S. John Paul II Homil. 1164
Thursday, 6 July 2000
1. "Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!" (Ps 66 : 4). This cry resounds from here, from the open door of the Great Jubilee year. Not only do individuals respond to it, but also entire peoples and nations.
National pilgrimages are coming from various parts of Europe and the world to glorify and honour God here in the heart of the Church. Today the pilgrimage from Poland is a guest in Rome.
I cordially greet you all. I greet the Cardinal Primate, the Cardinals from Kraków and Wroclaw, the Archbishops, Bishops, priests, women religious and faithful of the many parishes and communities. I greet the representatives of the State and territorial authorities, led by the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Parliament and the President of the Senate. May all the pilgrims present here receive an abundance of Jubilee graces! May they also be received by your families and loved ones at home and throughout the world.
2. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever" (He 13,8). We want to bind our future to him. He alone is the Door and only he has the words of eternal life. This is the most profound meaning of the Great Jubilee: it is a time for returning to the roots of faith and at the same time for entering the future through the Door that is Christ. For in him, the incarnate Son of God, is fulfilled the eternal mystery of God's choice of man - the mystery which the Apostle Paul unveils before our eyes today when he writes: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him" (Ep 1,3-4). Following the Apostle's thought, we know what God's eternal plan is for man, whom he made in his own image and likeness. By creating him as such, from the very beginning God conformed man to his Son and joined him to him. If in this Jubilee Year we are recalling in a special way the birth of the Son of God 2,000 years ago, the greatest event in human history, we find ourselves on the threshold of the mystery which involves each and every one: the Son of God became man so that in him and through him we might become the adopted children of God. For when "the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Ga 4,4-5). These are St Paul's words in the Letter to the Galatians. If today we are making our pilgrimage to the Holy Door of the Great Jubilee, we are doing so first of all to thank God for the great grace of being his adopted children, which became man's lot through the birth of Christ.
1165 As St Paul writes, we have received this grace from God in order to be "holy and blameless before him" (Ep 1,4) and to "live for the praise of his glory" (Eph1: 12). It is impossible to attain holiness, it is impossible to live for God's glory except through Christ, with Christ and in Christ. In him "we have redemption through his Blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace" (Ep 1,7). Therefore in this Jubilee Year the Church leads us in a special way on the path of penance and reconciliation, so that we may approach Christ with trust and draw from the inexhaustible springs of his mercy. "He forgives all our iniquity, heals all our diseases, redeems our life from the pit and crowns us with steadfast love and mercy" (cf. Ps Ps 102 : 3-4). If today the Church appeals to and recommends the ancient practice of the indulgence, she does so precisely because the Jubilee period offers men and women a particularly favourable opportunity to open their hearts to the action of this grace which flows from the pierced Heart of the Redeemer.
St Paul writes: Christ "is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the raise of his glory" (Ep 1,14). Therefore, how could we not avail ourselves of the grace of this time, which brings us closer to Christ and enables us to share more fully in the inheritance which God has prepared for us in his glory!
3. Once in Nazareth Christ said of himself, as we heard in today's Gospel: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.... Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Lc 4,18-19 Lc 4,21). This "today" has continued without interruption since the day that the Son of God came to earth. After his Death and Resurrection, this "today" continues in the Church, where Christ is present until the end of the world. This "today" is fulfilled in each of us, who have been joined to Christ through Baptism.
In the Great Jubilee year we must be particularly mindful of this truth. We should remember that this "today" of Christ must continue in future centuries until his second coming. This awareness must determine the programme of the Church's life and of each of our lives in the new millennium.
In recent years this evangelical programme has been a reference-point for the individual Dioceses in their local pastoral synods and for the whole Church in Poland in the Plenary Synod, in an effort to identify the challenges that the present and the future pose to believers and the way to confront them. Asking for the light of the Holy Spirit, pastors and faithful examined the phenomena occurring in the present-day Church in Poland, attempted to discern the tasks facing our generation in view of the new millennium and marked out the paths on which the Church must enter the new century. All this was written down as a programme of evangelization for the third millennium. In a particular way the open door of the Great Jubilee reminds all of us and the whole Church in Poland that this programme cannot remain a dead letter but must be accepted by everyone and carried out with dedication and perseverance.
