and rejoicing to be together. The reason for this, we know, is that something unites us. Someone is a brother to us. You, dear friends, have made many sacrifices to be able to meet one another and in this way you have become true teachers and builders of the culture of encounter.”

Pope Francis spoke to thousands of young people Jan. 24 at the opening ceremony of World Youth Day at Campo Santa Maria la Antigua in Panama City.

Pilgrims from 150 countries are in Panama this week for World Youth Day, which will culminate with an overnight prayer vigil and Mass with Pope Francis Jan. 26-27.

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.

“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.

“Each of you will return home with the new strength born of every encounter with others and with the Lord. You will return home filled with the Holy Spirit, so that you can cherish and keep alive the dream that makes us brothers and sisters, and that we must not let grow cold in the heart of our world,” he said.

“Wherever we may be and whatever we may do, we can always look up and say, ‘Lord, teach me to love as you have loved us.’”

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