By Josh Low
In his first public address to the young people at World Youth Day, Pope Francis drew from this year’s theme and emphasised the importance of unity as a Church and people.
His comments came at his official welcome by all the youth at the Cinta Costera of Panama City on Thursday 24 January.
More than 100,000 people gathered along the coastline to catch a glimpse of and listen to the Pope speak.
“As we gather in Panama, World Youth Day is once more a celebration of joy and hope for the whole Church and, for the world, a witness of faith,” the Holy Father began.
“We come from different cultures and peoples, we speak different languages and we wear different clothes.
“Each of our peoples has had a different history and lived through different situations. We are different in so many ways! But none of it has stopped us from meeting one another and rejoicing to be together.
“You, dear friends, have made many sacrifices to be able to meet one another and in this way, you have become true teachers and builders of the culture of encounter,” he said.
“The culture of encounter is a call inviting us to dare to keep alive a shared dream. Yes, a great dream, a dream that has a place for everyone.
“The dream for which Jesus gave his life on the Cross, for which the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost and brought fire to the heart of every man and woman, in your hearts and mine, in the hope of finding room to grow and flourish.
“A dream named Jesus, sown by the Father in the confidence that it would grow and live in every heart. A dream running through our veins, thrilling our hearts and making them dance whenever we hear the command: ‘that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’ (Jn 13:34-35).”
Pope Francis followed by explaining that it is the certainty of knowing that we have been loved with a profound love, that we neither can, nor want to keep quiet about a love that challenges us to respond in the same way.
“It is the love of Christ that urges us on. A love that does not overwhelm or oppress, cast aside or reduce to silence, humiliate or domineer. It is the love of the Lord, a daily, discreet and respectful love; a love that is free and freeing, a love that heals and raises up.
“Do you believe in this love? Is it a love that makes sense? This is the same question and invitation that was addressed to Mary. The angel asked her if she wanted to bear this dream in her womb and give it life, to make it take flesh.
“She answered: ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ Mary found the courage to say ‘yes’. She found the strength to give life to God’s dream. The angel is asking the same thing of each of you, and of me,” the Holy Father said.
“Do you want the Father’s love to open new horizons for you and bring you along paths never imagined or hoped for, dreamt or expected, making our hearts rejoice, sing and dance? Do we have the courage to say the same to the angel as Mary did?”
He concluded by saying that the most hope-filled result of World Youth Day will not be a final document, a joint letter or a program to be carried out.
“Each of you will return home with the new strength born of every encounter with others and with the Lord. You will return home filled with the Holy Spirit, so that you can cherish and keep alive the dream that makes us brothers and sisters, and that we must not let grow cold in the heart of our world.
“Wherever we may be and whatever we may do, we can always look up and say: ‘Lord, teach me to love as you have loved us’.
“Dear friends, may Jesus bless you and Santa Maria Antigua ever accompany you, so that we can say without fear, as she does: “I am here. Let it be done.”