It concerns many areas of Church life. But today, listening to the Gospel which we have just heard, I would like to point to the two dimensions of the pastoral activity of the clergy and the apostolate of the laity in our country. Here is what Christ says: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor" (Lc 4,18). Thus the first task for which he was sent was to proclaim the Gospel. It was also the first task of the Apostles: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mc 16,15). This call is always timely and impelling. It concerns all the faithful - clergy and laity.
We are all called to bear witness in everyday life to the Gospel of salvation. As we enter the new millennium, we must answer this call with total fervour. May parents be Gospel witnesses to children and young people! May young people bring the Good News to their peers, who often lose the meaning of life from being misled by whatever the world offers. Pastors should not forget that a missionary spirit, concern for each person who is seeking Christ and for those who turn away from him, is essential to their pastoral mission.
In the same spirit I ask all the faithul of Poland to pray for the intentions of missionaries and for missionary vocations. I do so all the more gladly because today is the liturgical memorial of Bl. Maria Teresa Ledóchowska, known as the "Mother of Africans", patroness of the Church's Missionary Cooperation in Poland and foundress of the Sisters of St Peter Claver. This year we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of her beatification. The Church in Poland has great spiritual riches and possibilities. It is necessary to draw from this treasure to offer effective help to her Sister Churches in Africa, America, Asia and Europe. I pray God to inspire the hearts of many priests and religious in our country with the spirit of this particular apostolate. The universal Church needs servants of the Gospel from Poland.
When we hear Christ's words: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (cf. Lk Lc 4,18-19), we realize that the Jubilee, as a time when we have a special experience of God's mercy, turns us to those who need our mercy. The Church's "today", lived as a "today" in which Christ's messianic mission is fulfilled, must be lived as the "today" of the poor, the oppressed, the lonely, the sick - of all those particularly chosen by Christ as the ones to whom he would "proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord". May this "acceptable year of the Lord" be proclaimed to them through works of active love, through the effort to create a culture of solidarity and collaboration. May the spectre of the loss of work, of a roof over one's head, of health or of the possibility of education not cast its shadow over the joy of experiencing the Jubilee Year, which opens the prospect of a new millennium. It is necessary that everyone responsible for the form of social life in our country should make every effort to see that just economic reforms are introduced for the benefit of all, especially the poorest. I ask this particularly of all those who base their plan of
action on Christian values.
The duty to meet the needs of the unfortunate, however, is not only the responsibility of politicians, businessmen or charitable organizations, but also of all who can in any way alleviate the poverty of others. The Jubilee Year is a particular occasion for all the members of the Church community - clergy and laity - to undertake works of mercy for their brethren. In preparing pastoral programmes in the country, diocese or parish, we must constantly return to the idea of the preferential option for the poor and needy. Thinking of large families, the elderly, the sick and the lonely, I ask you, dear brothers and sisters, and all the faithful in Poland, together with St Paul: "Your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality. As it is written, "He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack'" (2Co 8,14-15).
1166 4. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever" (He 13,8). This truth speaks to us with particular force, as we stand on the threshold of the door of the Great Jubilee, in order to enter the new millennium with the faith, hope and charity we have received together with the grace of holy Baptism. "To pass through that door means to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; it is to strengthen faith in him in order to live the new life which he has given us" (Incarnationis mysterium, n. 8). He alone is the Door to the life of communion with God: "This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it" (Ps 117 : 20).
May this Polish national pilgrimage for the Great Jubilee bring us all closer to Christ the Redeemer.
To Christ, who is the source of life and hope for the third millennium now beginning. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever".
1. "I was in prison" (Mt 25,36): these words of Christ re-echoed for us today in the Gospel passage proclaimed a few moments ago. They set before our mind's eye the image of Christ actually imprisoned. We can almost see him again on Holy Thursday evening in Gethsemane: he, innocence personified, surrounded like a criminal by an armed band from the Sanhedrin, captured and brought before the court of Annas and Caiaphas. The long hours of the night follow, as he awaits trial in Pilate's Roman court. The trial takes place on Good Friday morning in the praetorium: Jesus stands before the Roman procurator, who questions him. Over his head hangs the request for the death penalty by the torture of the cross. We next see him tied to a pillar to be scourged. Then he is crowned with thorns.... Ecce homo - "Here is the man". Pilate said these words, counting perhaps on a humane reaction from those present. The answer was: "Crucify him, crucify him!" (Lc 23,21). And when at last they untied his hands, it was to nail them to the cross.
2. Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ - the prisoner - appears before us who are gathered here. "I was in prison and you came to me" (Mt 25,36). He is asking to be found in you and in so many other people touched by various forms of human suffering: "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25,40). These words contain, we could say, the "programme" of the Jubilee in Prisons which we are celebrating today. They invite us to live them as a commitment to the dignity of all people, that dignity which flows from God's love for every human person.
I thank everyone who has wished to participate in this Jubilee event. I extend a respectful greeting to the authorities who are attending: the Minister of Justice, the Head of the Prison Administration Department, the Warden of this prison, the Commander of the Police Detachment, together with the officers who work with him.
Above all I greet each of you prisoners with fraternal affection. I stand before you as a witness to God's love. I come to tell you that God loves you and wants you to follow a path of rehabilitation and forgiveness, of truth and justice. I would like to listen to each of your personal stories. What I cannot do myself can be done by your chaplains who are at your side in Christ's name. I extend my cordial greetings to them and to all who carry out this most demanding task in all the prisons of Italy and the world. I also feel obliged to express my appreciation to the volunteers who work with the chaplains in being close to you with appropriate programmes. With their help too, prison life can acquire human features and be enriched by a spiritual dimension, which is most important for your life. This dimension, offered for each one's free acceptance, should be considered an essential element in a penal system that is more in conformity with human dignity.
3. The first reading, in which the prophet Isaiah describes several significant traits of the future Messiah, sheds light on just such a project: "He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not fail or be discouraged until he has established justice in the earth" (Is 42,1-4). At the centre of this Jubilee there is Christ, the prisoner; at the same time there is Christ the lawgiver. It is he who establishes the law, proclaims it and strengthens it. However he does this not with arrogance, but with meekness and love. He heals what is sick, strengthens what is bruised. Where a faint flame of goodness still burns, he revives it with the breath of his love. He forcefully proclaims justice and heals wounds with the balm of mercy.
In Isaiah's text another series of images opens the prospect of life, joy and freedom: the future Messiah will come and open the eyes of the blind and bring out the prisoners from the dungeon (cf. Is Is 42,7). Dear brothers and sisters, I imagine that particularly these last words of the prophet will find an immediate, hope-filled echo in your hearts.
4. However, the message of God's Word must be accepted with its full meaning. The "dungeon" from which the Lord comes to release us is first of all the one where the spirit is chained. Sin is the prison of the spirit. In this regard, how can we forget Jesus' profound words: "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin" (Jn 8,34)? This is the slavery from which he above all came to save us. For he said: "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8,31)
1167 However, the prophet Isaiah's words about liberation should be understood in the light of the whole history of salvation, which culminates in Christ, the Redeemer who took upon himself the sin of the world (cf. Jn Jn 1,29). God cares about the total liberation of the human person, a liberation not only concerns physical and external conditions, but is first and foremost a liberation of the heart.
5. The hope of this liberation - the Apostle Paul reminds us in the second reading - is found throughout creation: "The whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now" (Rm 8,22). Our sin has disrupted God's plan, and its effects are not only felt in human life but also in creation itself. This cosmic dimension of the effects of sin becomes almost tangible in ecological disasters. No less worrying is the damage caused by sin to the human psyche, to human biology itself. Sin is devastating. It drives peace from hearts and causes a chain of sufferings in human relationships. I imagine how frequently you can observe this truth as you reflect on your personal histories or listen to those of your cell mates.
This is precisely the slavery from which the Spirit of God comes to deliver us. He, the Gift par excellence which Christ obtained for us, "helps us in our weakness ... intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (Rm 8,26). If we follow his promptings, he achieves our complete salvation, "adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Rm 8,23).
