Panama

World Youth Day (WYD) 2011 in Madrid, Spain was one of the unforgettable moments in my life!

Meeting Pope Benedict in person together with the other youth from all over the world was such an amazing experience!

A dear friend posted some throwback photos of team Middle East from WYD 2011.

We are called the trailblazers for being the pioneer delegates from a parish without a physical church and structure where love, faith and hope blooms abundantly.

Team Arethas WYD

Team Arethas goofing around after the WYD 2011 in Madrid, Spain. Pope Benedict in his powerful words. Below photos: smiling with the delegates from South Korea and Poland. WYD Panama 2019 will be a chance for pilgrims around the world to come together with the many young people from the peripheries in Latin America to pray, worship, and celebrate the Catholic faith.

There were a lot of fond memories in Spain- from the mundane to the profound, and many more.

But, one thing that I am proud of our team was finding a family in a group of pilgrims who wanted to become more closer to God through the WYD experience.

Next year, a new set of youth pilgrims will set foot in Panama for WYD 2019.

Group travel has interesting quirks. It can be difficult keeping people together and getting them somewhere at the same time. You can expect that someone will always have to use the toilet, someone will get lost, someone will get sick, someone will miss a train/bus/metro, or someone will lose a plane ticket or money (and sometimes it’s the same person for all of the above). Does it ring a bell, Team Arethas?

The best way to keep everyone on time and together is to leave lots of time for getting places and count heads after every mode of transportation.

One way to keep your group together while moving through a crowd is to have someone hold a unique flag that pilgrims can follow. If you are concerned about the group, have the flag stop on the side and let your pilgrims come to the flag to be counted.

The primary means of transportation for WYD pilgrims will be walking. Prepare your body ahead of time. Do a lot of physical activity before you leave.

I even enrolled in a gym before leaving for Madrid- though my chubby cheeks in photos doesn’t show any justice to it.

According to the bishops here are 10 great ways to prepare for WYD 2019:

1. Pray.
Pray for your fellow pilgrims (even those you have yet to meet), for Pope Francis and the bishops participating, for the people of Panama, for those who cannot travel to WYD, and for yourself, that you may be open to God’s will for you at World Youth Day.

2. Pack.
And don’t pack everything – just what is needed for the journey. Remember clothes (though not too many), good walking shoes, a hat, your morning basics (toothbrush, toiletries, etc.), any medications you need, your sleeping bag, your passport, and items that will help you travel spiritually (the Bible, prayer cards, your rosary, etc.).

3. Walk.
At World Youth Day, there will be a lot of walking. Begin training for that by taking time to walk a few miles each day. Consider bringing others with you on your outings. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to be outside and to get in some healthy exercise!

4. Study.
Find out more about the country of Panama, its saints, and history. Pick up some Spanish phrases. Read about the Holy Father, Pope Francis. Dig deeper into your Catholic faith.

5. Learn.
Learn about World Youth Day: how and why it began, what the schedule will be this year, and who is expected to be there.

6. Listen.
When you’re in such big crowds like at World Youth Day, we need to listen attentively to directions and instructions. Get in the habit of listening to what your group leaders and other church leaders have to say. Listening is also the best way to keep safe.

7. Fast.
When you’re at World Youth Day, you will live simply (just as Pope Francis encourages us to do). To prepare for that experience, consider fasting from food, from excess and material goods, and from bad habits.

8. Give.
One of the best ways to prepare for a pilgrimage is to give selflessly of yourself for others. Not only does this help another person in need, but it also trains us to think outside of ourselves (something good to know on a pilgrimage surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people).

9. Talk.
Tell others about your trip. Explain to them why you are making the trip to World Youth Day, and what your Catholic faith means to you.

10. Share.
Too often, when the pilgrimage is over, people can close themselves off to those who didn’t experience the journey. Instead, consider sharing your joys and struggles with friends and family who aren’t going to Panama. And upon coming home, make a concerted effort to share your experiences in a positive and inviting manner, without making others feel left out.

God-willing I hope I can join WYD 2019 in Panama! Shout out to all my sponsors 😇

SCA

People come and go, but the mission continues.

This is God’s work. His victory not ours.

We would like to thank our student servant leaders who came and took part in bringing more youth closer to God through Student Catholic Action (SCA) movement in Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM).

We have new set of servants in the vineyard who undergone the pastoral formation program last weekend.

They said ‘yes’ to God’s call by serving others and we pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to empower them in this mission.

