CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 16 February 2019

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Be a part of God’s love story for this world pope tells young people

PANAMA CITY (CNS): “Are you willing to be an influencer like Mary, who dared to say, ‘Let it be done’?” Pope Francis asked the hundreds of thousands of young men and women who had made their way to St. John Paul II Park, for the evening prayer vigil on January 26, preceding the penultimate, closing Mass at 8.00am the next morning.
 
“Only love makes us more human and fulfilled; everything else is a pleasant but useless placebo,” he told the crowd who had brought sleeping bags and tents; prepared to spend the night at the field praying the rosary and making new friends before the next morning’s Mass.
 
On the stage with Pope Francis were young people from Panama and the Palestinian territories who shared their experiences of finding faith and hope amid doubt, sickness and addiction.
 
Erika de Bucktron, a 42-year-old Panamanian mother of four, spoke of the fear and difficulties she faced when doctors said her pregnancy was at high risk after diagnosing her unborn daughter with Down syndrome.
 
Throughout her pregnancy, she said, she and her husband abandoned themselves to God’s hands and, after the birth of their daughter, decided “to love her with all our hearts, without making any difference with our other children, who also welcomed her with so much love.”
 
Twenty-year-old Alfredo Martinez Andrion, also from Panama, recalled his experience of falling into a life of drugs and crime. His addiction, he said, ultimately led to a 12-month prison sentence. Despite attempts to reform following his release, he fell back again into drug use.
 
Ultimately, he found help at a Catholic-run halfway house that helped and encouraged him “in my path toward reintegration.”
 
He said, “I want to tell the young people of the world that God loves us and never abandons us. We are the masters of our own actions, but if we are with God, everything will be okay.” 
 
Nirmeen Odeh, a 26-year-old Palestinian woman, gave the final testimony of the evening, recalling that despite being born and raised in the Holy Land, she had been apathetic to Christianity, especially coming “from a place where many of my simple rights are violated.”
 
Odeh said, “I thought it was better to be distant from Christianity so as not to be bothered by others. With all the struggles and weariness of daily life, I wasn’t interested in faith. However, I was curious about the idea of God! It fascinated me.”
 
However, after participating in World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Poland, Odeh said she took a leap of faith and began receiving the sacraments.
 
“And here I am today, three years later in Panama, excitedly praying for him (God) to lead me on my next journey,” she said.
 
Speaking to the gathered multitude, Pope Francis said, that the experiences of the sharers reflected the risk that Mary took in saying “yes” to God.
 
The pope said that the salvation God wishes to give his children isn’t a file in the cloud waiting to be downloaded or the latest app, but rather is an invitation to be “part of a love story interwoven with our personal stories; it is alive and wants to be born in our midst so that we can bear fruit just as we are, wherever we are and with everyone all around us.”
 
However, Christians can only obtain this salvation by placing their trust in God, especially in moments of uncertainty, doubt and trial.
 
God begins to write his great love story precisely through people’s problems, frailties and flaws, the pope said. Just as he embraced Peter after his denials, Jesus helps Christians stand up when they have fallen, the pope said.
 
Pope Francis pointed out that older people must ask themselves what foundations they are providing to help young people grow instead of lobbing criticisms against them.
 
“It is easy enough to criticise and complain about young people if we are depriving them of the jobs, education and community opportunities they need to take root and to dream of a future,” he said.
 
“Without education, it is difficult to dream of a future; without work, it is very difficult to dream of a future; without a family and community, it is almost impossible to dream of a future,” the pope said.
 
The pope also stressed the importance of being rooted in a community and a home that prepares their hearts and give them a sense of belonging.
 
Pope Francis encouraged young people to not be afraid of opening their hearts to Christ and “embrace life with all its frailty and flaws, but also with its grandeur and beauty.”
 
He said, “Do not be afraid to tell him that you, too, want to be a part of his love story in this world, that you are ready for something greater.”
 
During the closing Mass, attended by some 700,000 people on January 27, Pope Francis, picked up where he left off the previous evening, cautioning against the danger of living in “a kind of waiting room, sitting around until we are called…” thinking “that you are too young to be involved in dreaming about and working for the future.” 
 
Alluding to last year’s Synod of Bishops on Youth, the pope said it helped people realise that “we need one another” and that dreaming of and working for tomorrow must be encouraged “starting today. Not tomorrow but now.”
 
He told the crowd, “Realise that you have a mission and fall in love. We may possess everything, but if we lack the passion of love, we will have nothing.”
 
The pope exhorted the young people, saying, “With Mary, keep saying ‘yes’ to the dream that God has sown in you.”
 
Pope Francis said, “We are on a journey. Keep walking, keep living the faith and sharing it” and remember that “you are not the tomorrow, you are not the ‘meantime,’ you are the Now of God.”
 
Later, speaking to the thousands of official volunteers, young and old, gathered at the Rommel Fernandez Stadium, just before leaving, the pope said, “You have had a more lively and real experience of faith. You have experienced the strength born of prayer and a new and different kind of joy, the fruit of working side by side even with people you did not know.” 
 
Pope Francis noted, “You could have easily chosen to do other things, but you wanted to be involved, to give your best to making possible the miracle of the multiplication, not only of loaves, but also hope.” 
 
He encouraged the volunteers to go out into the world and make that attitude contagious and multiply that hope.
 
“You made a commitment,” he said. “Thank you.” 

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