VALLETTA, Malta, APRIL 18, 2010 (Zenit.org).- When meeting with they youth of Malta, Benedict XVI assured them that God and the Church reject no one, and that they should be proud of their country’s Catholic heritage.
The Pope also urged those present to consider a vocation to serve the Church as a priest or a religious, and encouraged those who wished to follow Christ to “not be afraid.
Before arriving at today’s youth encounter, the Pontiff took a 20-minute ride on the “St. Paul,” a catamaran that gave the Pope a view of the whole panorama of Valletta. He used the same catamaran that Pope John Paul II used in 1990.
The craft with Benedict XVI entered the port of Valletta, escorted by a flotilla of nearly 100 small regatta boats, and the Pontiff was welcomed by some 10,000 young people who were singing and waving Vatican flags as he approached, Vatican Radio reported.
The songs of the youth, however, were no match for the foghorns of the ships and blasts from cannons being fired from the hill atop the waterfront.
“What a joy it is for me to be with you today on your native soil,” the Pope told the youth present. “On this significant anniversary, we thank God for sending the Apostle Paul to these islands, which were thus among the first to receive the Good News of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Holy Father noted, however, that St. Paul was at one time an enemy of the Church: “As a young man, had an experience that changed him forever.”
“While he was traveling to Damascus,” the Pontiff recalled, “intending to hunt down any Christians he could find there, the Lord appeared to him in a vision. A blinding light shone around him and he heard a voice saying, ‘Why do you persecute me? … I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.'”
“Paul was completely overcome by this encounter with the Lord, and his whole life was transformed. He became a disciple, and went on to be a great apostle and missionary.”
“Every personal encounter with Jesus is an overwhelming experience of love,” the Holy Father affirmed.
He explained that St. Paul himself admitted that the hated the Church, but that hatred was “completely swept away by the power of Christ’s love. For the rest of his life, Paul had a burning desire to carry the news of that love to the ends of the earth.”
Benedict XVI assured the young people that “God loves every one of us with a depth and intensity that we can hardly begin to imagine,” and that when it seems as if the Church is harsh, it’s because God “wants to purify us of our faults and build up our virtues so that we can have life in abundance.”
“When he challenges us because something in our lives is displeasing to him,” the Pontiff said. “He is not rejecting us, but he is asking us to change and become more perfect.”
“God rejects no one. And the Church rejects no one. Yet in his great love, God challenges all of us to change and to become more perfect,” he stated.
Benedict XVI urged those who wish to follow Christ to “not be afraid.”
“You may well encounter opposition to the Gospel message,” he said. “Today’s culture, like every culture, promotes ideas and values that are sometimes at variance with those lived and preached by our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Often they are presented with great persuasive power, reinforced by the media and by social pressure from groups hostile to the Christian faith.”
“I say to you,” he continued, “do not be afraid, but rejoice in his love for you; trust him, answer his call to discipleship, and find nourishment and spiritual healing in the sacraments of the Church.”
Benedict XVI also encouraged the youth to be proud of the Christian culture of Malta, and of living in a “society that is steeped in Christian faith and values.”
“You should be proud that your country both defends the unborn and promotes stable family life by saying no to abortion and divorce,” he added. “I urge you to maintain this courageous witness to the sanctity of life and the centrality of marriage and family life for a healthy society.
“Other nations can learn from your Christian example. In the context of European society, Gospel values are once again becoming counter-cultural, just as they were at the time of St. Paul.”
He also encouraged the young people to be open to receive a special call from God to “give yourselves totally to the service of his people in the priesthood or the consecrated life. Your country has given many fine priests and religious to the Church. Be inspired by their example, and recognize the profound joy that comes from dedicating one’s life to spreading the message of God’s love for all people, without exception.”
Benedict XVI also encouraged the youth to “seek out the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized; we should have a special care for those who are in distress, those suffering from depression or anxiety; we should care for the disabled, and do all we can to promote their dignity and quality of life; we should be attentive to the needs of immigrants and asylum seekers in our midst; we should extend the hand of friendship to members of all faiths and none.”
“That is the noble vocation of love and service that we have all received,” he affirmed. “Let it inspire you to dedicate your lives to following Christ.”
The Pope then added in Maltese, “Do not be afraid to be intimate friends of Christ.”