SCA

“God loves us the way we are, and no sin, fault or mistake of ours makes him change his mind. As far as Jesus is concerned – as the Gospel shows – no one is unworthy of, or far from, his thoughts. No one is insignificant. He loves all of us with a special love; for him all of us are important: you are important! God counts on you for what you are, not for what you possess. In his eyes the clothes you wear or the kind of cell phone you use are of absolutely no concern. He doesn’t care whether you are stylish or not; he cares about you! In his eyes, you are precious, and your value is inestimable.” –

Special thanks to our alumni for their unwavering support in sharing their talents, treasures and time for making the program possible.

SCA is the first student Catholic movement in the Philippines that started in 1936.

SCA came to PLM in 1981 and now on its 37th year, the movement stood tall amidst challenges in the past years.

How did SCA come to the campuses? Who started the spark that ignited the passion of serving others?

Here’s an article published last year about the selfless love of the Columban clergy that inspired SCA.

The Columbans and the Student Leaders they Molded
(by Milwida M. Guevara, SCA Alumni, originally published in Manila Bulletin, December 12, 2017)

I tried to focus on the celebration of the mass yesterday but my memory kept drifting to the past. My friend, Fr. Michael Mohally, a Columban priest, celebrated his 50th anniversary as a priest. His years were indeed golden, having served as a missionary, and dedicated to the formation of leaders through Student Catholic Action (SCA).

The Columban Missionaries are also celebrating their centenary in the country this year. They ran parishes, established schools, served as university chaplains, and worked with the poor.

Many Columbans died as martyrs in the Philippines. Fr. Thomas Flynn died in the hands of the Huks in 1950. Fr. Rufus Hally was shot dead in 2001. President FVR was personally involved in the rescue of Fr. Des Hartford who was abducted by militants in Marawi in 1997.

But we remember the Columbans most fondly for their work with students. They had a special knack for identifying those with great potential for leadership and held their hands and hearts in their formative years. The Columbans modeled the virtues of servant-leadership, sharpened their minds through “teach-ins” and conferences, and developed their love for others through immersion in marginalized communities.

I am privileged to walk in the company of colleagues whose values and work were shaped by the Columban Fathers: Ernie Garilao, former Secretary of DAR; Carn Abella, former President of DAP; Dr. Antonio Torralba, former Dean of Liberal Arts, UAAP; Atty. Hector Villacorta, Secretary of the Commission on Appointments; Tess Villacorta, former Executive Director of Children’s Hour; Tina Monzon Palma, ANC Anchor, Edna Zapanta Manlapaz, Professor, Ateneo de Manila University, and of course, the great Raul Roco. We were products of “indoctrination” of the Columbans on how to live a meaningful life through service to others.

SCA was introduced in campuses at a time when students were drawn to the ideals of Communism. The Columbans adopted the cell technique in formation. It is interesting to note that the ideals of Communism were propagated through the cell method. We met regularly with a group of students where we discussed how it is to be a leader, the meaning of love, and how virtues such as humility and courage, are acquired. But our discussions were rooted not on the teachings of Lenin and Trotsky, but on the examples of a much bigger leader, Jesus. We reflected on His Gospel and His life of love. It was in these cell meetings where I first listened to Raul Roco, dapper, dashing, and eloquent in flawless English and Tagalog. Every December, the Columbans gathered student leaders in every school, college and university, and “indoctrinated” them in Baguio – La Patria Hotel for the men and St. Joseph College, for the women. Coming straight from the province, you could imagine how I listened with starry eyes to Sonia Malasarte, Nonong Contreras, Tati Licuanan, Pablo Trillana, Fr. Sonny Ramirez, Imelda Nicolas,and Abelardo Cortez.

The Columbans also saw to it that student-leadership should be well-rounded. We had festivals throughout the year where we developed our talents in drama, debates, singing, dancing, arts, and sports. Those were the years when SCA sponsored college fairs where we had great fun in marriage booths, roulettes, merry-go-round, and ferris wheels. In the evenings, we swayed and boogied with the music of RJ Jacinto and the Electromaniacs.

The Columbans helped us to have a deep understanding of life. They led us in our work with communities in the peripheries. I credit my work with the public high schools and the slums in Tondo as the backbone of my obsession for justice and education. It is not strange that many of my SCA colleagues have a penchant for public service and have continued to work with the poor.

I met Fr. Michael 47 years ago. He had an innocent look on his face and was looking forward to his work in the Philippines. Little did he know that he would serve as the Director of SCA in public high schools for many years, sans any priest as assistant. He was forever running around all day in his small car saying masses all over Metro Manila, counseling hundreds of students, and guiding their activities. His heart broke (and so did ours) when SCA was outlawed by the martial law government.

