Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation
of the Holy Father
to Young People and to the entire People of God
1. CHRIST IS ALIVE! He is our hope, and in a wonderful way he brings youth to our world. The very first words, then, that I would like to say to every young Christian are these: Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive!
2. He is in you, he is with you and he never abandons you. However far you may wander, he is always there, the Risen One. He calls you and he waits for you to return to him and start over again. When you feel you are growing old out of sorrow, resentment or fear, doubt or failure, he will always be there to restore your strength and your hope.
3. With great affection, I address this Apostolic Exhortation to all Christian young people. It is meant to remind you of certain convictions born of our faith, and at the same time to encourage you to grow in holiness and in commitment to your personal vocation. But since it is also part of a synodal process, I am also addressing this message to the entire People of God, pastors and faithful alike, since all of us are challenged and urged to reflect both on the young and for the young. Consequently, I will speak to young people directly in some places, while in others I will propose some more general considerations for the Church’s discernment.
4. I have let myself be inspired by the wealth of reflections and conversations that emerged from last year’s Synod. I cannot include all those contributions here, but you can read them in the Final Document. In writing this letter, though, I have attempted to summarize those proposals I considered most significant. In this way, my words will echo the myriad voices of believers the world over who made their opinions known to the Synod. Those young people who are not believers, yet wished to share their thoughts, also raised issues that led me to ask new questions.
Jesus, ever young
22. Jesus is “young among the young in order to be an example for the young and to consecrate them to the Lord”.3 (3. SAINT IRENAEUS, Adversus Hæreses, 22, 4: PG 7, 784.) For this reason the Synod said that “youth is an original and stimulating stage of life, which Jesus himself experienced, thereby sanctifying it”.4 (4 Final Document of the Fifteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, 60. Hereafter cited as FD. The document can be found at: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20181027_doc-finalinstrumentum-xvassemblea-giovani_en.html.)
23. The Lord “gave up his spirit” (cf. Mt 27:50) on a cross when he was little more than thirty years of age (cf. Lk 3:23). It is important to realize that Jesus was a young person. He gave his life when he was, in today’s terms, a young adult. He began his public mission in the prime of life, and thus “a light dawned” (Mt 4:16) that would shine most brightly when he gave his life to the very end. That ending was not something that simply happened; rather, his entire youth, at every moment, was a precious preparation for it. “Everything in Jesus’s life was a sign of his mystery”; (5 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 515) indeed, “Christ’s whole life is a mystery of redemption”.6 (Ibid., 517.)
24. The Gospel tells us nothing of Jesus’ childhood, but it does recount several events of his adolescence and youth. Matthew situates the time of the Lord’s youth between two events: his family’s return to Nazareth after their exile, and Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, the beginning of his public ministry. The last images we have of Jesus as a child are those of a tiny refugee in Egypt (cf. Mt 2:14-15) and repatriated in Nazareth (cf. Mt 2:19-23). Our first image of Jesus as a young adult shows him standing among the crowds on the banks of the Jordan river to be baptized by his kinsman John the Baptist, just like any other member of his people (cf. Mt 3:13-17).
25. Jesus’ baptism was not like our own, which introduces us to the life of grace, but a consecration prior to his embarking on the great mission of his life. The Gospel says that at his baptism the Father rejoiced and was well pleased: “You are my beloved Son” (Lk 3:22). Jesus immediately appeared filled with the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the desert. There he prepared to go forth to preach and to work miracles, to bring freedom and healing (cf. Lk 4:1-14). Every young person who feels called to a mission in this world is invited to hear the Father speaking those same words within his or her heart: “You are my beloved child”.
26. Between these two accounts, we find another, which shows Jesus as an adolescent, when he had returned with his parents to Nazareth, after being lost and found in the Temple (cf. Lk 2:41-51). There we read that “he was obedient to them” (cf. Lk 2:51); he did not disown his family. Luke then adds that Jesus “grew in wisdom, age and grace before God and men” (cf. Lk 2:52). In a word, this was a time of preparation, when Jesus grew in his relationship with the Father and with others. Saint John Paul II explained that he did not only grow physically, but that “there was also a spiritual growth in Jesus”, because “the fullness of grace in Jesus was in proportion to his age: there was always a fullness, but a fullness which increased as he grew in age”.7 (Catechesis (27 June 1990), 2-3: Insegnamenti 13, 1 (1990), 1680-1681.)
