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Don’t watch life pass you by, Pope says to youth in preparation for WYD 

Papież Franciszek podczas Światowych Dni Młodzieży w Rio de Janeiro w 2013 roku

Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

Papież Franciszek podczas ŚDM w Rio de Janeiro (2013)

Isabella H. de Carvalho - published on 05/04/23

Do not be “couch youth,” speak to the elderly, and cultivate your experiences : these are some of the Pope's recommendations for preparing for World Youth Day.

“To participate in World Youth Day (WYD) is something beautiful, and when one feels it, they have the desire to participate,” Pope Francis told young people preparing for the upcoming WYD in a video message published on May 4, 2023. Two days earlier, Pope Francis also published a preface to a book on the past WYDs, written by a Portuguese journalist.

With these messages the Pontiff is encouraging young people to get excited and be active in preparing for this event, which is scheduled for August 1 to 6 in Lisbon (Portugal).

“I can imagine the things you must have on your mind … how you’re going to make it happen, request your work or study permit, get what you need for your trip, so many concerns,” the Pope said in his video message. “But always looking towards that horizon, that dream. […] Prepare yourself with that enthusiasm. Put hope in that.” 

The Pontiff explained that living through WYD helps the youth grow and gain new cherished experiences. “Values remain, those we have discovered inside, relationships with youth from other countries … the encounters. It all remains inside us, and above all, to see the strength of the youth,” he continued. “The Church has the strength of youth.” 

Francis ended his short video message with “a secret”: “To prepare well, it’s good to look towards your roots.”

He encouraged young people to spend time with the elderly and visit their grandparents. “Ask them: ‘In your time did World Youth Day exist?’ – Surely not. ‘And what do you think I must do?’ […] They’ll give you wisdom,” he said. 

Do not be “couch youth” !

“Several times I have invited young people not to ‘balcony,’ that is, not to stay on the balcony watching life go by like observers,” Pope Francis wrote in a preface published on May 2. The text is part of a book titled “Um Longo Caminho até Lisboa: Jornadas Mundiais da Juventude” (A Long Way to Lisbon: World Youth Days), to be published on May 4. It is written by Portuguese journalist, Aura Miguel, who has been reporting on the WYDs since 1989. 

“I have told them several times not to be ‘couch youth,’ not to allow themselves to be anesthetized by those who have every interest in making them stunned and dizzy,” Pope Francis wrote. “Youth is dreams, it is openness to reality, it is the discovery of what is really worth it in life, it is the struggle to conquer it, it is openness to intense and true relationships, it is commitment to others and for others.”

WYD as an antidote to indifference

The Pontiff cited several elements that could make young people closed and indifferent such as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the “aggressive [digital] market that induces false needs,” or the many ongoing conflicts that today constitute a “third world war.” The Pontiff instead encouraged young people to “be interested and care.” 

“What are [young people] called to, with their energy, their visions of the future, their enthusiasm? They are called to say ‘we care,’ we take an interest, we care about what is happening in the world,” he explained. “The World Youth Days have been an antidote to the ‘balcony,’ to the anesthesia that makes one prefer the couch, the indifference. They involved, shook, moved, challenged generations of women and men.” 

However, Pope Francis also warned young people to cultivate the rich experiences that they may receive during WYD.

“It is not enough to live a ‘powerful’ experience if afterwards it is not cultivated, if it does not find fertile ground to be sustained and accompanied. WYD is an event of grace that awakens, broadens horizons, strengthens the aspirations of the heart, helps to dream, to look beyond. It is a seed planted that can bear good fruit,” he said.

“Therefore, today we need young people who are attentive, eager to respond to God’s dream, interested in others. Young people who discover the joy and the beauty of a life dedicated to Christ in the service of others, of the poorest, of those who suffer.” 

Francis remembers his first WYD as Pope

“I still hold in my eyes and in my heart the huge crowd of young people who welcomed me in Rio de Janeiro in July, 10 years ago,” Pope Francis explained in the preface. “The great enthusiasm of the young people who threw flags, caps and T-shirts at me, who offered me some matè, who embraced the new Bishop of Rome who had come to honor a commitment made by his predecessor. An unforgettable experience.”

Like his predecessor before him, Pope Francis’ first international trip as Pontiff was to a WYD — in Pope Francis’ case, to Brazil in July 2013, four months after being elected. Benedict XVI went to Cologne (Germany) in August 2005, also fourth months after being elected. 

“We were both, so to speak, ‘placed’ in the wake of what St. John Paul II had inaugurated, following an intuition suggested to him by the Holy Spirit,” Francis wrote. John Paul II instituted the first WYD in 1985. 

“I’ll see you in Lisbon”

“I’ll see you in Lisbon. Ciao!” this is how Pope Francis concludes his May 4 video message. At the end of March there were more than 560,000 people registered to attend, including more than 10,000 volunteers. 

Pope FrancisWorld Youth DayYouth
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