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Pope’s Q-and-A Session With Roman Clergy, Part 2

On What to Do With the Youth

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 12, 2008 ( Following a Lenten tradition, Benedict XVI met Thursday with parish priests and clergy of the Diocese of Rome. During the meeting, the participants asked the Pope questions. Here is a translation of the second question and the Holy Father’s answer.

Part 1 appeared Monday.

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[Father Graziano Bonfitto, from the parish of Ognissanti:]

Holy Father, I am originally from a town in the province of Foggia, San Marco in Lamis. I am a religious in the order of Don Orione [Sons of Divine Providence] and have been a priest for a year and a half, currently serving as the vice pastor in the parish of Ognissanti, in the Appio neighborhood. I won’t hide my excitement from you, and also the incredible joy I have in this moment, which is such a great privilege for me. You are the bishop and the shepherd of our diocesan Church, but you are also the Pope and thus the pastor of the universal Church. Because of this, my excitement grows uncontrollably. I would first like to express my gratitude for all that, day after day, you do, not only for our Diocese of Rome, but for the entire Church. Your words and your gestures, your attention toward us, the people of God, are signs of the love and the closeness that you foster for all of us, and each one of us.

My priestly apostolate is carried out above all with youth. It is precisely in their name that I would like to thank you today. My holy founder, St. Luigi Orione, said that youth are the sun or the storm of the morning. I think that in this historical moment in which we find ourselves, youth are both the sun and the storm, not of the morning, but of now. As youth we now feel, more than ever, the strong need for certainties. We want sincerity, freedom, justice and peace. We want to count on people who walk with us, who listen to us, like Christ with the disciples of Emmaus. Youth desire people capable of marking the path to liberty, responsibility, love, truth. That is, the youth of today have an unquenchable thirst for Christ: a thirst for joyful witnesses who have found Jesus and have staked their whole existence on him. The youth want a Church always with feet on the ground and ever closer to their needs. They want her present in their life decisions, even though a certain sensation of indifference toward the Church persists in them. Youth seek a trustworthy hope — as you wrote in your last letter directed to the faithful of Rome — to avoid living without God.

Holy Father — permit me to call you Papa — how difficult it is to live in God, with God and for God. The youth feel attacked on so many fronts. There are so many false prophets, salesmen of illusions. There are too many proclaimers of false truths and ignoble ideals. With all of this, youth who believe today — even feeling that they are trapped — are convinced that God is the hope that resists every disillusion, that only his love cannot be destroyed by death, even if most of the time, it is not easy to find the space or the courage to give witness. What to do then? How to act? Is it truly worth it to continue staking one’s life on Christ? Life, the family, love, joy, justice, respect of others’ opinions, liberty, prayer, charity — are they still values to defend? The life of the saints, measured by the beatitudes — is this a life adequate for man, for the youth of the third millennium?

Thank you so much for your attention, your affection and your consideration for the youth. The youth are with you: They esteem you, they love you and they listen to you. Stay close, show us with ever greater strength the path that leads to Christ, the way, the truth and the life. Help us to fly high, ever higher. And pray for us always. Thank you.

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you for this beautiful testimony of a young priest who is with the youth, who accompanies them, and as you have said, helps them to walk with Christ, with Jesus.

What to say? All of us know how difficult it is for youth today to live as Christians. The cultural context and the mass media offer everything contrary to the path that leads to Christ. It precisely seems that it makes it impossible to see Christ as the center of life and live a life as Jesus shows us. Nevertheless, it also seems to me that many feel more and more the inadequacy of these offers, of this style of life that in the end, leaves one empty.

In this sense, it seems to me that the readings precisely from today’s liturgy, from Deuteronomy [30:15-20] and the Gospel passage from Luke [9:22-25] respond to what we should essentially say to youth and always to ourselves. As you have mentioned, sincerity is fundamental. Youth should perceive that we don’t say words we don’t ourselves live, but rather that we speak because we have found and look to find each day the truth as truth for my life. Only if we are on this path, if we ourselves try to assimilate this life and associate our lives with that of the Lord, then our words can also be credible and have a visible and convincing logic. I insist: Today this is the great and fundamental norm, not only for Lent but for all Christian life: Choose life. Before you, you have death and life: Choose life.

And it seems that the answer is natural. There are only a few people who nourish in their depths a will for destruction, for death, of no longer wanting existence and life, because everything is contrary for them. Unfortunately, on the other hand, this is a phenomenon that is growing. With all the contradictions, the false promises, in the end life seems contradictory. It is no longer a gift, but a condemnation and thus there are those who want death more than life. But normally, man responds: Yes, I want life.

The question continues being how to find life, what to choose, how to choose life. And we know the offers generally made: Go to the disco, obtain everything possible, consider liberty as doing everything you want, whatever occurs to you in any given moment. But we know on the other hand — and we can show it — that this is a false path, because in the end, life is not found there, but rather the abyss of nothingness.

Choose life. The reading says it: God is your life, you have chosen life and you have made the choice: God. This seems fundamental to me. Only in this way are our horizons broad enough and only in this way do we remain within the fount of life, which is stronger than death, stronger than all of the threats of death. Thus, the fundamental choice is this one that is indicated: Choose God. It is necessary to understand that one who begins a life without God in the end finds himself in darkness, even though there can be moments in which it seems he has discovered life.

Another step is how to find God, how to choose God. Here we arrive to the Gospel: God is not a stranger, a hypothesis of the first cause of the cosmos. God has flesh and bones. He is one of us. We know him with his face, with his name. It is Jesus Christ who speaks to us in the Gospel. He is man and he is God. And being God, he chose man to make it possible for us to choose God. Thus it is necessary to enter into knowledge of and afterward friendship with Jesus, to walk with him.

I consider this the fundamental point of our pastoral care for youth, for everyone, but above all for youth: Call their attention to the choice of God, who is life. To the fact that God exists. And he exists in a very concrete way. And teach them friendship with Jesus Christ.

There is also a third step. This friendship with Jesus is not a friendship with a person who isn’t real, with someone who belongs to the past, or is far from man at the right hand of God. He is present in his body, which continues to be a body of flesh and bones: It is the Church, the communion of the Church. We should construct and make communities that are more accessible and reflect the great community of the living Church. It is everything: the living experience of the community, with all of its human weaknesses, but nevertheless real, with a clear path and a solid sacramental life in which we can also touch what can seem so far away — the presence of the Lord. In this way, we can also learn the commandments — to return to Deuteronomy, from where I began. Because the reading says: To choose God means to choose according to his Word, to live according to his Word. For a moment this seems almost positivist: They are imperatives. But first is the gift — his friendship. Later we can understand that the indicators of the path are explanations of the reality of this friendship of ours.

We can say that this is a general overview, which flows out of contact with sacred Scripture and the life of the Church each day. Afterward it is translated step by step in the concrete encounters with youth: To guide them in their dialogue with Jesus in prayer, in the reading of sacred Scripture — reading in common, above all, but also personal — and sacramental life. These are all steps to make these experiences present in the professional life, even though this realm is frequently marked by the total absence of God and by the apparent impossibility of seeing him present. But precisely then, through our life and our experience of God, we should try to make the presence of Christ enter into this world far from God.

Thirst for God exists. A short time ago, I received the “ad limina” visit of bishops from a country in which more than 50% are declared atheists or agnostics. But they told me, in reality all of them are thirsting for God. This thirst exists, though hidden. Because of this, let’s start beforehand, with the youth we can find. Let’s form communities in which the Church is reflected; let’s learn friendship with Jesus. And in this way, full of this joy and this experience, we can also today make God present in this world of ours.

[Translation by Kathleen Naab]

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