27. From what the Gospel tells us, we can say that Jesus, in the years of his youth, was “training”, being prepared to carry out the Father’s plan. His adolescence and his youth set him on the path to that sublime mission.
28. In his adolescence and youth, Jesus’ relationship with the Father was that of the beloved Son. Drawn to the Father, he grew up concerned for his affairs: “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Lk 2:49). Still, it must not be thought that Jesus was a withdrawn adolescent or a self-absorbed youth. His relationships were those of a young person who shared fully in the life of his family and his people. He learned his father’s trade and then replaced him as a carpenter. At one point in the Gospel he is called “the carpenter’s son” (Mt 13:55) and another time simply “the carpenter” (Mk 6:3). This detail shows that he was just another young person of his town, who related normally to others. No one regarded him as unusual or set apart from others. For this very reason, once Jesus began to preach, people could not imagine where he got this wisdom: “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (Lk 4:22).
29. In fact, “Jesus did not grow up in a narrow and stifling relationship with Mary and Joseph, but readily interacted with the wider family, the relatives of his parents and their friends”.8 (8 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (19 March 2016), 182: AAS 108 (2016), 384.) Hence we can understand why, when he returned from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, his parents readily thought that, as a twelve-year-old boy (cf. Lk 2:42), he was wandering freely among the crowd, even though they did not see him for an entire day: “supposing him to be in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey” (Lk 2:44). Surely, they assumed, Jesus was there, mingling with the others, joking with other young people, listing to the adults tell stories and sharing the joys and sorrows of the group. Indeed, the Greek word that Luke uses to describe the group – synodía – clearly evokes a larger “community on journey” of which the Holy Family is a part. Thanks to the trust of his parents, Jesus can move freely and learn to journey with others.
His youth teaches us
30. These aspects of Jesus’ life can prove inspiring for all those young people who are developing and preparing to take up their mission in life. This involves growing in a relationship with the Father, in awareness of being part of a family and a people, and in openness to being filled with the Holy Spirit and led to carry out the mission God gives them, their personal vocation. None of this should be overlooked in pastoral work with young people, lest we create projects that isolate young people from their family and the larger community, or turn them into a select few, protected from all contamination. Rather, we need projects that can strengthen them, accompany them and impel them to encounter others, to engage in generous service, in mission.
31. Jesus does not teach you, young people, from afar or from without, but from within your very youth, a youth he shares with you. It is very important for you to contemplate the young Jesus as presented in the Gospels, for he was truly one of you, and shares many of the features of your young hearts. We see this for example in the following: “Jesus had unconditional trust in the Father; he maintained friendship with his disciples, and even in moments of crisis he remained faithful to them. He showed profound compassion for the weakest, especially the poor, the sick, sinners and the excluded. He had the courage to confront the religious and political authorities of his time; he knew what it was to feel misunderstood and rejected; he experienced the fear of suffering and he knew the frailty of the Passion. He turned his gaze to the future, entrusting himself into the Father’s safe hands in the strength of the Spirit. In Jesus, all the young can see themselves”.9 (9 FD 63)
32. On the other hand, Jesus is risen, and he wants to make us sharers in the new life of the resurrection. He is the true youthfulness of a world grown old, the youthfulness of a universe waiting “in travail” (Rom 8:22) to be clothed with his light and to live his life. With him at our side, we can drink from the true wellspring that keeps alive all our dreams, our projects, our great ideals, while impelling us to proclaim what makes life truly worthwhile. Two curious details in the Gospel of Mark show how those risen with Christ are called to authentic youth. In the Lord’s passion we see a young man who wanted to follow Jesus, but in fear ran away naked (cf. 14:51-52); he lacked the strength to stake everything on following the Lord. Yet at the empty tomb, we see another young person, “dressed in a white tunic” (16:5), who tells the women not to be afraid and proclaims the joy of the resurrection (cf. 16:6-7).
33. The Lord is calling us to enkindle stars in the night of other young people. He asks you to look to the true stars, all those varied signs he gives us to guide our way, and to imitate the farmer who watches the stars before going out to plough his field. God lights up stars to help us keep walking: “The stars shine in their watches; he calls them and they are glad” (Bar 3:34-35). Christ himself is our great light of hope and our guide in the night, for he is the “bright morning star” (Rev 22:16).
