By S. M. Johnson, FaithCounts.com Contributor
A ginormous crowd of young people packed into a field this summer to hear the headlining act at the world’s biggest festival. But this wasn’t Coachella or South by Southwest—and the headliner, about to take the stage, wasn’t a band. This was World Youth Day, an event held every three years by the Catholic Church. More than three million faithful had traveled from far reaches to hear Pope Francis speak to them.
His Holiness, who has proven extremely popular on social media not just among Catholics, had much to say to the young folks of the world from his podium in a village near Kraków, Poland. He exhorted. He got real. He took selfies with admirers and then told us all to get off our duffs and do some good.
For those who missed his remarks, here is a small sampler.
Don’t Tune Out—Reach Out
Say no the “sedative of worrying only about yourself and your own comfort,” Pope Francis told the crowd. Referencing the conflict in Syria, he warned against becoming desensitized to the struggles and suffering of others. Instead of tuning out their stories, try reaching out a helping hand:
“[Some] of us come from countries that may be at ‘peace,’ free of war and conflict, where most of the terrible things occurring in our world are simply a story on the evening news…. Some situations seem distant until in some way we touch them. We don’t appreciate certain things because we only see them on the screen of a cell phone or a computer. But when we come into contact with life, with people’s lives, not just images on a screen, something powerful happens. We feel the need to get involved.”
Get Off the Couch and Out of Your Comfort Zone
Too often people mistake comfort and convenience for happiness, Pope Francis said. But fulfillment can’t be found in between sofa cushions:
“[We] think that in order to be happy all we need is a good sofa…. A sofa that promises us hours of comfort so we can escape to the world of video games and spend all kinds of time in front of a computer screen.… Dear young people, we didn’t come into this work to “vegetate”, to take it easy, to make our lives a comfortable sofa to fall asleep on. No, we came for another reason: to leave a mark…. Following Jesus demands a good dose of courage, a readiness to trade in the sofa for a pair of walking shoes and to set out on new and uncharted paths.”
Happiness Is in What You Give, Not in What You Get
True joy doesn’t come from owning the latest blockbuster phone or the latest designer shoes. Rather than focusing on what you can get, focus more on what you can give, Pope Francis urged—and on the unique contributions you can make to humanity. People shouldn’t confuse “happiness with consumption” or “we end up paying a high price indeed: we lose our freedom.”
“God counts on you for what you are, not for what you possess…. In his eyes the clothes you wear or the kind of cell phone you use are of absolutely no concern.”
Build Bridges, Not Walls
It’s easy to fixate on the things that divide rather than look for ways to unite, but Pope Francis urged youth to resist that impulse:
People try to make us believe that being closed in on ourselves is the best way to keep safe from harm. Today, we adults need you to teach us how to live in diversity, in dialogue, to experience multiculturalism not as a threat but an opportunity. Have the courage to teach us that it is easier to build bridges than walls! Together we ask that you challenge us to take the path of fraternity.
You Matter, No Matter Your Shortcomings
“No one is insignificant,” Pope Francis told the crowd in his closing remarks. Though you may at times feel spiritually small or unworthy, you can find comfort and faith in knowing that divinity is always rooting for you:
“We are God’s beloved children, always…. [T]o live glumly, to be negative, means not to recognize our deepest identity….. God loves us the way we are, and no sin, fault or mistake of ours makes him change his mind…. The fact is, he loves us even more than we love ourselves. He believes in us even more than we believe in ourselves. He is always ‘cheering us on’; he is our biggest fan.”