PORTUGAL – Lisbon – 03.08.2023 – 17.45

Welcome Ceremony

Parque Eduardo VII

Address of the Holy Father

Dear young people, good evening!

Welcome and thank you for being here. I am pleased to see all of you, and also to hear the delightful

noise you are making! This makes me share your infectious joy. It is good to be together in Lisbon. You were invited here by me, and by the Patriarch of Lisbon, whom I thank for his words of greeting. You were invited also by your Bishops, priests, catechists and youth leaders. Let us thank all of them for this and give them a fine round of applause! Yet, above all, it is Jesus who called you here: let us thank him!

Dear friends, you are not here by accident. The Lord has called you, not only in these days, but from the very beginning of your days. Indeed, he has called you by name. Called by name: try to imagine these three words written in large letters. Then consider that they were written within you, on your hearts, as if forming the headline of your lives, the meaning of who you are: you are called by name. Each of us is called by name. At the beginning of the story of our lives, before any talents we may have, before any shadows or wounds we might bear within us, we are called. Called because we are loved. In God’s eyes we are precious children, and he calls us each day in order to embrace and encourage us, to make of us a unique and original masterpiece whose beauty we can only begin to glimpse.

At this World Youth Day, let us help each other to recognize this fundamental reality: may these days be vibrant echoes of God’s call of love, for we are precious in his eyes, despite what our own eyes, clouded by negativity and dazzled by so many distractions, sometimes see. Let these be days when your name, spoken with friendship by brothers and sisters of many languages and nations, resonates as unique news in history, for God’s heart beats uniquely for you. Let these be days when we fully realize in our hearts that we are loved just as we are. While this is the starting point of World Youth Day, above all it is the starting point of our lives.

Called by name: this is not just a figure of speech; indeed, it is the word of God (cf. Is 43:1, 2 Tim 1:9). Dear friends, if God calls you by name, it means that for him you are not a number, but a face. I would like you to remember that many people know your name, yet they do not call you by name. Certainly your name is known, it appears on social networks and is processed by algorithms that associate it with likes and preferences, all of which is useful for market research, yet it does not begin to approach you in your uniqueness. How many wolves hide behind smiles of false goodness, saying that they know you, though they do not love you. They insist that they believe in you and promise that you will become someone, but then abandon you when you no longer matter. These are the illusions of the virtual world and we must be careful not to let ourselves be deceived, for many realities that attract us and promise happiness are later shown to be what they really are: vain, superfluous and surrogate things that leave us empty inside. But Jesus is not like that. He trusts you, for him you truly matter.

We, then, his Church, are the community of the called: not of the best – no, absolutely not – but of the summoned, of those who, together with others, welcome the gift of being called. We are the community of the brothers and sisters of Jesus, sons and daughters of the same Father. In the letters you sent me – they are beautiful, thank you – you said: “It frightens me to know that there are people who do not accept me and do not think there is a place for me… I even wonder if there is a place for me”. And again: “I feel that in my parish there is no room for mistakes”. Dear friends, I want to make this clear to you who are allergic to dishonesty and to empty words: there is room for everyone in the Church and, whenever there is not, then, please, we must make room, including for those who make mistakes, who fall or struggle. For the Church is, and must increasingly be, that home where the echo of God’s call to each of us by name resounds. The Lord does not point a finger, but opens wide his arms: Jesus showed us this on the Cross. He does not close the door, but invites us to enter; he does not keep us at a distance, but welcomes us. In these days let us pass on his message of love that frees our hearts and leaves a joy that never fades. How can we do this? By calling others by name. Ask the names of those you meet and then speak others’ names with love, adding fearlessly: “God loves you, God calls you”. Remind each other that you are truly valued. Don’t be afraid also to say to each other: “Brother, sister, it is good that you exist”. Do you believe this? Are you with me?

This evening you have also asked me questions, many questions. It is right to ask questions, indeed it is often better than giving answers, for whoever asks remains “restless” and restlessness is the best remedy for mere routine, for that flat normalcy that dulls the soul. So I want to invite you to do a further thing in these days: the questions you have within you, the important ones that concern your dreams, affections, greatest desires, hopes and the meaning of life: do not keep them to yourselves but bring them to Jesus. Call him by name, as he does with you. Address your questions to him, entrusting to him your secrets, your loved ones, your joys and concerns, and also the problems of your nations and the world. Then you will discover something new and surprising: that when you ask the Lord, when you open your hearts to him each day, when you really pray, your interior lives are transformed. What happens is that, in the dialogue of prayer, God catches you off guard: you ask questions and he does not give you simple answers, because he is not a search engine, but a true friend. Yet he also makes requests of you: you ask him for what you need and you begin to hear other questions – God’s questions – within you. These touch the exposed nerves of our souls, they stir us to do good, drawing us to a greater love and causing our hearts to expand. In this way, God enters into dialogue with us and makes us grow in what really matters: giving life.

This is what took place in the Gospel we heard: the disciples, who had not been with Jesus for long, were waiting for answers. And what did the Lord do? He took them by surprise by sending them on a mission. He sent them without proper preparation, without security, with “no purse, no bag, no sandals”: he trusted them so much that he sent them “as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Lk 10:3.4). And now, Jesus puts the same trust in you. Those disciples returned with joy from the adventure of their mission. Likewise, dear friends, there is a happiness that Jesus has prepared for you, for each of you: it does not come from accumulating things but from putting your life on the line. The Lord says also to each of you: “Go, for there is a world that needs what you, and you alone, can give it”. You might object: “But what can I bring to others?” Only one thing, one wonderful piece of news, the same news that he delivered to his disciples: “God is near” (cf. Lk 10:9). This is life’s precious pearl. Everyone needs to know that God is near, and that all he needs is a small response on our part in order to fill our lives with wonder.

Yet you might still say: “I’m not able, I’m afraid, I don’t trust”. Well, we are all human, we all have our fears; but that is not the point. What does matter, is what we do with our fears. God calls us precisely amid our fears, closures and loneliness. He does not call those who feel capable, but those he calls he makes capable. The Lord did wonders with Abraham, who was elderly and felt he had reached the end; with Moses, who was afraid of speaking because he stuttered; with Peter, who was impulsive and frequently made mistakes; with Paul, who was guilty of great wrongdoing. None of them was perfect, yet they were all united to the Lord. They were “connected” to him. That is the secret: being connected to the Lord. In your letters you said: “I recognize a growing struggle to focus well on the things of heaven”. True, it is not easy, yet we are here to learn how to focus, to “network” and connect to God’s call.

In this, we have a great help: Mary, our Mother who, especially in these days, takes us by the hand and shows us the way. She is the greatest person in history, not because she had greater knowledge or special abilities, but because she never distanced herself from God. Her heart was not distracted or sullied, but open to the Lord, always connected to him. She had the courage to venture along the paths of God’s word and in this way she brought hope and joy to the world. She teaches us how to journey in life, but we will speak of that on Saturday evening. For now, let us remember the starting point: we are all called by the Lord, called because we are loved. So let us do two things: first, let us call each other by name and remind each other of the beauty of being loved and treasured! Second, let us ask questions of Jesus, who is expecting us to speak frequently with him in these days. Let us stay connected to him and to his love, for in this way our joy will only increase. I wish all of you a very happy World Youth Day!