The youth of the Church
34. Youth is more than simply a period of time; it is a state of mind. That is why an institution as ancient as the Church can experience renewal and a return to youth at different points in her age-old history. Indeed, at the most dramatic moments of her history, she feels called to return with all her heart to her first love. Recalling this truth, the Second Vatican Council noted that, “enriched by a long and living history, and advancing towards human perfection in time and the ultimate destinies of history and of life, the Church is the real youth of the world”. In her, it is always possible to encounter Christ “the companion and friend of youth”.10 (10 SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Message to Young People (7 December 1965): AAS 58 (1966), 18.)
A Church open to renewal
35. Let us ask the Lord to free the Church from those who would make her grow old, encase her in the past, hold her back or keep her at a standstill. But let us also ask him to free her from another temptation: that of thinking she is young because she accepts everything the world offers her, thinking that she is renewed because she sets her message aside and acts like everybody else. No! The Church is young when she is herself, when she receives ever anew the strength born of God’s word, the Eucharist, and the daily presence of Christ and the power of his Spirit in our lives. The Church is young when she shows herself capable of constantly returning to her source.
36. Certainly, as members of the Church, we should not stand apart from others. All should regard us as friends and neighbours, like the apostles, who “enjoyed the good will of all the people” (Acts 2:47; cf. 4:21.33; 5:13). Yet at the same time we must dare to be different, to point to ideals other than those of this world, testifying to the beauty of generosity, service, purity, perseverance, forgiveness, fidelity to our personal vocation, prayer, the pursuit of justice and the common good, love for the poor, and social friendship.
37. Christ’s Church can always yield to the temptation to lose enthusiasm because she no longer hears the Lord calling her to take the risk of faith, to give her all without counting the dangers; she can be tempted to revert to seeking a false, worldly form of security. Young people can help keep her young. They can stop her from becoming corrupt; they can keep her moving forward, prevent her from being proud and sectarian, help her to be poorer and to bear better witness, to take the side of the poor and the outcast, to fight for justice and humbly to let herself be challenged. Young people can offer the Church the beauty of youth by renewing her ability to “rejoice with new beginnings, to give unreservedly of herself, to be renewed and to set out for ever greater accomplishments”.11 (Ibid.)
38. Those of us who are no longer young need to find ways of keeping close to the voices and concerns of young people. “Drawing together creates the conditions for the Church to become a place of dialogue and a witness to life-giving fraternity”.12 (FD 1) We need to make more room for the voices of young people to be heard: “listening makes possible an exchange of gifts in a context of empathy… At the same time, it sets the conditions for a preaching of the Gospel that can touch the heart truly, decisively and fruitfully”.13 (Ibid., 8.)
A Church attentive to the signs of the times
39. “Even though to many young people, God, religion and the Church seem empty words, they are sensitive to the figure of Jesus when he is presented in an attractive and effective way”.14 (Ibid., 50.) Consequently, the Church should not be excessively caught up in herself but instead, and above all, reflect Jesus Christ. This means humbly acknowledging that some things concretely need to change, and if that is to happen, she needs to appreciate the vision but also the criticisms of young people.
40. The Synod recognized that “a substantial number of young people, for all sorts of reasons, do not ask the Church for anything because they do not see her as significant for their lives. Some even ask expressly to be left alone, as they find the presence of the Church a nuisance, even an irritant. This request does not always stem from uncritical or impulsive contempt. It can also have serious and understandable reasons: sexual and financial scandals; a clergy ill-prepared to engage effectively with the sensitivities of the young; lack of care in homily preparation and the presentation of the word of God; the passive role assigned to the young within the Christian community; the Church’s difficulty in explaining her doctrine and ethical positions to contemporary society”.15 (15 Ibid., 53)
41. Although many young people are happy to see a Church that is humble yet confident in her gifts and capable of offering fair and fraternal criticism, others want a Church that listens more, that does more than simply condemn the world. They do not want to see a Church that is silent and afraid to speak, but neither one that is always battling obsessively over two or three issues. To be credible to young people, there are times when she needs to regain her humility and simply listen, recognizing that what others have to say can provide some light to help her better understand the Gospel. A Church always on the defensive, which loses her humility and stops listening to others, which leaves no room for questions, loses her youth and turns into a museum. How, then, will she be able to respond to the dreams of young people? Even if she possesses the truth of the Gospel, this does not mean that she has completely understood it; rather, she is called to keep growing in her grasp of that inexhaustible treasure.16 (Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 8.)
