World Youth Day 2016 begins today. If you are not present for the festivities there in Kraków, Poland, or are not participating locally in Kraków in the Capital on Saturday, July 30, I would nevertheless strongly encourage you to follow the events each day whatever your age. Pray along with Pope Francis and the millions who will be there in person. It would be to our benefit to also listen to and read the profound words of our Holy Father and take them to heart.
In particular, I invite you to take this time to reflect upon the theme of WYD Kraków 2016: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). With this theme, this festival of faith and grace “forms part of the Holy Year of Mercy and so becomes a Youth Jubilee at world level,” says Pope Francis in his Message for WYD 2016.
Looking to scripture, the Pope describes the mercy that we experience from our heavenly Father and are called to undertake ourselves as heartfelt tenderness and “the tangible presence of love that is faithful, freely given and able to forgive.” Turning to Christ, he adds, “Our Lord’s mercy can be seen especially when he bends down to human misery and shows his compassion for those in need of understanding, healing and forgiveness. Everything in Jesus speaks of mercy. Indeed, he himself is mercy” (Message for WYD 2016).
Our Holy Father had posed the question previously, “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (Laudato Si’, 160). Perhaps we might ask our young people: What kind of world do you want to live in? What kind of world do you want to help create and sustain for yourselves and your own children?
It cannot escape our young people that things are not as they should be or could be. Pope Francis in his Message notes that he has met many young people who are tired of the divisions in society and the world. Other times, such as when he visited Washington last year, the Holy Father has said, “we know well how much darkness and cold there is in this world; we know the loneliness and the neglect experienced by many people, even amid great resources of communication and material wealth.”
Clearly, even within the difficulties of the human condition, this is not the best that humanity can do – and it is certainly not God’s plan for us. All this points to the urgent need for all of us to be instruments of God’s love and mercy in the world.
In this endeavor, young people have their own particular gifts and way of engaging with those around them. “The difficulty that adults undoubtedly find in approaching the sphere of youth in a comprehensible and convincing way could be a sign with which the Spirit is urging you young people to take this task upon yourselves. You know the ideals, the language, and also the wounds, the expectations, and at the same time the desire for goodness felt by your contemporaries,” explained Pope Benedict XVI in his Message for World Youth Day 2008.
The mercy that we are called to embrace “is not an abstract word, it is a way of life,” Pope Francis has emphasized, adding, “It is one thing to speak of mercy, and it is another to live mercy.” Furthermore, this “mercy does not just imply being a ‘good person,’ nor is it mere sentimentality,” says the Holy Father in his Message.
What we want, what this world needs, is for us to live the mercy of God – to be mercy right down to the depths of our soul – in what we say and what we do. As we look now to Kraków, let us ask God to plant within us merciful hearts that are mindful of our own need for the Lord’s compassion and are also attentive to the spiritual and material needs of others, and that we might with his grace be more patient and forgiving as befitting a disciple of the kingdom of God.
Those who participate in World Youth Day, even when from home, become leaven for our society and culture. We saw this with WYD 1993 in Denver. That was a momentous event that changed the lives of many people in the United States, prompting many vocations to the priesthood, consecrated religious life, and lay ministry.
This is what these joyous celebrations of faith are capable of. They transform people’s lives and inspire them to become a light of the love and truth of Jesus to others, and thereby they help make a better world.
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