In his homily for Palm Sunday, the beginning of the holiest week of the year for Christians, Pope Francis spoke directly to the thousands of young people who came to celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Square and see the new successor to St. Peter.
The pontiff told them that he was setting out on a “new journey” with them, and invited them to prepare for the World Youth Day pilgrimage, to be held in Rio de Janeiro in July.
Pope Francis said:
Dear young people, I think of you celebrating around Jesus, waving your olive branches. I think of you crying out his name and expressing your joy at being with him! You have an important part in the celebration of faith! You bring us the joy of faith and you tell us that we must live the faith with a young heart, always, even at the age of seventy or eighty! A young heart! With Christ, the heart never grows old… And you are not ashamed of his Cross! On the contrary, you embrace it, because you have understood that it is in giving ourselves that we have true joy and that God has conquered evil through love. You carry the pilgrim Cross through all the Continents, along the highways of the world! You carry it in response to Jesus’ call: “Go, make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19), which is the theme of World Youth Day this year.
The pope told the young people that he looked forward with joy to meeting them and encouraged them to “prepare well–prepare spiritually above all–in your communities, so that our gathering in Rio may be a sign of faith for the whole world.”
Pope Francis exhorted, “Young people need to tell the world: ‘It is good to follow Jesus; it is good to go with Jesus; the message of Jesus is good; it is good to come out of ourselves, from the edges of existence of the world and to bring Jesus to others!”
Maria Emilia Marega, a young Brazilian lay missionary, carried palms in the procession in the Square. She told Vatican Radio about her experience hearing Pope Francis and what he had to say to the world’s youth.
“When he started talking, we could really feel that he was talking to the young people, when he spoke about the joy, the Cross and the youth,” Maria Emilia said. “Everybody was writing notes and asking others if they had understood because he spoke in Italian, but it was a big group from all over the world.”
Maria Emilia says that pilgrims to World Youth Day can expect a warm welcome in her country. “We Brazilians are famous for our joy and celebration,” she states. “This week in Rio promises to be a great occasion and festival of the faith.”
According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), World Youth Day was instituted in 1985 by Pope John Paul II as an annual gathering of youth for prayer, worship, and celebration of the Catholic faith. The event is observed annually in dioceses and every three years at an international gathering.
In 2001, Pope John Paul II invited the world’s youth to attend what would be his last World Youth Day in Toronto.
The late pontiff said:
In this secularized age, when many of our contemporaries think and act as if God did not exist or are attracted to irrational forms of religion, it is you, dear young people, who must show that faith is a personal decision which involves your whole life. Let the Gospel be the measure and guide of life’s decisions and plans! Then you will be missionaries in all that you do and say, and wherever you work and live you will be signs of God’s love, credible witnesses to the loving presence of Jesus Christ.
While World Youth Day events are organized by the clergy and laity of the Catholic Church. Youth of all faiths are invited to attend, making this gathering truly universal. Young people in parishes and dioceses are conducting fundraisers for the international pilgrimage to Rio de Janeiro.