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Pope to Japan’s Youth: ‘Never lose heart or set aside your dreams’

‘Seeing and hearing your energy and enthusiasm gives me joy and hope’

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This isn’t the first time a scene like this has been created.

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The Pope is received by young people with a tumultuous welcome. He clearly is enjoying himself. They clearly are thrilled to see him and listen to his words.

Of course, he begins by listening to their testimonies. And he expresses his admiration and gratitude to them.

It is a scene the Holy Father repeats on each of his apostolic journeys and it never gets stale.

On November 25, 2019, the story played out in the Cathedral of Holy Mary, Tokyo. The testimonies came from Leonardo, Miki, and Masako. 

“Seeing and hearing your energy and enthusiasm gives me joy and hope. For this, I am thankful,” the Holy Father said. “Never lose heart or set aside your dreams. Give them plenty of room, dare to glimpse vast horizons and see what awaits you if you aspire to achieve them together. Japan needs you, and the world needs you, to be generous, cheerful and enthusiastic, capable of making a home for everyone. I pray that you will grow in spiritual wisdom and discover the path to true happiness in this life.”

ZENIT’s Senior Vatican Correspondent, Deborah Castellano Lubov, is covering the trip from the Papal Flight.

Following is the Holy Father’s full talk, provided by the Vatican:

Dear Young Friends,

Thank you for coming and being here. Seeing and hearing your energy and enthusiasm gives me joy and hope. For this, I am thankful. I am also grateful to Leonardo, Miki, and Masako for their words of testimony. It takes great courage to open your hearts and share as you did. I am sure that your voices echoed those of many of your classmates present here. Thank you! I know that there are young people from other nationalities among you, some of whom are seeking refuge. Let us learn to build together the society we want for tomorrow.

As I look out at you, I can see the cultural and religious diversity of the young people living in Japan today, and something of the beauty that your generation holds for the future. Your friendship with one another and your presence here remind everyone that the future is not monochrome; if we are courageous, we can contemplate it in all the variety and diversity of what each individual person has to offer. How much our human family needs to learn to live together in harmony and peace, without all of us having to be the same! How much we need to grow in fraternity, in concern for others and respect for different experiences and points of view! Our meeting today is so joyful precisely because we are saying that the culture of encounter is possible. It is not a utopia, and you young people have the special sensitivity needed to carry it forward.

I was impressed by the questions you asked because they reflect your concrete experiences, but also your hopes and dreams for the future.

Thank you, Leonardo, for sharing the experience of bullying and discrimination. More and more young people are finding the courage to speak up about experiences like yours. The cruelest thing about bullying is that it attacks our self-confidence at the very time when we most need the ability to accept ourselves and to confront new challenges in life. Sometimes, victims of bullying even blame themselves for being “easy” targets. They can feel like failures, weak and worthless, and end up in very tragic situations: “If only I were different…” Yet paradoxically, bullies are the truly weak ones, for they think that they can affirm their own identity by hurting others. Sometimes they strike out at anyone they think is different, who represents something they find threatening. Deep down, bullies are afraid, and they cover their fear by a show of strength. We must all unite against this culture of bullying and learn to say “Enough!” It is an epidemic, and together you can find the best medicine to treat it. It is not sufficient that educational institutions or adults use all the resources at their disposal to prevent this tragedy; it is necessary that among yourselves, among friends and colleagues, you join in saying: “No!” In saying: “That’s wrong”. There is no greater weapon against these actions than standing up in the midst of our classmates and friends and saying: “What you are doing is wrong”.

Fear is always the enemy of goodness because it is the enemy of love and peace. The great religions teach tolerance, harmony, and mercy, not fear, division, and conflict. Jesus constantly told his followers not to be afraid. Why? Because if we love God and our brothers and sisters, this love casts out fear (cf. 1 Jn 4:18). For many of us, as Leonardo reminded us, looking to the life of Jesus gives us consolation, for Jesus himself knew what it was to be despised and rejected – even to the point of being crucified. He knew too what it was to be a stranger, a migrant, someone who was “different”. In a sense, Jesus was the ultimate “outsider”, an outsider who was full of life to give. Leonardo, we can always look at all the things we don’t have, but we can also come to see all the life that we can give and share with others. The world needs you. Never forget that! The Lord needs you so that you can encourage all those people around us who are looking for a helping hand to lift them up.