6. Therefore, he, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, must be the one who works in your hearts, dear brother and sister prisoners. The Holy Spirit must pervade this prison where we are meeting and all the prisons of the world. Christ, the Son of God, became a prisoner; he let them tie his hands and then nail them to the cross precisely so that his Spirit could touch the heart of every man. The Spirit of Christ, the Redeemer of the world, must breathe even where people are chained in prisons according to the logic of a still necessary human justice. Punishment cannot be reduced to mere retribution, much less take the form of social retaliation or a sort of institutional vengeance. Punishment and imprisonment have meaning if, while maintaining the demands of justice and discouraging crime, they serve the rehabilitation of the individual by offering those who have made a mistake an opportunity to reflect and to change their lives in order to be fully reintegrated into society.
Let me ask you, then, to aim with all your strength at a new life in the encounter with Christ. Society as a whole can only rejoice at your progress. The very people you have hurt will feel perhaps that they have received more justice by seeing your inner transformation than merely the penalty you have paid.
I hope that each of you will experience the liberating love of God. May the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who makes all things new (cf. Rv Ap 21,5), come down among you and among all the world's prisoners, filling your hearts with trust and hope.
May you be accompanied by the gaze of Mary, "Regina Caeli", "Queen of Heaven", to whose motherly tenderness I entrust you and your families.
At the end of Mass the Holy Father thanked the prison authorities for their welcome and again spoke to the prisoners.
I thank the Minister, the Head of the Prison Administration and your representative for their words to me. With them I thank all the authorities present, expressing to everyone my heartfelt gratitude for the cordial welcome I have received.
As I take my leave of you, dear prisoners, I would again like to offer you my greeting, which I also extend to your relatives. I know quite well that each of you is looking forward to the day when, having served your time, you will regain your freedom and return to your family.
Aware of this, in the Message I sent to the whole world for this Jubilee Day, in the footsteps of my Predecessors and in the spirit of the Holy Year, I asked for a gesture of clemency in your regard by a "reduction of the term of punishment". I requested this in the profound conviction that such an action would be a sign of sensitivity to your condition which could encourage you to regret what you have done and lead you to personal repentance. With this in mind, I extend my warmest wishes to everyone.
1168 I would like to add one last word: we cannot forget that this Roman prison is called "Regina Coeli". This name instils very great hope. I would like you all to have this hope which comes from the "Regina Coeli".
Thank you very much. Praised be Jesus Christ.
1. Dear priests of the Diocese of Aosta, I am particularly pleased to celebrate this Holy Mass with you at the end of my stay among your mountains. I greet you all with great affection and, in a special way, I greet your Bishop, whom I cordially thank for all his kindnesses in these days to me and my collaborators.
We are celebrating the feast of St Mary Magdalen and the liturgy today is marked by a kind of movement, a "race" of the heart and the spirit, motivated by the love of Christ. The words of St Paul, "caritas Christi urget nos" (2Co 5,14), which we will shortly hear in the first reading, can and must inspire the life of every priest, as they characterized that of Mary of Magdala.
Mary Magdalen followed to Calvary the One who had healed her. She was present at Jesus' crucifixion, death and burial. Together with Mary Most Holy and the beloved disciple, she witnessed his last breath and the silent testimony of his pierced side: she understood that her salvation lay in that death, in that sacrifice. And the Risen One, as today's Gospel recounts, wished to manifest his glorious body first to the one who had wept profusely at his death. To her he "first entrusted ... the joyful news of his resurrection" (Collect), as if to remind us that the shining glory of his resurrection is revealed precisely to those who look with faith and love on the mystery of the Lord's passion and death.
2. Mary Magdalen thus teaches us that our vocation as apostles is rooted in the personal experience of Christ. Encountering him leads to a new way of living no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us (cf. 2Co 5,15), by leaving behind the old man to be conformed ever more completely to Christ, the new Man.
This teaching of life applies with special eloquence to us pastors of the Church, called to guide the People of God with the word, but above all with our witness of life. Therefore we are called to a greater intimacy with Christ, who chose us as his friends: "Vos autem dixi amicos" (Jn 15,15).
Dear brothers in the priesthood, I hope that each of you will always deeply live your communion with Christ. May his love spur you on in your apostolate, not only on the great occasions, but especially on the ordinary ones, in everyday events. Intimate union with God, nourished at Holy Mass, in the Liturgy of the Hours and in personal prayer, moves a priest to carry out his pastoral ministry with faith and love. The secret of his mission lies precisely in this intimacy with Jesus.