But the Columbans probably will never realize how much their work with SCA has impacted on Filipinos. Their influence has multiplied a million fold through the work of former student leaders whom they have formed. Like ripples in a pond, the ideals of the Columbans have multiplied and changed the course of rivers and oceans. They have set the course for thousands of SCAns to do what is right, give without counting the cost, and work without seeking reward.

Thank you Fr. Michael and the Columban missionaries who have given their best to the country. Indeed, you made us hear the angels sing.

Tell

When “Tell the World of His Love” – the official theme song for World Youth Day 1995 in Manila was sang during the Solemn Eucharistic Celebration and Veneration of the Blood Relic of St. John Paul II at Manila Cathedral last April 7, 2018 – the wonderful memories of that youth event came back and I felt the saint’s presence in our midst.

I was in high school then. I was glued on television and monitored all the live reports from media.

Tell the World of His Love

As Asia’s bastion of Catholicism, the Philippines has been blessed by three papal visits: one from the revered Pope Paul VI in 1970 and by the late Pope John Paul II in 1981 and 1995, respectively. His most famous visit was during the World Youth Day in 1995. Known as the “saint-maker” who beatified 1,388 faithful and canonized more than 470 saints, the late Pontiff was beatified by his successor Pope Benedict XVI at St. Peter’s Square last May 1, 2011 before 1.5 million people. I believe his deep love for God expressed in his genuine love and concern for people, regardless of age, race, status, religion makes him deserving to be recognized as a saint. He brought people closer to God.

Let’s look back at some of St. John Paul II’s inspiring messages to the young people:

Sense of vocation

“It is always Christ who sends. But whom does he send? You, young people, are the ones he looks upon with love. Christ, who says: ‘Follow me,’ wants you to live your lives with a sense of vocation. He wants your lives to have a precise meaning and dignity.”

(International Youth Forum Mass, University of Santo Tomas Seminary, January 13, 1995)

Meaning in life

“Too many young people do not realize that they themselves are the ones who are mainly responsible for giving a worthwhile meaning to their lives.”

(Prayer Vigil with the Youth, Rizal Park, January 14, 1995)

Vocation to love

“The vocation to love, understood as true openness to our fellow human beings and solidarity with them, is the most basic of all vocations. It is the origin of all vocations in life.”

(Prayer Vigil with the Youth, Rizal Park, January 14, 1995)

Inalienable dignity

“If you defend the inalienable dignity of every human being, you will be revealing to the world the true face of Jesus Christ, who is one with every man, every woman, and every child, no matter how poor, no matter how weak or handicapped.”

(Prayer Vigil with the Youth, Rizal Park, January 14, 1995)

Criticizing adults

“Sometimes you are very critical of the world of adults, and sometimes they are very critical of you. This is not something new, and it is not always without real basis in life. But always remember that you owe your life and upbringing to your parents, and the Fourth Commandment expresses in a concise way the demands of justice toward them (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2215).”

(World Youth Day Concluding Mass, Rizal Park, January 15, 1995)

Freedom, responsibility

“How many young people think they are free because they have thrown off every restraint and every principle of responsibility? How many of them think that because certain forms of behavior are socially accepted, they are therefore morally right? They abuse the beautiful gift of sexuality; they abuse drink and drugs, thinking that such behavior is all right because certain sectors of society tolerate it…

“Build your lives on the one model that will not deceive you! I invite you to open the Gospel and discover that Jesus Christ wants to be your ‘friend’ (cf. Jn 15: 14).”

(World Youth Day Concluding Mass, Rizal Park, January 15, 1995)

Farewell: ‘Be strong’

“Kayo ay isinugo ni Kristo tulad ng pagsugo sa Kanya ng Ama. Salamat at pinakinggan ninyo ang kanyang Salita.

“Inaanyayahan ko kayong maging mga alagad ng Ebanghelyo, at mga tagapagtaguyod ng kanyang Kaharian sa inyong mga pamilya, parokya, samahan, at sa bawat bahagi ng inyong buhay bilang mga Pilipino. Nawa’y maging matatag kayo sa inyong pananampalataya at pagmamahal sa inyong kapwa.”

(Christ sends you even as he himself was sent. I thank you for listening to his word, and I encourage you to become apostles of the Gospel and builders of God’s kingdom in your families, parishes, groups, and in every aspect of Filipino life. Be strong in faith and love!)