42. For example, a Church that is overly fearful and tied to its structures can be invariably critical of efforts to defend the rights of women, and constantly point out the risks and the potential errors of those demands. Instead, a living Church can react by being attentive to the legitimate claims of those women who seek greater justice and equality. A living Church can look back on history and acknowledge a fair share of male authoritarianism, domination, various forms of enslavement, abuse and sexist violence. With this outlook, she can support the call to respect women’s rights, and offer convinced support for greater reciprocity between males and females, while not agreeing with everything some feminist groups propose. Along these lines, the Synod sought to renew the Church’s commitment “against all discrimination and violence on sexual grounds”.17 (FD 150.). That is the response of a Church that stays young and lets herself be challenged and spurred by the sensitivities of young people.
Mary, the young woman of Nazareth
43. In the heart of the Church, Mary shines forth. She is the supreme model for a youthful Church that seeks to follow Christ with enthusiasm and docility. While still very young, she accepted the message of the angel, yet she was not afraid to ask questions (cf. Lk 1:34). With open heart and soul, she replied, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38).
44. “We are always struck by the strength of the young Mary’s “yes”, the strength in those words, “be it done”, that she spoke to the angel. This was no merely passive or resigned acceptance, or a faint “yes”, as if to say, “Well, let’s give it a try and see what happens”. Mary did not know those words, “Let’s see what happens”. She was determined; she knew what was at stake and she said “yes” without thinking twice. Hers was the “yes” of someone prepared to be committed, someone willing to take a risk, ready to stake everything she had, with no more security than the certainty of knowing that she was the bearer of a promise. So I ask each one of you: do you see yourselves as the bearers of a promise? What promise is present in my heart that I can take up? Mary’s mission would undoubtedly be difficult, but the challenges that lay ahead were no reason to say “no”. Things would get complicated, of course, but not in the same way as happens when cowardice paralyzes us because things are not clear or sure in advance. Mary did not take out an insurance policy! She took the risk, and for this reason she is strong, she is an “influencer”, the “influencer” of God. Her “yes and her desire to serve were stronger than any doubts or difficulties”.18 (Address at the Vigil with Young People, XXXIV World Youth Day in Panama (26 January 2019): L’Osservatore Romano, 28-29 January 2019, 6.)
45. Without yielding to evasions or illusions, “she accompanied the suffering of her Son; she supported him by her gaze and protected him with her heart. She shared his suffering, yet was not overwhelmed by it. She was the woman of strength who uttered her ‘yes’, who supports and accompanies, protects and embraces. She is the great guardian of hope… From her, we learn how to say ‘yes’ to the stubborn endurance and creativity of those who, undaunted, are ever ready to start over again”.19 ( Prayer at the Conclusion of the Way of the Cross, XXXIV World Youth Day in Panama (26 January 2019): L’Osservatore Romano, 27 January 2019, 12.)
46. Mary was a young woman whose heart overflowed with joy (cf. Lk 1:47), whose eyes, reflecting the light of the Holy Spirit, looked at life with faith and treasured all things in her youthful heart (cf. Lk 2:19.51). She was energetic, ready to set out immediately once she knew that her cousin needed her. She did not think about her own plans, but went “with haste” to the hill country (Lk 1:39).
47. When her young son needed protection, Mary set out with Joseph to a distant land (cf. Mt 2:13-14). She also joined the disciples in awaiting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14). In her presence, a young Church was born, as the apostles went forth to give birth to a new world (cf. Acts 2:4-11).
48. Today, Mary is the Mother who watches over us, her children, on our journey through life, often weary and in need, anxious that the light of hope not fail. For that is our desire: that the light of hope never fail. Mary our Mother looks to this pilgrim people: a youthful people whom she loves, and who seek her in the silence of their hearts amid all the noise, the chatter and the distractions of the journey. Under the gaze of our Mother, there is room only for the silence of hope. Thus Mary illumines anew our youth.
49. The heart of the Church is also full of young saints who devoted their lives to Christ, many of them even to dying a martyr’s death. They were precious reflections of the young Christ; their radiant witness encourages us and awakens us from our lethargy. The Synod pointed out that “many young saints have allowed the features of youth to shine forth in all their beauty, and in their day they have been real prophets of change. Their example shows what the young are capable of, when they open themselves up to encounter Christ”.20 (20 FD 65.)
