Lizbeth Cabral was part of the Salesians GBR group at World Youth Day in Krakow. Here, she considers the message Pope Francis had for young people, and his challenge to ‘leave your mark’. (Photo: Salesian Sisters UK)
The only event to unite all the youth under one faith, Catholicism, has come and gone. From the 25th to 31st of July, young people, regardless of culture, language, or nationality, came together under the guidance of Pope Francis to celebrate God’s mercy. BłoniaPark and Campus Misercordiae, in Krakow, Poland, were witness to the Pope’s message of hope and mercy to the young people.
Pope Francis praised and recognised the young for their energy, resilience, and capacity to change the world. However, he did not stop there. He is a wise man who is in touch with reality and recognises that despite their versatility there are still obstacles and problems facing the youth. He not only praised and recognised their talents he also called them out and warned them about present day evils that cut their potential short.
On his first encounter with the youth, on 28th in Blonia Park, Pope Francis lamented the fact that many young people enter into an “early retirement.” Referring to the young that “are defeated even before they begin to play, who walk around gloomy as is life has no meaning.” He laments the fact that today a great part of the youth fails to get involved, to criticise, and to challenge. Instead they “waste their lives looking for thrills or a feeling of being alive by taking dark paths and in the end having to pay for it.
“These young people are bored and boring … they waste the best days of their lives chasing false illusions, empty promises … This is dangerous because they fail to truly live … they fail to leave their mark in the world … instead, they lose their freedom; they lose their purpose of living.”
In his address at the World Youth Day Prayer Vigil at Campus Misericordiae, the Pontiff continued to awaken the conscience of the youth. He warned about other evils that force the young into an “early retirement.” He spoke of the dangers of fear which “only leads to one thing: the feeling of being closed in on oneself, trapped”. He also spoke of fear’s twin sister, “paralysis”. Together, they lead to the belief that “in this world, in our communities, in our cities, there is no longer any room to grow, to dream, to create, to gaze at new horizons. This paralysis prevents us from sharing with others, making friends, and waking with others side by side.”
Once again we lose our purpose of living. We are no longer living or leaving a mark instead we are living dead. The paralysis caused by fear confines us to our comfort zone. We are displeased to meet or even help people that do not look like us. Fear makes us indifferent to their suffering. We turn our backs to our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted for sharing our own faith. Fear prevents us from seeing them as victims. We treat them as a threat instead.
According to Pope Francis there is another even more dangerous kind of paralysis, “sofa happiness.” This type of paralysis occurs when we confuse happiness with the comfort of a sofa. “A sofa that promises us hours of comfort so that we can escape to the world of video games and spend all kinds of time in front of a computer screen. A sofa that keeps us safe from any type of pain and fear.” Sofa happiness can truly strip us of our freedom. Its comfort slowly dulls and numbs us. We are like the frog who is placed inside a pot of tepid water and whose temperature is gradually raised. The cold-blooded amphibian adapts to its outside temperature therefore when the water temperature is gradually raised the frog will adjust its temperature to the water. The frog does not figure out what it's going on until it is too late. It's unable to jump out because it has wasted all its energy adjusting its temperature. Very soon the frog dies inside the pot. We are the frog, the couch is the pot and video games are the tepid water. They numb us. They prevent us from living our reality; from questioning the decisions made on our behalf. We are more interested in what our favourite celebrity wore to the award show rather than on the laws that our policy maker enacted on that day.
If we don't jump out of the pot before it is too late we are going to end up like the frog, boiled. We need to leave the comfort of our couch and venture out into the world. We need to inform ourselves and criticise our policy makers’ actions. We need to dare to dream and to leave our mark in this world. The raising temperature of the water can already be felt. Is a politician who preaches hate, racism, and divisions truly the best candidate for a presidency? Is opting out of a partnership with other countries because of fear of rising immigration the best for a country? Is turning our back on refugees the best for humanity? All of these are decisions that affect our future but we do not bother to stand up and express our opinion on what's best for us because the comfort of our sofas seems more appealing.
Pope Francis urges us to trade the comfort of our sofa for a pair of walking shoes. He urges us to follow Jesus into uncharted paths, to “ take the path of our God who encourages us to be politicians, thinkers, social activists.”
We need to take charge of our life and be the protagonist of our history. Only we can decide for ourselves. God want us to leave a mark in life. This is what it means to truly live, to truly experience life and reality.
Despite all the temptations that are consuming us, Pope Francis still believes in us and is calling on us to help. Adults want us to believe that closing ourselves is the best way to protect ourselves from what hurts us; however, we can teach them that this is not the case. We can teach the adults to live in harmony alongside different cultures. We can teach them that, “it is easier to build bridges and not walls”. Our young, energetic, and merciful hearts can build a bridge of fraternity by extending our hand to someone who does not look like us; can teach adults to leave behind the thoughts of separation and nonsense.
Pope Francis’s message was one of mercy, compassion, acceptance, and fraternity. It helped me realise that the church has a big role to play in the twenty-first century. As followers of Jesus it is our duty to denounce any injustice. It is our duty to replace any signs of exclusion with fraternity. As Pope Francis mentioned, God wants us to build bridges by extending our hand to our fellow brothers and sisters.
This it what it means to leave a mark in this world. This is what God expects from us. Jesus left us the example. He did not exclude Zachaeus, the tax collector. He did not reject Mary Magdalene, a woman of doubtful reputation. To the contrary, he extended a hand towards them and included them in his plan of salvation. In times of exclusion and fear of one another, it is the job of the church to spread and take this message to heart.
I got the message; I want to leave a mark behind. I will start by evaluating my self and then extending my hand to my fellow brothers and sisters.
How will you leave your mark in this world?