(Farewell to Young People, Rizal Park, January 15, 1995)

Fearless

This coming Palm Sunday, March 25 we will be celebrating World Youth Day 2018.

Today, the Vatican released Pope Francis’ message for the said event.

I was grateful that I attended the World Youth Day 2011 with the Holy Father in Madrid, Spain.

World Youth Day was a very important part of the legacy of Saint Pope John Paul II and his love and ministry to young people in the Church. It has touched the lives of many millions of young people and helped them to experience the catholicity of the faith, to deepen their commitment to the Lord and their sense of being part of Jesus’ family in the Church. In general, the young people who go have a wonderful experience.

It is a great institution in the life of the Church and there’s no other gathering of young people in the world that consistently brings together the numbers that World Youth Day does.

It is also a great blessing for the place that hosts the World Youth Day gathering.

When I was in high school, the Philippines hosted World Youth Day in 1995. I was not able to participate. I missed the event.

In 2011, I took the opportunity and I was blessed that I did participate in WYD Madrid.

I was impressed by the volunteers from the parishes. There were thousands of volunteers who just were so helpful in organizing and directing people and helping them and making sure that everyone had what they needed. The Holy Father had a meeting with them before he left to thank them for their generous service.

I think the presence of so many young Catholics was a great consolation to the Church in Spain, which has been suffering from the secularization of Europe.

Below is the full message of Pope Francis:

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God” (Lk 1:30)

Dear young people,

World Youth Day 2018 represents another step in preparation for the international WYD due to take place in Panama in January 2019. This new stage of our pilgrimage falls in the same year that the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will meet on the theme: Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. This is a happy coincidence. The focus, prayer and reflection of the Church will turn to you young people, with the desire to receive and, above all, to embrace the precious gift that you are to God, to the Church and to the world.

As you already know, we have chosen to be accompanied on this journey by the example and intercession of Mary, the young woman of Nazareth whom God chose as the Mother of his Son. She walks with us towards the Synod and towards the WYD in Panama. If last year we were guided by the words of her canticle of praise – “The Almighty has done great things for me” (Lk 1:49) – teaching us to remember the past, this year we seek, together with her, to listen to the voice of God who inspires courage and bestows the grace needed to respond to his call: “Do not be afraid, Mary, because you have found favour with God” (Lk 1:30). These are the words addressed by God’s messenger, the Archangel Gabriel, to Mary, an ordinary girl from a small village in Galilee.

1. Do not be afraid!

As is understandable, the sudden appearance of the angel and his mysterious greeting: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28), strongly disturbed Mary, who was surprised by this first revelation of her identity and her vocation, as yet unknown to her. Mary, like others in the Sacred Scriptures, trembles before the mystery of God’s call, who in a moment places before her the immensity of his own plan and makes her feel all her smallness as a humble creature. The angel, seeing the depths of her heart, says: “Do not be afraid”! God also reads our inmost heart. He knows well the challenges we must confront in life, especially when we are faced with the fundamental choices on which depend who we will be and what we will do in this world. It is the “shudder” that we feel when faced with decisions about our future, our state of life, our vocation. In these moments we are troubled and seized by so many fears.

And you young people, what are your fears? What worries you most deeply? An “underlying” fear that many of you have is that of not being loved, well-liked or accepted for who you are. Today, there are many young people who feel the need to be different from who they really are, in an attempt to adapt to an often artificial and unattainable standard. They continuously “photo-shop” their images, hiding behind masks and false identities, almost becoming fake selves. Many are obsessed by receiving as many “likes” as possible. Multiple fears and uncertainties emerge from this sense of inadequacy. Others fear that they will not be able to find an emotional security and that they will remain alone. Many, faced with the uncertainty of work, fear not being able to find a satisfactory professional position, or to fulfil their dreams. Today a large number of young people are full of fear, both believers and non-believers. Indeed, those who have accepted the gift of faith and seek their vocation seriously are not exempt from fears. Some think: perhaps God is asking or will ask too much of me; perhaps, by following the road he has marked out for me, I will not be truly happy, or I will not be able to do what he asks of me. Others think: if I follow the path that God shows me, who can guarantee that I will be able to follow it through? Will I become discouraged? Will I lose my enthusiasm? Will I be able to persevere for the whole of my life?