Let us pray, during this Eucharistic celebration, that the Lord will make us worthy ministers of his grace. Let us call upon him, through the intercession of St Mary Magdalen, that, through you, dear priests, the death and resurrection of Christ may be continually proclaimed to the residents and holidaymakers of this region. May God, who enriched Valle d'Aosta with stupendous natural beauty, nourish with his Spirit the faith of those who live here. And may the Virgin Mary maternally watch over you and the apostolic service you are called to render with constant generosity, making it rich in abundant good fruits.
1169 Thursday, 17 August 2000
1. "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you" (Jr 1,5). The words God addressed to the prophet Jeremiah affect us personally. They remind us of God's plan for each of us. He knows us individually because he has chosen and loved us from eternity, entrusting to each of us a specific vocation within the general plan of salvation.
Dear young people of the International Forum, I am pleased to welcome you together with Cardinal James Francis Stafford, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and his staff. I greet you affectionately.
Quite rightly you feel personally challenged by the prophet's words. Indeed, many of you already hold a position of responsibility in your local Church and many others will be called to assume one.
It is therefore important that you bring with you the rich human, spiritual and ecclesial experience of this forum. You are sent out to proclaim to others the words of life you have received: they will act and take root in you the more you share them with others.
Dear young people, do not doubt God's love for you! He has reserved for you a place in his heart and a mission in the world. The first reaction can be fear or doubt. These are sentiments which Jeremiah felt before you: "Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth" (Jr 1,6). The task seems immense, because it assumes the dimensions of society and the world. But do not forget that when the Lord calls, he also provides the necessary strength and grace to answer his call.
Do not be afraid to accept your responsibilities: the Church needs you, she needs your commitment and generosity; the Pope needs you and, at the beginning of this new millennium, he is asking you to take the Gospel on the paths of the world.
2. In the responsorial psalm, we heard a question which echoes with special timeliness in today's polluted world: "How can a young man keep his way pure?" (Ps 118,9). We also heard the simple, incisive reply: "By guarding it according to your word" (ibid.). Thus it is necessary to ask to acquire a taste for the Word of God and for the joy to be able to witness to something that is greater than us: "In the way of your testimonies I delight..." (Ps 119,14).
Joy is also born of the knowledge that countless other people in the world accept, like us, the "Lord's commandments" and make them the substance of their lives. How rich is the Church's universality, her "catholicity"! What diversity according to the countries, rites, spirituality, associations, movements and communities, what beauty, and at the same what deep communion in the common values and shared attachment to Jesus, the Lord!
Living and praying together, you have perceived that the diversity of your ways of receiving and expressing the faith neither alienates you from one another nor makes you rivals. It simply highlights the riches of that one, extraordinary gift of Revelation, for which the world has so great a need.
3. In the Gospel we have just heard, the Risen One asks Peter the question that will determine his whole life: "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" (Jn 21,16). Jesus does not ask him what his talents, gifts and skills are. Nor does he ask the one who had just denied him whether from now on he will be faithful to him, whether he will stand firm. He asks him the only thing that matters, the one thing that can give a vocation its foundation: do you love me?
1170 Today Christ is asking each of you the same question: do you love me? He is not asking you whether you know how to speak to crowds, whether you can direct an organization or manage an estate. He is asking you to love him. All the rest will ensue. In fact, walking in Jesus' footsteps is not immediately expressed in things to do or say, but first of all in loving him, in staying with him, in totally accepting him into one's life.
Today you are giving Jesus' question a sincere answer. Some will be able to say with Peter: "Lord; you know that I love you!" (Jn 21,16). Others will say: "Lord, you know how I would like to love you; teach me to love you, to be able to follow you". The important thing is to stay on the path, to continue the journey without losing sight of the goal, until the day when you will be able to say with all your heart: "You know that I love you!".
4. Dear young people, love Christ and love the Church! Love Christ as he loves you. Love the Church as Christ loves her.
Do not forget that true love sets no conditions; it does not calculate or complain but simply loves. How could you in fact be responsible for an inheritance which you only partly accepted? How can one share in building something that one does not love with all one's heart?
May communion in the Body and Blood of the Lord help everyone grow in love for Jesus and for his Body, which is the Church.
Tor Vergata, Sunday 20 August 2000
1. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6,68).
