Here is a Vatican translation of the address Pope Francis had prepared for a meeting with youth outside the cathedral of Bangui, Central African Republic, following a Mass he celebrated there this evening. The Pope did not give this address, choosing instead to speak off-the-cuff.
* * *
Dear Young Friends,
Good evening! It is a great joy for me to be here with you this evening, as we enter upon a new liturgical year with the beginning of Advent. Is this not, for each one of us, an occasion to begin anew, a chance to “go across to the other side?” (cf. Lk 8:22).
During this, our meeting I will be able to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation with some of you. I encourage each of you to reflect on the grandeur of this sacrament, in which God comes to meet us personally. Whenever we ask, he comes to us and helps us to “go across to the other side”, to that side of our life where God forgives us and bathes us in his love which heals, soothes and raises up! The Jubilee of Mercy, which I just opened particularly for you, dear Central African and African friends, rightly reminds us that God is waiting for us, with arms wide open, as we see in the beautiful image of the Father who welcomes the prodigal son.
The forgiveness which we receive comforts us and enables us to make a new start, with trusting and serene hearts, better able to live in harmony with ourselves, with God and with others. The forgiveness which we receive enables us in turn to forgive others. There is always a need for this, especially in times of conflict and violence, as you know all too well. I renew my closeness to all those among you who are have experienced sorrow, separation and the wounds inflicted by hatred and war. In such situations, forgiving those who have done us harm is, humanly speaking, extremely difficult. But God offers us the strength and the courage to become those artisans of reconciliation and peace which your country greatly needs. The Christian, as a disciple of Christ, walks in the footsteps of his Master, who on the Cross asked his Father to forgive those who were crucifying him (cf. Lk 23:34). How far is this sentiment from those which too often reign in our hearts! Meditating on the attitude and the words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them”, can help to turn our gaze and convert our heart.
For many people, it is a scandal that God came to be one of us. It is a scandal that he died on a cross. Yes, it is scandalous: the scandal of the cross. The cross continues to scandalize. Yet it remains the one sure way: the way of the cross, the way of Jesus who came to share our life and to save us from sin (cf. Meeting with Young Argentineans, 25 July 2013). Dear friends, this cross speaks to us of the closeness of God: he is with us, he is with each one of you, in your joys and in your trials.
Dear young people, the most precious good which we can have in this life is our relationship with God. Are you convinced of this? Are you aware of the inestimable value that you have in God’s eyes? Do you know that you are loved and accepted by him, unconditionally, as you are? (cf. Message for the World Youth Day 2015, 2). Devoting time to prayer and the reading of Scripture, especially the Gospels, you will come to know him, and yourselves, ever better. Today too, Jesus’ counsels can illumine your feelings and your decisions. You are enthusiastic and generous, pursuing high ideals, searching for truth and beauty. I encourage you to maintain an alert and critical spirit in the face of every compromise which runs contrary to the Gospel message.
Thank you for your creative dynamism, which the Church greatly needs. Cultivate this! Be witnesses to the joy of meeting Jesus. May he transform you, strengthen your faith and help you to overcome every fear, so that you may embrace ever more fully God’s loving plan for you! God wills the happiness of every one of his children. Those who open themselves to his gaze are freed from sin, from sorrow, from inner emptiness and from isolation (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 1). Instead, they can see others as brothers or sisters, accepting their differences and recognizing that they are a gift for all of us.
It is in this way that peace is built, day by day. It calls for setting out on the path of service and humility, and being attentive to the needs of others. To embrace this mindset, we need to have a heart capable of bending low and sharing life with those most in need. That is where true charity is found. In this way solidarity grows, beginning with small gestures, and the seeds of division disappear. In this way dialogue among believers bears fruit, fraternity is lived day by day and it enlarges the heart by opening up a future. In this way, you will be able to do so much good for your country. I encourage you do so.
Dear young friends, the Lord is alive and he is walking at your side. When difficulties seem to abound, when pain and sadness seem to prevail all around you, he does not abandon you. He has left us the memorial of his love: the Eucharist and the sacraments, to aid our progress along the way and furnish the strength we need to daily move forward. This must be the source of your hope and your courage as you “go across to the other side” (cf. Lk 8:22), with Jesus, opening new paths for yourselves and your generation, for your families, for your country. I pray that you will be filled with this hope. May you be ever anchored in it, so that you can give it to others, to this world of ours so wounded by war and conflicts, by evil and sin. Never forget: the Lord is with you. He trusts you. He wants you to be missionary disciples, sustained in times of difficulty and trial by the prayers of the Virgin Mary and those of the entire Church. Dear young people of Central Africa, go forth! I am sending you out!