In moments when doubts and fears flood our hearts, discernment becomes necessary. It allows us to bring order to the confusion of our thoughts and feelings, to act in a just and prudent way. In this process, the first step in overcoming fears is to identify them clearly, so as not to find yourself wasting time and energy by being gripped by empty and faceless ghosts. And so, I invite all of you to look within yourselves and to “name” your fears. Ask yourselves: what upsets me, what do I fear most in this specific moment of my life today? What blocks me and prevents me from moving forward? Why do I lack the courage to make the important choices I need to make? Do not be afraid to face your fears honestly, to recognize them for what they are and to come to terms with them. The Bible does not ignore the human experience of fear nor its many causes. Abraham was afraid (cf. Gen12:10ff), Jacob was afraid (cf. Gen 31:31; 32:7), and so were Moses (cf. Ex 2:14; 17:4), Peter (cf. Mt 26:69ff) and the Apostles (cf. Mk 4:38-40; Mt 26:56). Jesus himself, albeit in an incomparable way, experienced fear and anguish (cf. Mt26:37; Lk 22:44).

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (Mk 4:40). In admonishing his disciples Jesus helps us to understand how the obstacle to faith is often not scepticismbut fear. Thus understood, the work of discernment identifies our fears and can then help us to overcome them, opening us to life and helping us to calmly face the challenges that come our way. For us Christians in particular, fear must never have the last word but rather should be an occasion to make an act of faith in God… and in life! This means believing in the fundamental goodness of the existence that God has given us and trusting that he will lead us to a good end, even through circumstances and vicissitudes which often bewilder us. Yet if we harbour fears, we will become inward-looking and closed off to defend ourselves from everything and everyone, and we will remain paralyzed. We have to act! Never close yourself in! In the Sacred Scriptures the expression “do not be afraid” is repeated 365 times with different variations, as if to tell us that the Lord wants us to be free from fear, every day of the year.

Discernment is indispensable when searching for one’s vocation in life. More often than not our vocation is not obvious or evident at first but rather something we come to understand gradually. Discernment, in this case, should not be seen as an individual effort at introspection, with the aim of better understanding our interior make-up so as to strengthen us and acquire some balance. In such instances the person can become stronger, but is still confined to the limited horizon of his or her possibilities and perspectives. Vocation, however, is a call from above, and discernment in this context principally means opening ourselves to the Other who calls. Prayerful silence is therefore required in order to hear the voice of God that resounds within our conscience. God knocks at the door of our hearts, as he did with Mary; he longs to establish friendship with us through prayer, to speak with us through the Sacred Scriptures, to offer us mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and to be one with us in the Eucharist.

It is also important to dialogue with and encounter others, our brothers and sisters in the faith who have more experience, for they help us to see better and to choose wisely from the various possibilities. When the young Samuel hears the voice of the Lord, he does not recognize it immediately. Three times he runs to Eli, the older priest, who in the end proposes the right response to give to the Lord’s call: “If he calls you, you shall say: ‘Speak Lord, for your servant hears.’” (1 Sam 3:9). In your doubts know that you can rely on the Church. I know that there are very good priests, consecrated men and woman and lay faithful, many of whom are also young, who can support you like older brothers and sisters in the faith. Enlivened by the Holy Spirit, they will help you to make sense of your doubts and understand the plan of your own vocation. The other is not only a spiritual guide, but also the person who helps us open ourselves to the infinite riches of the life that God has given us. It is important to create spaces in our cities and communities to grow, to dream and to look at new horizons! Never lose the enthusiasm of enjoying others’ company and friendship, as well as the pleasure of dreaming together, of walking together. Authentic Christians are not afraid to open themselves to others and share with them their own important spaces, making them spaces of fraternity. Dear young people, do not allow the spark of youth to be extinguished in the darkness of a closed room in which the only window to the outside world is a computer and smartphone. Open wide the doors of your life! May your time and space be filled with meaningful relationships, real people, with whom to share your authentic and concrete experiences of daily life.

2. Mary!

“I have called you by name” (Is 43:1). The first reason not to fear is the fact that God has called us by name. The angel, God’s messenger, called Mary by name. To God belongs the power to give names. In the work of creation, he calls into existence every creature by name. There is an identity behind a name, that which is unique in every single thing, in every single person; that intimate essence that only God truly knows. This divine prerogative was shared with man when God invited him to name the animals, the birds and also his own offspring (Gen2:19-21; 4:1). Many cultures share this profound biblical vision; they recognize in a name the revelation of the profound mystery of life and the meaning of existence.