Dear young people of the Fifteenth World Youth Day! These words of Peter, in his conversation with Christ at the end of the discourse on the “bread of life”, affect us personally. In these days we have meditated on John’s statement: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1,14). The evangelist has brought us back to the great mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Son given to us through Mary “when the fullness of time had come” (Ga 4,4).
In his name I greet you all once more with great affection. I greet Cardinal Camillo Ruini, my Vicar for the Diocese of Rome and President of the Italian Episcopal Conference, and I thank him for his words at the beginning of this Mass. I also greet Cardinal James Francis Stafford, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and the many Cardinals, Bishops and priests gathered here. With gratitude I extend respectful greetings to the President of Italy and the head of the Italian Government, as well as all the civil and religious Authorities who honour us with their presence.
2. We have reached the high point of World Youth Day. Yesterday evening, dear young people, we confirmed our faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God whom the Father sent, as the First Reading reminded us today, “to bring good tidings to the poor, ... to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound ... to comfort all who mourn” (Is 61,1-3).
In today’s Eucharistic celebration, Jesus helps us to come to know a particular aspect of his mystery. In the Gospel, we listened to a part of his discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. In it he reveals himself as the true bread of life, the bread which has come down from heaven to give life to the world (cf. Jn Jn 6,51). These are words that those who hear him do not understand. Their outlook is too material for them to grasp what Christ really means. They are thinking in terms of flesh, which “is of no avail” (Jn 6,63). Jesus’s words, instead, have to do with the unlimited horizons of the spirit: “The words that I have spoken to you – he insists – are spirit and life” (ibid.).
1171 But his hearers are hesitant: “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” (Jn 6,60). They consider themselves to be persons of common sense, with their feet on the ground. For this reason they shake their heads and go away muttering, one after another. The initial crowd gradually grows smaller. At the end, only the tiny group of his most faithful disciples remains. But with regard to the “bread of life” Jesus is not prepared to back down. Rather, he is ready to lose even those closest to him: “Will you also go away?” (Jn 6,67).
3. “Will you also?” Christ’s question cuts across the centuries and comes down to us; it challenges us personally and calls for a decision. What is our answer? Dear young people, if we are here today, it is because we identify with the Apostle Peter’s reply: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6,68).
Around you, you hear all kinds of words. But only Christ speaks words that stand the test of time and remain for all eternity. The time of life that you are living calls for decisive choices on your part: decisions about the direction of your studies, about work, about your role in society and in the Church. It is important to realize that among the many questions surfacing in your minds, the decisive ones are not about “what”. The basic question is “who”: “who” am I to go to, “who” am I to follow, “to whom” should I entrust my life?
You are thinking about love and the choices it entails, and I imagine that you agree: what is really important in life is the choice of the person who will share it with you. But be careful! Every human person has inevitable limits: even in the most successful of marriages there is always a certain amount of disappointment. So then, dear friends, does not this confirm what we heard the Apostle Peter say? Every human being finds himself sooner or later saying what he said: “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”. Only Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and of Mary, the eternal Word of the Father born two thousand years ago at Bethlehem in Judaea, is capable of satisfying the deepest aspirations of the human heart.
In Peter’s question: “To whom shall we go?” the answer regarding the path to follow is already given. It is the path that leads to Christ. And it is possible to meet the divine Master personally: he is in fact truly present on the altar in the reality of his Body and Blood. In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we can enter into contact with the person of Jesus in a way that is mysterious but real, drinking at the inexhaustible fountain that is his life as the Risen Lord.
4. This is the stupendous truth, dear friends: the Word, who took flesh two thousand years ago, is present today in the Eucharist. That is why the year of the Great Jubilee, in which we are celebrating the mystery of the Incarnation, had to be an “intensely Eucharistic” year as well (cf. Tertio Millennio Adveniente TMA 55).
The Eucharist is the sacrament of the presence of Christ, who gives himself to us because he loves us. He loves each one of us in a unique and personal way in our practical daily lives: in our families, among our friends, at study and work, in rest and relaxation. He loves us when he fills our days with freshness, and also when, in times of suffering, he allows trials to weigh upon us: even in the most severe trials, he lets us hear his voice.
