ASTANA, Kazakhstan, SEPT. 24, 2001 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II forcefully expressed the central message of the Gospel to several hundred young Muslims, Christians and atheists during his visit to Kazakhstan.
Several times during his address Sunday, the Pope, who spoke in Russian, put his prepared speech aside and addressed the youths spontaneously.
“In preparing this visit,” he said, “I asked myself what the young people of Kazakhstan would want to hear from the Pope of Rome and what they would like to ask him.
“The first question you want to put to me is this: Who am I, Pope John Paul II, according to the Gospel that you proclaim? What is the meaning of my life? Where am I going?”
“My answer, dear young people, is simple but hugely significant,” he continued. “You are a thought of God, you are a heartbeat of God. To say this is like saying that you have a value that, in a sense, is infinite; that you matter to God in your completely unique individuality.”
The audience hearing the papal address was made up of students from the Eurasian University, created in 1996 by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, to make possible student exchanges between Kazakhs and Europeans.
Some experts believe that the initiative is an attempt, in part, to stem the tide of Muslim fundamentalism originating in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Looking at the Oriental and European faces of his young listeners, John Paul II referred to the sufferings they have endured because of Communism and its legacy. With the end of ideology, however, the Pope warned them that their hearts might be plunged into “emptiness.”
“What a suffocating void it is, when nothing matters in life, when you believe in nothing!” he exclaimed. “Emptiness is the negation of the infinite, which your steppe-land powerfully evokes; it is the opposite of that Infinity for which the human heart has an irresistible longing.”
John Paul II continued in good humor: “The Pope of Rome has come to say this to you: There is a God who has thought of you and given you life. He loves you, personally, and he entrusts the world to you. It is he who stirs in you the thirst for freedom and the desire for knowledge.”
So the Pope revealed the ultimate objective of his visit to Kazakhstan. “Allow me to profess before you, with humility and pride, the faith of Christians: Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God made man 2,000 years ago, came to reveal this truth to us, through his person and his teaching,” the Pope said.
“Only in the encounter with him, the Word made flesh, do we find the fullness of self and happiness,” the Holy Father added. “Religion itself, without the experience of wondrous discovery of the Son of God and communion with him, who became our brother, becomes a mere set of principles that are increasingly difficult to understand, and rules that are increasingly hard to accept.”