Rio de Janeiro (AsiaNews) - "Go, do not be afraid, and serve," knowing that " Bringing the Gospel is bringing God's power to pluck up and break down evil and violence, to destroy and overthrow the barriers of selfishness, intolerance and hatred, so as to build a new world. Jesus Christ is counting on you! The Church is counting on you! The Pope is counting on you! This is the mandate with which the Pope today ended the 28th World Youth Day.
The crowd of perhaps three million young people responded as one as the crowded the long stretch of Copacabana beach. With their usual enthusiasm, they welcomed the pontiff who thanked them "for all the joy you have given me these days". On several occasions, his white jeep stopped so that he could kiss babies, bless the sick, shake hands and allow him to step out to greet people in wheelchair.
Bishops and priests were also caught up in the festive mood, many joining the young people in their moves and steps and 'olá', like last night, before the prayer vigil. As young people everywhere, WYD participants shouted, sang and followed the music, but showed their "difference" when it came to gather for religious services.
A young couple that met Pope Francis on the way out of Rio cathedral also showed him their "difference", i.e. their daughter. Born with anencephaly, a disorder that results in the absence of a part of the skull and brain at birth, the girl is alive despite the fact few children born with this condition survive. Even though they could have chosen to terminate the pregnancy, as the law allows in such cases, the girl's parents chose to bring her into the world. Today, the Pope welcomed her during the offertory at Mass.
As the theme of these World Youth Days, "Go and make disciples of all nations" are also Pope Francis' first words to the young people.
"With these words," he went on to say, "Jesus is speaking to each one of us," saying "It was wonderful to take part in World Youth Day, to live the faith together with young people from the four corners of the earth, but now you must go, now you must pass on this experience to others. Jesus is calling you to be a disciple with a mission!"
"During these days," he noted again during the Angelus, "Jesus has insistently and repeatedly invited you to be his missionary disciples; you have listened to the voice of the Good Shepherd, calling you by name, and you have recognized the voice calling you [. . .]. Could it be that in this voice, resounding in your heart, you have felt the tenderness of God's love? Have you experienced the beauty of following Christ together with others, in the Church? Have you understood more deeply that the Gospel is the answer to the desire for an even fuller life?
In his homily, the pope reiterated the notion of mission as a duty with three phrases: "Go, do not be afraid, and serve.
"Go. During these days here in Rio, you have been able to enjoy the wonderful experience of meeting Jesus, meeting him together with others, and you have sensed the joy of faith. But the experience of this encounter must not remain locked up in your life or in the small group of your parish, your movement, or your community. That would be like withholding oxygen from a flame that was burning strongly. Faith is a flame that grows stronger the more it is shared and passed on, so that everyone may know, love and confess Jesus Christ, the Lord of life and history."
"Careful, though! Jesus did not say, 'if you would like to, if you have the time', but, 'Go and make disciples of all nations.' Sharing the experience of faith, bearing witness to the faith, proclaiming the Gospel: this is a command that the Lord entrusts to the whole Church, and that includes you; but it is a command that is born not from a desire for domination or power but from the force of love, from the fact that Jesus first came into our midst and gave us, not a part of himself, but the whole of himself, he gave his life in order to save us and to show us the love and mercy of God. Jesus does not treat us as slaves, but as free men, as friends, as brothers and sisters; and he not only sends us, he accompanies us, he is always beside us in our mission of love."
"Where does Jesus send us? There are no borders, no limits: he sends us to everyone. The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some. It is not only for those who seem closer to us, more receptive, more welcoming. It is for everyone. Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. The Lord seeks all; he wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love."
"Do not be afraid!" When we go to proclaim Christ, it is he himself who goes before us and guides us. When he sent his disciples on mission, he promised: 'I am with you always' [. . .]. And this is also true for us! Jesus does not leave us alone; he never leaves you alone! He always accompanies you."
"Jesus did not say: 'One of you go', but 'All of you go': we are sent together. Dear young friends, be aware of the companionship of the whole Church and also the communion of the saints on this mission. When we face challenges together, then we are strong, we discover resources we did not know we had. Jesus did not call the Apostles to live in isolation; he called them to form a group, a community."
"The final word: serve. The opening words of the psalm that we proclaimed are: 'Sing to the Lord a new song' [. . .]. What is this new song? It does not consist of words; it is not a melody; it is the song of your life; it is allowing our life to be identified with that of Jesus; it is sharing his sentiments, his thoughts, and his actions. And the life of Jesus is a life for others. It is a life of service."
"Evangelizing means bearing personal witness to the love of God, it is overcoming our selfishness; it is serving by bending down to wash the feet of our brethren, as Jesus did."
"Go, do not be afraid, and serve. If you follow these three ideas; you will experience that the one who evangelizes is evangelized; the one who transmits the joy of faith receives joy. Dear young friends, as you return to your homes, do not be afraid to be generous with Christ, to bear witness to his Gospel.
"May Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, always accompany you with her tenderness: 'Go and make disciples of all nations.' Amen."
With the 28th World Youth Day over, the Pope announced that the next one would take place in 2016 in Krakow, Poland.
Slowly, the top dignitaries leave: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and Bolivian President Evo Morales.
In the crowd, young men and women continue singing, and clapping. Neither they nor Francis seem to want to go away . . . yet. (FP)