When God calls someone by name, he also reveals to the person his vocation, his plan of holiness and fulfilment, through which the person becomes a gift to others and is made unique. And when God wants to expand the horizons of life, he gives a new name to the person he is calling, as he did with Simon, whom he called “Peter”. From here comes the custom of taking a new name when entering a religious congregation, to indicate a new identity and mission. Since the divine call is unique and personal, we need the courage to disentangle ourselves from the pressure of being shaped by conforming patterns, so that our life can truly become an authentic and irreplaceable gift to God, to the Church and to all.

Dear young people, to be called by name is therefore a sign of our great dignity in the eyes of God and a sign of his love for us. God calls each one of you by name. All of you are the “you” of God, precious in his eyes, worthy of respect and loved (cf.Is 43:4). Welcome with joy this dialogue that God offers you, this appeal he makes to you, calling you by name.

3. You have found favour with God

The main reason why Mary need not be afraid is that she has found favour with God. The word “grace” speaks of love freely given, not owed. How much we are encouraged to know that we do not have to earn the closeness and help of God, by presenting a “Curriculum Vitae of excellence”, full of merits and successes! The angel says to Mary that she has already found favour with God, not that she will obtain it in the future. And the same formulation of the angel’s words helps us understand that divine grace is continuous, not something passing or fleeting; for this reason, it will never fail. Even in the future, the grace of God will always be there to sustain us, especially in moments of trial and darkness.

The continuous presence of divine grace encourages us to embrace our vocation with confidence; our vocation demands a commitment of faithfulness that needs to be renewed each day. Our vocational path is not without its crosses: not only our initial doubts, but also the frequent temptations that crop up along the way. The feeling of inadequacy accompanies Christ’s disciple to the end. Yet he or she knows the help of God’s grace.

The Angel’s words descend upon our human fears, dissolving them with the power of the Good News of which we are heralds: our life is not pure chance or a mere struggle for survival, rather each of us is a cherished story loved by God. That we have “found grace in his eyes” means that the Creator sees a unique beauty in our being and that he has a magnificent plan for our lives. The awareness of this certainty, of course, does not resolve all our problems nor does it take away life’s uncertainties. But it does have the power to transform our life deeply. The unknown that tomorrow holds for us is not a dark threat we need to overcome, but a favourable time given to us for living out the uniqueness of our personal vocation, and for sharing it with our brothers and sisters in the Church and in the world.

4. Courage in the present moment

From the certainty that God’s grace is with us comes the strength to take courage in the present moment: the courage to carry forward what God asks of us here and now, in every area of our lives; courage to embrace the vocation which God reveals to us; courage to live out our faith without hiding or diminishing it.

Yes, when we open ourselves to God’s grace, the impossible becomes a reality. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31). God’s grace touches the “now” of your lives, “takes hold” of you as you are, with all your fears and limits, but it also reveals his marvellous plans! You young people need to know that someone truly believes in you: please know that the Pope has confidence in you, that the Church has confidence in you! For your part, have confidence in the Church!

To the young Mary was entrusted an important task, precisely because she was young. You young people have strength as you go through a phase of your lives where energy is not lacking. Make use of this strength and this energy to improve the world, beginning with the realities closest to you. I want important responsibilities to be given to you within the Church; that there may be the courage to make space for you; and that you may be prepared to take on these responsibilities.

I invite you once again to contemplate Mary’s love: a caring, dynamic and concrete love. A love full of boldness and focused completely on the gift of self. A Church permeated by these Marian qualities will always be a Church going forth, one that goes beyond her own limits and boundaries to let the grace she has received overflow. If we allow ourselves to be truly touched by Mary’s example, we will live out authentically that charity which urges us to love God above all else and above ourselves, to love those with whom we share our daily life. And we will also love those who may seem hardly lovable in themselves. It is a love that is service and dedication, above all towards the weakest and poorest, love that transforms our faces and fills us with joy.

I would like to end with the beautiful words Saint Bernard used in a famous homily on the mystery of the Annunciation, words that express the anticipation of all humanity for Mary’s response: “You have heard, O Virgin that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer… We too, O Lady, are waiting for your word of compassion… In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life… This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet… Answer quickly, O Virgin” (Sermon 4, 8-9;Opera Omnia).

Dear young people, the Lord, the Church, the world are waiting for your answer to the unique call that each one receives in this life! As World Youth Day in Panama draws closer, I invite you to prepare yourselves for our gathering with the joy and enthusiasm of those who wish to participate in such a great adventure. WYD is for the courageous! Not for young people who are searching only for comfort and who withdraw whenever difficulties arise. Do you accept the challenge?