John Paul II's Address to Swiss Youth

«Do Not Be Afraid to Encounter Jesus»

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BERN, Switzerland, JUNE 7, 2004 ( Here is a translation of the address John Paul II delivered Saturday to thousands of Swiss youths gathered in the BernArena Sports Palace.

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1. Arise! (Luke 7:14).

This word of the Lord to the youth of Nain resounds with force today in our assembly, and it is addressed to you, dear young friends, Catholic boys and girls of Switzerland!

The Pope has come from Rome to hear it again with you from the lips of Christ and to echo it. I greet you all with affection, dear friends, and I thank you for your warm welcome. I also greet your bishops, priests, religious and the leaders who accompany you in your journey.

I respectfully address a special greeting to the Lord President of the Helvetian Confederation, Joseph Deiss; to Pastor Samuel Lutz, president of the Synodal Council of the Reformed Churches of Bern-Jura-Soleure; and to your friends of other confessions who have desired to participate in this event.

2. The Gospel of Luke recounts a meeting: On one hand, there is the sad procession that is accompanying to the cemetery the young son of a widowed mother; on the other, the joyful group of disciples who follow Jesus and listen to him. Also today, young friends, we can be a part of the sad procession on the street of the village of Nain. This can happen if you allow yourselves to despair, if the mirages of the consumer society seduce you and turn you away from true joy to engulf you in passing pleasures, if indifference and superficiality envelop you, if in the face of evil and suffering you doubt the presence of God and his love for every person, if you seek in the drift of a disordered affectivity the slaking of your interior thirst for true and pure love.

Precisely in such moments Christ comes close to each one of you and, as with the youth of Nain, addresses to you the word that rouses and awakens: «Arise!» «Accept the invitation that puts you on your feet!»

It is not a question of simple words: It is Jesus himself who is before you, the Word of God made flesh. He is the «true light that enlightens every man» (John 1:9), the truth that makes us free (see John 14:6), the life that the Father gives us in abundance (see John 10:10). Christianity is not a simple book of culture or an ideology, nor is it only a system of values and principles, even though lofty. Christianity is a person, a presence, a face: Jesus, who gives meaning and fullness to man’s life.

3. Therefore, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid to encounter Jesus. Seek him also in the careful and willing reading of sacred Scripture and in personal and communitarian prayer; seek him in active participation in the Eucharist; seek him in meeting a priest for the sacrament of reconciliation; seek him in the Church, which manifests itself to you in parish groups, in movements and associations; seek him in the face of a suffering, needy and foreign brother.

This search characterizes the life of so many young people who are your contemporaries on their way to the World Youth Day, which will be held in Cologne in the summer of next year. I now cordially invite you also to this great occasion of faith and witness.

Like you, I also was once 20 years old. I loved sports, skiing, reciting poetry. I studied and worked. I had hopes and worries. In those now distant years, at a time when the land of my birth was wounded by war and then by a totalitarian regime, I searched for meaning in my life. I found it in the following of the Lord Jesus.

4. Youth is the time in which you also, dear boys and girls, ask yourselves what to do with your lives, how to contribute to make the world better, how to promote justice and make peace.

Here, then, is the second invitation I address to you: «Listen!» Do not tire of training yourselves in the difficult discipline of listening. Listen to the voice of the Lord who speaks to you through the events of your daily lives, through the joys and suffering that accompany you, the persons who are next to you, the voice of conscience thirsty for truth, happiness, goodness and beauty.

If you are able to open your hearts and minds willingly, you will discover «your vocations,» the plan that from everlasting God in his love has designed for you.

5. And you will be able to create a family, founded on marriage as a bond of love between a man and a woman who are committed to a communion of stable and faithful life. You will be able to affirm with your testimony that, despite all the difficulties and obstacles, it is possible to live Christian marriage in its fullness as an experience full of meaning and as «Good News» for all families.

You will be able to be, if this is your calling, a priest or religious, giving your life with an undivided heart to Christ and to the Church and thus become a sign of the loving presence of God in today’s world. You will be able to be, like so many before you, bold and tireless apostles, vigilant in prayer, joyful and welcoming in the service of the community.

Yes, you can also be one of these. I know well that in face of such a proposal you feel hesitant. But I say to you: Do not be afraid! God does not let himself be outdone in generosity! After almost 60 years of priesthood, I am happy to give here, before all of you, my testimony: It is beautiful to be able to give one’s all for the cause of the Kingdom of God!

6. There is still a third invitation: young people of Switzerland, «Start on the way!» Do not be content to discuss; do not wait for occasions to do good that perhaps will never occur. The time has arrived for action!

At the beginning of this third millennium, you also, young people, are called to proclaim the message of the Gospel with the testimony of your lives. The Church has need of your energies, of your enthusiasm, of your youthful ideals to make the Gospel permeate the fabric of society and bring about a civilization of real justice and love free of discriminations. Now more than ever, in a world often without light and without the courage of noble ideals, it is not the time to be ashamed of the Gospel (see Romans 1:16). Rather, it is the time to preach it from the housetops (see Matthew 10:27).

The Pope, your bishops, the whole Christian community count on your commitment, on your generosity, and follow you with trust and hope: Young people of Switzerland, start on the way. The Lord walks with you.

Have the cross of Christ in your hands. Have the word of Life on your lips. Have the salvific grace of the Risen Lord in your hearts!

Arise! It is Christ who is speaking to you. Listen to him!

[Translation by ZENIT]

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