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It fills me with joy to receive you this morning. I am grateful for the greeting that, on behalf of you all, Cardinal Marc Ouellet addressed to me, presenting me the outline of your works and the objectives that animate your labor.
In the wake of the World Youth Day of Rio de Janeiro, you wished to focus your reflections on the millions of young people of Latin America and the Caribbean, who live in conditions of “educational emergency” and for whom the fundamental question is posed of the traditio of the faith.
The Church wishes to imitate Jesus in her approach to young people. She wishes to repeat to them that it is worthwhile to follow the example He gave us, an example of dedication, of service, of selfless love, of struggle for justice and truth. Holy Mother Church is convinced that the best Teacher of young people is Jesus Christ. She wishes to inculcate in them His same sentiments, thus showing them that it is lovely to live as he did, uprooting egoism and allowing oneself to be attracted by the beauty of goodness. One who knows Jesus profoundly, does not stay on the sofa. He engages in His lifestyle and becomes a missionary disciple of His Gospel, giving enthusiastic witness of his faith, not sparing sacrifices.
I have always been struck by Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man (cf. Luke 18:18-23). I think it is a lovely model which shows al vivo the Lord’s pedagogy. I will pause on three aspects of this account: how Jesus welcomes, listens and calls that young man to follow him.
The welcome: This is Jesus’ first gesture and it is also ours. It precedes any teaching or apostolic mission. Christ paused with that young man, looked at him with affection, with much love: it was the unconditional embrace of charity. The Lord puts Himself in each one’s situation, including that of those who reject Him. He does not pay them back with the same coin. To be close to young people in all the environments of their life: in school, in the family, at work, attentive to their needs and aspirations, not only the material. Many go through grave problems. How can we not think of school failure, unemployment, loneliness, bitterness in disunited families. They are difficult moments, which make them feel frustration and lack of protection; which makes them vulnerable to drugs, to loveless sex, to violence. We are asked not to abandon young people, not to leave them by the roadside. They are in great need of feeling appreciated in their dignity, surrounded by affection, understood.
Then Jesus engaged in a frank and cordial dialogue with that young man. He listened to his anxieties and clarified them with the light of Sacred Scripture. Jesus did not begin with condemnation; He had no prejudices, he did not fall into the usual topics. In the same way, young people must feel at home in the Church. Not only must she open her doors to them, she must go out to look for them, being attuned to their claims and giving them room so that they feel they are heard.
And, finally, Jesus invited the young man to follow Him. Sell everything … and then come and follow Me (cf. Luke 18_22). These words have not lost their timeliness. Young people must hear them from us. They must hear that Jesus is not a character of a novel, but a living person, who wants to share their inalienable desire for life, for commitment, for dedication. If we content ourselves with giving them mere human consolation, we defraud them. It is important to offer them the best we have: Jesus Christ, His Gospel and with this a new horizon, which will make them face life with coherence, honesty and high-mindedness. They see the evils of the world and are not silent; they put their finger on the sore; they ask for a better world; they do not admit substitutes. They want to be protagonists of their present and builders of a future where there is no room for lies, corruption and lack of solidarity. The Church in Latin America cannot waste the treasure of her young people, with all their potential for the growth of society, with their great yearnings to forge a great family of brothers reconciled in love. Jesus goes out to meet our young people on that path, He calls them to His side and gives them the strength, His Word, in which they can find inspiration to address the challenges that present themselves to them. They need to be friends of Christ, to become “street-walkers of the faith”,” to take it to every corner, every Square, every corner of the earth (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 106). They must feel the warmth of Holy Mother Church, both in welcoming them as well as in supporting them; and also the warmth of the other Mother, Jesus’ and ours. When we walk holding on to her hand, our fear disappears and we learn to smile in a new way.
Dear brothers, young people await us. Let us not defraud them. I invite you to assume this challenge with determination. May the Christian communities of Latin America and the Caribbean be able to be the companions, teachers and mothers of each and all of their young people. To educate and evangelize young people to be missionary disciples is an arduous and patient task but very urgent and necessary. I tell you it is worthwhile. Greet young people in my name and tell them that I ask them the favor to pray for me. May Jesus always be with you and bless you.[Translation by ZENIT]