Yes, dear friends, Christ loves us and he loves us for ever! He loves us even when we disappoint him, when we fail to meet his expectations for us. He never fails to embrace us in his mercy. How can we not be grateful to this God who has redeemed us, going so far as to accept the foolishness of the Cross? To God who has come to be at our side and has stayed with us to the end?
5. To celebrate the Eucharist, “to eat his flesh and drink his blood”, means to accept the wisdom of the Cross and the path of service. It means that we signal our willingness to sacrifice ourselves for others, as Christ has done.
Our society desperately needs this sign, and young people need it even more so, tempted as they often are by the illusion of an easy and comfortable life, by drugs and pleasure-seeking, only to find themselves in a spiral of despair, meaninglessness and violence. It is urgent to change direction and to turn to Christ. This is the way of justice, solidarity and commitment to building a society and a future worthy of the human person.
This is our Eucharist, this is the answer that Christ wants from us, from you young people at the closing of your Jubilee. Jesus is no lover of half measures, and he does not hesitate to pursue us with the question: “Will you also go away?” In the presence of Christ, the Bread of Life, we too want to say today with Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6,68).
1172 6. Dear friends, when you go back home, set the Eucharist at the centre of your personal life and community life: love the Eucharist, adore the Eucharist and celebrate it, especially on Sundays, the Lord’s Day. Live the Eucharist by testifying to God’s love for every person.
I entrust to you, dear friends, this greatest of God’s gifts to us who are pilgrims on the paths of time, but who bear in our hearts a thirst for eternity. May every community always have a priest to celebrate the Eucharist! I ask the Lord therefore to raise up from among you many holy vocations to the priesthood. Today as always the Church needs those who celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice with a pure heart. The world must not be deprived of the gentle and liberating presence of Christ living in the Eucharist!
You yourselves must be fervent witnesses to Christ’s presence on the altar. Let the Eucharist mould your life and the life of the families you will form. Let it guide all life’s choices. May the Eucharist, the true and living presence of the love of the Trinity, inspire in you ideals of solidarity, and may it lead you to live in communion with your brothers and sisters in every part of the world.
In a special way, may sharing in the Eucharist lead to a new flourishing of vocations to the religious life. In this way the Church will have fresh and generous energies for the great task of the new evangelization. If any of you, dear young men and women, hear the Lord’s inner call to give yourselves completely to him in order to love him “with an undivided heart” (cf. 1Co 7,34), do not be held back by doubts or fears. Say “yes” with courage and without reserve, trusting him who is faithful to his promises. Did he not assure those who had left everything for his sake that they would have a hundredfold in this life and eternal life hereafter? (cf. Mk Mc 10,29-30).
7. At the end of this World Youth Day, as I look at you now, at your young faces, at your genuine enthusiasm, from the depths of my heart I want to give thanks to God for the gift of youth, which continues to be present in the Church and in the world because of you.
Thank God for the World Youth Days! Thanks be to God for all the young people who have been involved in them in the past sixteen years! Many of them are now adults who continue to live their faith in their homes and work-places. I am sure, dear friends, that you too will be as good as those who preceded you. You will carry the proclamation of Christ into the new millennium. When you return home, do not grow lax. Reinforce and deepen your bond with the Christian communities to which you belong. From Rome, from the City of Peter and Paul, the Pope follows you with affection and, paraphrasing Saint Catherine of Siena’s words, reminds you: “If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze!” (cf. Letter 368).
I look with confidence to this new humanity which you are now helping to prepare. I look to this Church which in every age is made youthful by the Spirit of Christ and today is made happy by your intentions and commitment. I look to the future and make my own the words of an ancient prayer, which sings the praise of the one gift of Jesus, the Eucharist and the Church:
“I give thanks to you, Father of us all,
for the life and the knowledge
which you have revealed to us through Jesus your servant.
To you be glory in every age!
1173 Just as this bread now broken
was wheat scattered far and wide upon the hills
and, when harvested, became one bread,
so too let your Church be gathered into your kingdom
from the far ends of the earth...
You, O Lord almighty, have created the universe
to the glory of your name;
you have given people food
and drink for their comfort,
so that they may give you thanks;
but to us you have given a spiritual food and drink
1174 and eternal life through your Son...
Glory be to you for ever!” (Didache 9:3-4; 10:3-4)
S. John Paul II Homil. 1164