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World Youth Day 2021: Pope asks young Catholics to be ‘critical conscience of society’

The pope encouraged young people to swim against society’s current, but without turning into “perpetual victims and conspiracy theorists”

Pope Francis urged young Catholics on Sunday to “be the critical conscience of society” as he celebrated a Mass marking the 36th World Youth Day.

Offering the Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Nov. 21, the feast of Christ the King, the pope encouraged young people to swim against society’s current, but without turning into “perpetual victims and conspiracy theorists.”

He said: “Friends, we are not here to be enchanted by the sirens of the world, but to take our lives in hand, to ‘take a bite out of life,’ in order to live it to the full.”

“In this way, with the freedom of Jesus, we find the courage we need to swim against the current. I would like to emphasize this: swimming against the current, having the courage to swim against the current.”

“Not the daily temptation to swim against other people, like those perpetual victims and conspiracy theorists who are always casting blame on others; but rather against the unhealthy current of our own selfishness, closed-mindedness, and rigidity that often seeks like-minded groups to survive.”

He exhorted young people to avoid “ambiguous compromises.”

“Instead, be free and authentic, be the critical conscience of society,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to criticize! We need your criticism. Many of you, for example, are critical of environmental pollution. We need this! Be free in criticism.”

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“Be passionate about truth, so that, with your dreams, you can say: ‘My life is not captive to the mindset of the world: I am free, because I reign with Jesus for justice, love and peace!’”

The Catholic Church has celebrated World Youth Day (WYD) annually since the event was established by Pope John Paul II in 1985.

WYD is observed in local dioceses, but every two to three years there is a week-long international celebration, typically held in July or August, drawing hundreds of thousands of people. The next gathering will be in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, in 2023.

Participants to the 2018 World Youth Day observance in Cebu light candles during Holy Hour. The country’s Catholic bishops this week called on young people to commit themselves to service, especially during the pandemic. (Photo by Charlie Saceda)

Pope Francis announced in November 2020 that the local youth celebrations would take place on the Solemnity of Christ the King starting in 2021. They were previously held on Palm Sunday.

The Vatican asked Church leaders in May to “give more importance to the diocesan celebration of WYD” when it released new pastoral guidelines on marking the event.

The pope described Sunday’s Mass, celebrated at the high altar beneath St. Peter’s Baldachin, as the start of the journey towards Lisbon.

He based his homily on two images drawn from the day’s readings: Jesus “coming amid the clouds” in the Book of Revelation and Christ standing before Pilate, declaring that he is a king.

The pope said that the first image evokes Christ’s coming at the end of time and “makes us realize that the final word on our life will belong to Jesus.”

He added that it shows that “God is indeed coming, that he is present and at work, guiding our history towards himself, towards all goodness.”

Pope Francis referred to his message for World Youth Day 2021, released on Sept. 27, in which he invited young Catholics to “arise and bear witness” to the Gospel.

He said: “Lift your gaze from earth to heaven, not in order to flee but to resist the temptation to remain imprisoned by our fears, for there is always the danger that our fears will rule us. Do not remain closed in on ourselves and our complaints. Lift up your eyes! Get up!”

“This is the word of encouragement that the Lord speaks to us, the invitation to lift up our eyes, to get up, and I wanted to repeat it in my Message to you for this year of journeying together.”

“You have been entrusted with an exciting but also challenging task: to stand tall while everything around us seems to be collapsing; to be sentinels prepared to see the light in night visions; to be builders amid the many ruins of today’s world; to be capable of dreaming.”

“This is crucial: a young person unable to dream has sadly become old before his time! To be capable of dreaming, because this is what people who dream do: they do not remain in the darkness, but light a candle, a flame of hope that announces the coming of the dawn. Dream, make haste, and look to the future with courage.”

The pope thanked young Catholics for their faith in Jesus, working to realize their dreams, and making the world “more beautiful and humane.”

“Thank you above all, because in a world that thinks only of present gain, that tends to stifle grand ideals, you have not lost the ability to dream in this world,” he said at the live-streamed Mass.

“Do not live your lives numbly or asleep. Instead, dream and live. This helps us adults, and the Church as well. Yes, as a Church too, we need to dream, we need youthful enthusiasm in order to be witnesses of the God who is always young.”

Young Catholics pray as they attend a mass conducted by Pope Francis to conclude the 6th Asian Youth Day in Haemi, some 150 kilometers south of Seoul, on August 17, 2014. (Photo by VINCENZO PINTO / AFP)

Pope Francis recalled that the Italian Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, archbishop of Milan from 1979 to 2002, once said that the Church and society need “dreamers who remain ever open to the surprises of the Holy Spirit.”

“This is beautiful,” the pope commented. “I hope and pray that you will be one of these dreamers.”

Turning to the second image, of Christ before Pilate, he noted that Jesus did not hide his kingly identity.

He said: “Dear young people, Jesus’ freedom draws us in. Let us allow it to resonate within us, to challenge us, to awaken in us the courage born of truth.”

“Let us ask ourselves this: Were I in Pilate’s place, looking Jesus in the eye, what would I be ashamed of? Faced with the truth of Jesus, the truth that is Jesus, what are the ways I am deceitful or duplicitous, the ways I displease him?”

“Each of us will find such ways. Look for them, seek them out. We all have these duplicities, these compromises, this ‘arranging things’ so that the cross will go away.”

“It is good to stand before Jesus, who is truth, in order to be set free from our illusions. It is good to worship Jesus, and as a result, to be inwardly free, to see life as it really is, and not be deceived by the fashions of the moment and the displays of consumerism that dazzle but also deaden.”

At the end of the Mass, the pope stood with four young people before an image of the Virgin and Child as the congregation sang the Salve Regina.

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