Bishop's Column

The Lessons of World Youth Day

The sun rose over Copacabana beach on Sunday morning, July 28, and 3 million young people assembled along the water’s edge. They were preparing for the closing Mass of World Youth Day 2013 with Pope Francis.

Most of those 3 million pilgrims had spent the night camped out on the beach. The previous evening they’d shared in Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction with Pope Francis. The vigil lasted well into the night.

I was blessed to pray with them—and especially with the young people, priests, and seminarians of the Diocese of Lincoln who attended last month’s World Youth Day in Rio De Janiero, Brazil.

I’ve been to World Youth Day many times, and each has been a powerful experience of Christ and his Church. But this year, spending time in prayer with our new Holy Father was a particularly important experience. Pope Francis offered wisdom, encouragement, and exhortation that I hope all of us will take seriously.

The Holy Father offered three general themes for reflection over the course of the World Youth Days. The first was simply: "go." Go, said Pope Francis, out into the world. Make disciples of all nations. At the heart of the Christian life, explained Pope Francis, is action, movement, and mission.

Our encounters with Jesus Christ, said the Holy Father, "must not remain locked up in your life or in the small group of your parish, your movement, or your community. That would be like withholding oxygen from a flame that was burning strongly. Faith is a flame that grows stronger the more it is shared and passed on, so that everyone may know, love and confess Jesus Christ, the Lord of life and history."

Faith grows stronger the more it is passed on. Faith and mission are inseparable. We are an "apostolic" Church. This means that we don’t just keep the faith to ourselves, but we always try to spread the faith. I pray that our faith grows stronger every day. Pope Francis reflected that, "sharing the experience of faith, bearing witness to the faith, proclaiming the Gospel… is a command that is born not from a desire for domination or power but from the force of love."

The Lord loves the entire world. His salvation is offered to all. But our mission is to make disciples. To proclaim the Gospel. To share the love of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Father’s second theme was "do not be afraid." Pope Francis calls us to have the courage to love God generously. He told us not to be afraid of indifferentism, secularism and apathy, but to commit to loving God, and following him—to hearing his call in our lives, and responding. "Keep overcoming apathy and offering a Christian response to the social and political concerns taking place in different parts of the world."

In particular, Pope Francis encouraged young people to be confident and courageous in following their vocations: "God calls you to make definitive choices, and he has a plan for each of you: to discover that plan and to respond to your vocation is to move toward personal fulfillment… I ask you to be revolutionaries, to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes that you are incapable of responsibility, that you are incapable of true love. I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage ‘to swim against the tide.’ Have the courage to be happy."

Finally, Pope Francis has called all of us to serve. "The life of Jesus," he said "is a life for others. It is a life of service." Our evangelization, and our courage, should be manifested in our commitment to offer ourselves in service to our brothers and sisters, particularly to the poor and to those on the margins and peripheries of life, to love as God loves, in relentless self-sacrifice. This is at the heart of the Christian message.

"Go." "Do not be afraid." "Serve." These are the lessons of World Youth Day. May they be lessons we take to heart. And may they draw all of us ever closer to the Christ, our Redeemer.

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