50. “Through the holiness of the young, the Church can renew her spiritual ardour and her apostolic vigour. The balm of holiness generated by the good lives of so many young people can heal the wounds of the Church and of the world, bringing us back to that fullness of love to which we have always been called: young saints inspire us to return to our first love (cf. Rev 2:4)”.21 (Ibid., 67.) Some saints never reached adulthood, yet they showed us that there is another way to spend our youth. Let us recall at least some of them who, each in his or her own way, and at different periods of history, lived lives of holiness:
51. In the third century, Saint Sebastian was a young captain of the Praetorian Guard. It is said that he spoke constantly of Christ and tried to convert his companions, to the point that he was ordered to renounce his faith. Since he refused, he was shot with arrows, yet he survived and continued to proclaim Christ fearlessly. In the end, Sebastian was flogged to death.
52. Saint Francis of Assisi, while very young and full of great dreams, heard Jesus’ call to become poor like him and to rebuild the Church by his witness. He joyfully renounced everything he had and is now the saint of universal fraternity, the brother of all. He praised the Lord for his creatures. Francis died in 1226.
53. Saint Joan of Arc was born in 1412. She was a young peasant girl who, despite her tender years, fought to defend France from invaders. Misunderstood for her demeanor, her actions and her way of living the faith, Joan was burned at the stake.
54. Blessed Andrew Phû Yên was a young Vietnamese man of the seventeenth century. He was a catechist and assisted the missionaries. He was imprisoned for his faith, and since he refused to renounce it, he was killed. Andrew died uttering the name of Jesus.
55. In that same century, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, a young native of North America, was persecuted for her faith and, to escape, walked over three hundred kilometres in the wilderness. Kateri consecrated herself to God and died saying: “Jesus, I love you!”
56. Saint Dominic Savio offered all his sufferings to Mary. When Saint John Bosco taught him that holiness involves being constantly joyful, he opened his heart to a contagious joy. He wanted to be close to the most abandoned and infirm of his fellow young people. Dominic died in 1857 at fourteen years of age, saying: “What a wondrous thing I am experiencing!”
57. Saint Therese of the Child Jesus was born in 1873. At fifteen years of age, having overcome many difficulties, she succeeded in entering the Carmelite convent. Therese lived the little way of complete trust in the Lord’s love and determined to fan with her prayers the fire of love burning in the heart of the Church.
58. Blessed Ceferino Namuncurá was a young Argentinian, the son of the chief of a remote tribe of indigenous peoples. He became a Salesian seminarian, filled with the desire to return to his tribe, bringing Jesus Christ to them. Ceferino died in 1905.
59. Blessed Isidore Bakanja was a layman from the Congo who bore witness to his faith. He was tortured at length for having proposed Christianity to other young people. Forgiving his executioner, Isidore died in 1909.
60. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who died in 1925, “was a young man filled with a joy that swept everything along with it, a joy that also overcame many difficulties in his life”.22 (22 SAINT JOHN PAUL II, Address to Young People in Turin (13 April 1980), 4: Insegnamenti 3, 1 (1980), 905.) Pier Giorgio said that he wanted to return the love of Jesus that he received in holy communion by visiting and helping the poor.
61. Blessed Marcel Callo was a young French man who died in 1945. Marcel was imprisoned in a concentration camp in Austria, where he strengthened his fellow prisoners in faith amid harsh labours.
62. The young Blessed Chiara Badano, who died in 1990, “experienced how pain could be transfigured by love… The key to her peace and joy was her complete trust in the Lord and the acceptance of her illness as a mysterious expression of his will for her sake and that of others”.23 (23 BENEDICT XVI, Message for the XXVII World Youth Day (15 March 2012): AAS 194 (2012), 359.)
63. May these and so many other young people who perhaps in silence and hiddenness lived the Gospel to the full, intercede for the Church, so that she may be full of joyous, courageous and committed young people who can offer the world new testimonies of holiness.
Given in Loreto, at the Shrine of the Holy House, on 25 March, Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, in the year 2019, the seventh of my Pontificate.
Chapter Three will be published tomorrow.
To view Chapter One, click here.
With thanks to the Vatican.