Pope Francis releases his message for the 2021 Diocesan World Youth Day, which will be celebrated in November, and calls on young Christians to courageously bear witness to Jesus Christ, in the footsteps of St. Paul.
The 36th World Youth Day takes place on 21 November 2021 and will be celebrated in dioceses around the globe as the Church prepares for the 2023 WYD in Lisbon, Portugal.
Pope Francis released his message for the 2021 Diocesan WYD on Monday 27 September, under the theme: “Arise. I appoint you as a witness of what you have seen” (Acts 26:16).
In the message, the Pope pointed to the important role that young people have to play in the world, especially as they have faced enormous setbacks and difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many young people, said the Pope, experienced a rise in family problems, unemployment, depression, loneliness, and addictive behavior.
But, he added, the experience of the pandemic has also revealed the virtues of young people, including our “inclination to solidarity.”
“Whenever a young person falls, in some sense all humanity falls,” he said. “Yet it is also true that when a young person rises, it is as if the whole world rises as well.”
With that in mind, Pope Francis urged young Christians to “arise” and help the world start afresh with their passion and enthusiasm.
Blinded by the Light
The Pope then reflected at length on the passage from which the theme is taken (Acts 26:16), in which St. Paul tells the story of his conversion as he stands trial before King Agrippa.
Twenty-five years earlier, as Paul is busy persecuting Christians, he is thrown off his horse by a bright light and hears the voice of Jesus speaking to him.
Jesus, said the Pope, called Paul—then Saul—by his name, showing that he knew him personally.
“Only a personal and non-anonymous encounter with Christ changes lives… This grace, this unmerited and unconditional love, will be the light that radically transforms Saul’s life.”
Jesus and the Church are one
Pope Francis said St. Paul responds to Jesus by asking, “Who are you, Lord?”, a question the Pope said we will all have to ask sooner or later. This question, he added, is what prayer is all about: a personal dialogue and relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Pope noted that Jesus responds by saying that he is “Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Paul believed he was only persecuting Christians. Instead, Jesus makes him realize that He and the Church are a single Body.
“One cannot know Jesus if one does not know the Church,” said Pope Francis. “One cannot know Jesus apart from the brothers and sisters in his community. We cannot call ourselves fully Christian unless we experience faith’s ecclesial dimension.”
Our true image revealed
In choosing Saul, said the Pope, Jesus shows that no one is lost in God’s eyes, and that every person—if they consider it—feel the fire of God’s love burning in their hearts.
The encounter with Jesus leaves Paul lying on the ground and temporarily blinded, since the Lord has revealed the errors of his ways and humbled him to his true stature.
Pope Francis said that Saul then changed his name to Paul, which means “small”, as a sign of the deep change he had undergone.
The Pope also noted how many young people spend so much time on social media seeking to portray an image of themselves that does not correspond to reality.
“Christ, the noonday sun, comes to enlighten us and to restore our authenticity, freeing us from all our masks. He shows us clearly who we are, for that is exactly how he loves us.”
After his encounter with the Lord, Paul is led to Damascus, where he will spend time in prayer and silence, deepening his newfound relationship with Jesus.
Persecutor to great witness
Pope Francis went on to urge young Catholics to follow Paul’s example, as he turned his youthful passion and strength into zeal as a “herald of the Gospel to the very ends of the earth.”
Paul went on to become known as the “apostle of the nations,” after the Lord put His trust in him.
“God’s ways of thinking can turn the worst persecutor into a great witness.”
The Pope then called on young people to “arise” and accept their mission to testify to Jesus and His power to heal our broken hearts.
“The Lord, the Church and the Pope trust you and appoint you to bear witness before all those other young people whom you will encounter on today’s ‘roads to Damascus’,” said the Pope.
Arise and bear witness
And he concluded his message with several encouragements which young Catholics can take to heart as they prepare for the 2021 Diocesan World Youth Day.
Arise! Do not remain downcast or caught up in yourself: a mission awaits you! You too can testify to what Jesus has begun to accomplish in your lives. In Jesus’ name, I ask you:
- Arise! Testify that you too were blind and encountered the light. You too have seen God’s goodness and beauty in yourself, in others and in the communion of the Church, where all loneliness is overcome.
- Arise! Testify to the love and respect it is possible to instil in human relationships, in the lives of our families, in the dialogue between parents and children, between the young and the elderly.
- Arise! Uphold social justice, truth and integrity, human rights. Protect the persecuted, the poor and the vulnerable, those who have no voice in society, immigrants.
- Arise! Testify to the new way of looking at things that enables you to view creation with eyes brimming with wonder, that makes you see the Earth as our common home, and gives you the courage to promote an integral ecology.
- Arise! Testify that lives of failure can be rebuilt, that persons spiritually dead can rise anew, that those in bondage can once more be free, that hearts overwhelmed by sorrow can rediscover hope.
- Arise! Testify joyfully that Christ is alive! Spread his message of love and salvation among your contemporaries, at school and in the university, at work, in the digital world, everywhere.
Read Pope Francis’ full message for the 36th World Youth Day here.
With thanks to Vatican News and Devin Watkins, where this article originally appeared.