Thousands of young Lithuanians gathers in the square in front of Vilnius Cathedral heard a message of hope and encouragement from Pope Francis on September 22, 2018. After hearing testimonies from two young people – Monica ad Jonas – the Holy Father had a clear and simple message for the crowd:
“Don’t ever be afraid to put your trust in Jesus, to embrace his cause, the cause of the Gospel.”
The Pope warned of the dangers of getting caught up in the things of the world and trying to do everyone on one’s own. But he reminded that even when things seem to be falling apart, God is there and there are those ready to rebuild.
“Like this Cathedral, you have times when you think you are falling apart, fires from which you think you can never rebuild,” Francis explained. “Think of all the times this Cathedral went up in flames and fell apart. Yet there were always people ready to start rebuilding; they refused to let themselves be overwhelmed by hardship: they never gave up. The freedom of your nation, too, was won by men and women who did not flinch before terror and misfortune.”
He continued by reminding the young people (and not so young in the crowd) that it is important to help others and they should not fear following Christ:
“Dear young people, following Christ is something worthwhile! Do not be afraid to take part in the revolution to which he invites us: the revolution of tenderness (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 88).”
The Holy Father’s Full Address
Thank you, Monica and Jonas, for your witness. I listened to it as a friend, as if we were sitting close to one another in some bar, telling one another about our lives as we drink a beer or a girá after going to the jaunimo teatras.
But your lives are not a piece of theatre; they are real and concrete, like those of everyone else gathered here today in this beautiful square situated between two rivers. Perhaps all this helps us to think back on your stories and to find in them the footprint of God… for God is always passing through our lives.
Like this Cathedral, you have times when you think you are falling apart, fires from which you think you can never rebuild. Think of all the times this Cathedral went up in flames and fell apart. Yet there were always people ready to start rebuilding; they refused to let themselves be overwhelmed by hardship: they never gave up. The freedom of your nation, too, was won by men and women who did not flinch before terror and misfortune. Monica, your father’s life, his condition, and his death, and your illness, Jonas, could have been devastating for you. Yet here you are, sharing your experience, seeing it with the eyes of faith, and helping us to see that God gave you the grace to be strong, to lift yourselves up and to keep moving forward in life.
How was it that God’s grace was poured out on you?
It was through persons whose paths crossed your lives, good people who nourished you by their experience of faith. For you, Monica, your grandmother and your mother, and the Franciscan parish were like the confluence of these two rivers; just as the Vilna flows into the Neris, you let yourself be carried along by that current of grace. Because the Lord saves us by making us part of a people. No one can say, “I am saved on my own”. We are all interconnected, “networked”. God wanted to enter into this web of relationships and he draws us to himself in community; he gives to our lives the deepest sense of identity and belonging (cf. Gaudete et Exsultate, 6). Jonas, you too found in others, in your wife and in the promise that you made on your wedding day, the reason to keep going, to fight, to live.
So don’t let the world make you believe that it is better to do everything on your own. Don’t yield to the temptation of getting caught up in yourself, ending up selfish or superficial in the face of sorrow, difficulty or temporary success. Let us say once again, “Whatever happens to others happens to me”. Let us swim against the current of that individualism which isolates us, makes us egocentric and vain, concerned only for our image and our own well-being
Aim for holiness through your encounters and your fellowship with other people; be attentive to their needs (ibid., 146). Who we really are has to do with our being part of a people. Identity is not the product of a laboratory; it is not concocted in a test tube. Each one of us knows how beautiful it is to belong to a people, but also how demanding it is, and even, at times, painful. But that is the basis of our identity; we are not rootless.
The two of you also spoke about your experience in a choir, praying in the family, Mass, and catechism, and helping those in need. These are powerful weapons that the Lord gives us. Prayer and song keep us from getting caught up in this world alone: in your desire to know God you went out from yourselves and were able to see what was going on in your heart through God’s eyes (cf. ibid., 147). In embracing music, you became open to listening and the interior life; in this way, you developed sensitivity, and that always opens the way to discernment (cf. Instrumentum Laboris, Synod for Youth, 162). Prayer can certainly be an experience of “spiritual warfare”, but it is in prayer that we learn to listen to the Spirit, to discern the signs of the times and to find renewed strength for proclaiming the Gospel each day. How else could we fight the temptation to become discouraged by our frailties and our difficulties, and those of others, and by all the dreadful things that happen in our world? What would we do if prayer did not teach us to believe that everything depends on us, when we are alone and wrestling with adversity? As Saint Alberto Hurtado used to say, “Jesus and I are an absolute majority!” The encounter with Christ, with his word, with the Eucharist, reminds us that it makes no difference how strong the opponent is. It makes no difference whether Žalgiris Kaunas or Vilnius Rytas are in first place; what matters is not the result, but the fact that the Lord is at our side.
Both of you also found support in life through the experience of helping others. You realized that all around us there are people experiencing troubles even worse than our own. Monica, you told us about working with children with disabilities. Seeing the frailty of others gives us perspective; it helps us not to go through life licking own wounds. How many young people leave home for lack of opportunities, and how many are victims of depression, alcohol, and drugs! How many of the elderly are lonely, without anyone to share the present, and fearful that the past will return! You can respond to those challenges by your presence, by your encounter with others. Jesus invites us to step out of ourselves and to risk a face-to-face encounter with others. It is true that believing in Jesus can often demand taking a leap of blind faith, and this can be frightening. At other times, it can make us question ourselves, and force us to abandon our preconceptions. That can involve anguish and we can be tempted to discouragement. But stand firm! Following Jesus is a passionate adventure that gives meaning to our lives and makes us feel part of a community that encourages and accompanies us, and commits us to the service of others. Dear young people, following Christ is something worthwhile! Do not be afraid to take part in the revolution to which he invites us: the revolution of tenderness (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 88).
If life were a theatre piece or a video game, it would be limited to a precise time, and have a beginning and an end, when the curtain falls or one team wins the game. But life measures time differently; it follows God’s heartbeat. Sometimes it passes quickly, while at other times it goes slowly. We are challenged to take new paths; things change. We grow indecisive mostly out of fear that the curtain will fall, or that the stopwatch will eliminate us from the game or prevent us from advancing. But life always involves moving forward, seeking the right way without being afraid to retrace our steps if we make a mistake. The most dangerous thing is to confuse the path with a maze that keeps us wandering in circles without ever making real progress. As young people, don’t let yourselves get trapped in a maze but follow a path that leads to the future.
Don’t ever be afraid to put your trust in Jesus, to embrace his cause, the cause of the Gospel. Because he never jumps off the ship of our life; he is always there at life’s crossroads. Even when our lives go up in flame, he is always there to rebuild them. Jesus gives us plenty of time, lots of room for failure. Nobody has to emigrate from him; he has a place for everyone. There are many people out there who want to capture your hearts. They want to sow weeds in your field, but if, in the end, we entrust our lives to the Lord, the good grain will always prevail.[01432-EN.01] [Original text: Italian]
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