This involves developing a very important but underestimated quality: the ability to learn to make time for others, to listen to them, to share with them, to understand them. Only then can we open our experiences and our problems to a love that can change us and start to change the world around us. Unless we are generous in spending time with others, we will waste time on many things that, at the end of the day, leave us empty and confused; “stuffed”, as they would say in my country. So please make time for your family and friends, but also make time for God through meditation and prayer. And if you find it hard to pray, don’t give up. A wise spiritual guide once said: prayer is mostly just a matter of being there. Be still; make space for God; let him look at you and he will fill you with His peace.

That is exactly what Miki talked about. Miki asked how young people can make space for God in a society that is frenetic and focused on being competitive and productive. More and more we see that a person, a community or even a whole society can be highly developed on the outside, but have an interior life that is impoverished and under-developed, lacking real life and vitality. Everything bores them; they no longer dream, laugh or play. They have no sense of wonder or surprise. They are like zombies; their hearts have stopped beating because of their inability to celebrate life with others. How many people throughout our world are materially rich, but live as slaves to unparalleled loneliness! I think of the loneliness experienced by so many people, young and old, in our prosperous but often anonymous societies. Mother Teresa, who worked among the poorest of the poor, once said something very prophetic: “Loneliness and the feeling of being unloved is the most terrible form of poverty”.

Combating this spiritual poverty is a task to which we are all called, and in which you have a special role to play because it demands a major change in priorities and options. It means recognizing that the most important thing is not what I have or can acquire, but with whom I can share it. It is not so important to focus on what I live for, but whom I  live for.  Things are important, but people are essential. Without them we grow dehumanized, we lose our faces and names, and we become just another object, perhaps better than others, but in the end nothing more than an object. The book of Sirach says: “Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter: whoever finds one has found a treasure” (6:14). That is why it is always essential to ask: “For whom do I live? Of course, you are for God. But he has decided that you should also be for others, and he has given you many qualities, inclinations, gifts, and charisms that are not for you, but to share with those around you” (Christus Vivit, 286).

This is something beautiful that you can offer to our world. Bear witness that a “social friendship” is possible! Put your hope in a future based on the culture of encounter, acceptance, fraternity, and respect for the dignity of each person, especially those most in need of love and understanding. Without sensing the need to attack or despise others, but learning instead to recognize their gifts.

In order to stay alive physically, we have to keep breathing; it is something we do without realizing it, automatically. To stay alive in the fullest sense of the word, we also need to learn how to breathe spiritually, through prayer and meditation, in an inward movement by which we can hear God speak to us in the depths of our hearts. Yet we also need an outward movement, by which we reach out to others in acts of love and service. This double motion is what enables us to grow and to discover not only that we are loved by God, but that he has called each of us to a unique mission and vocation. We discover this to the extent that we give ourselves to others, to specific persons.

Masako spoke about all this from her own experience as a student and a teacher. She asked how young people can be helped to discover their innate goodness and worth. Here again, I would say that in order to grow, to discover our own identity, goodness and inner beauty, we cannot look at ourselves in a mirror. We have invented all sorts of gadgets, but we still can’t take selfies of the soul. Thank God!  Because to be happy, we need to ask others to help us, to have the photo taken by someone else. We need to go out of ourselves towards others, especially those most in need (cf. Christus Vivit, 171). In a special way, I ask you to extend the hand of friendship to those who come here, often after great sufferings, seeking refuge in your country. Indeed, a small group of refugees is present with us here, and your kindness to them will show that they are not strangers. Not in the least, for you regard them as brothers and sisters.

A wise teacher once said that the key to growing in wisdom is not so much finding the right answers but discovering the right questions to ask. Not all of you will become teachers like  Masako, but I hope that you will keep asking, and help others to ask, the right questions about the meaning of our lives and about how we can shape a better future for those who are coming after us.

Dear young people, I thank you for your friendly attention, for this time you have given me and for sharing something of your lives. Never lose heart or set aside your dreams. Give them plenty of room, dare to glimpse vast horizons and see what awaits you if you aspire to achieve them together. Japan needs you, and the world needs you, to be generous, cheerful and enthusiastic, capable of making a home for everyone. I pray that you will grow in spiritual wisdom and discover the path to true happiness in this life. I will keep you in my prayers, and I ask you, please, to pray for me.

To all of you, and to your families and friends, I extend my best wishes and give you my blessing.

Thank you very much.

© Libreria Editrice Vatican

[01862-EN.01] [Original text: Spanish]
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Jim Fair

Jim Fair is a husband, father, grandfather, writer, and communications consultant. He also likes playing the piano and fishing. He writes from the Chicago area.

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