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Pope Francis: 20-Somethings Shouldn’t Look Like Old People


AP Photo/Luca Bruno

Ary Waldir Ramos Diaz - published on 07/24/15

"Love, life and friends" is the antidote to despair
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"Love, life and friends" is Pope Francis’s recipe for young people who lose hope in life. He expanded on this idea during a speech in Victorio Plaza in Turin June 21 during his 10th apostolic voyage inside Italy, on the occasion of the exposition of the Holy Shroud and the bicentennial of Don Bosco’s birth.

The Pope welcomed the World Youth Day Cross and blessed it. The young people asked the Pope how to understand and experience Jesus’s love and the vocation to proclaim joy in spite of illness, unemployment, war and indifference, and how not to lose confidence in life.

The protagonists of this dialogue with Pope Francis were Chiara Vagnoni, 19, a handicapped high school student; Sara Amodio, 27, who is unemployed; and Luigi Capello, 26, a university student. The Pope put his prepared discourse aside in order to "speak from the heart."

"One cannot speak of life in the Gospel without speaking of love—if we speak of real life—and one cannot speak of love without this transformation from servants to friends. And these three words—love, life and friendsare so important for life but all three have a common root: the will to live."

The Pope then quoted Pier Giorgio Frasatti, who died at age 25: "Live, don’t just get by!"

"It makes me very sad at heart to see young people retire at 20! Yes, they age quickly," he said.

The Pope spoke to Chiara, who had asked him about love. He said that "when a young person loves, lives, grows, he does not retire. He grows, grows, grows and gives… But what is love? ‘Is it a soap opera, Father? What we see on TV programs?’" The Pope explained that love has two dimensions. "First of all, love is more in works than in words: love is concrete." 

Then, continuing his spontaneous speech, he brought attention to the example of Salesians who feel young because they love in concrete ways and they live to help young people.

He followed this up with a challenge. "What do you do for love? Love gives itself. Consider that God began to speak of love when He engaged his people, when He chose his people, He made a covenant with his people, He saved his people, He forgave so many times—God has so much patience!"

The Pope’s words were met with applause.

Secondly, he indicated that "love is always communicated, that is, love listens and responds, love is built in dialogue, in communion: it is communicated. Love is neither deaf nor mute, it communicates," he reiterated. 

Then, he spoke directly to Chiara. "I don’t want to be a moralist but I would like to say a word that isn’t liked, an unpopular word. Sometimes the Pope must also take risks to speak the truth. Love is in works, in communicating, but love is very respectful of people, it does not use people, that is, love is chaste. And to you young people in this world, in this hedonistic world, in this world where only pleasure, having a good time, and living the good life get publicity, I say to you: be chaste."

The Pope acknowledged that this can be very difficult, but he defended "a love that considers the life of the other person sacred: ‘I respect you. I don’t want to use you.’”

Indeed, Pope Francis invited the young people in his audience to "strive to experience love chastely. And from this we draw a conclusion," he continued: " If love is respectful, if love is in deeds, if love is in communicating, love makes sacrifices for others."

He then mentioned the example of parents who are tired when they get to work in the morning because they stayed up all night caring for their sick children. "This is love! This is respect," he concluded.

The Pope pointed out that Jesus explained love by washing the feet of his apostles; in order to love, we must serve others. "If I say that I love but I don’t serve the other, don’t help the other, don’t enable him to go forward, don’t sacrifice myself for him, this isn’t love," he said in response to Chiara’s question.

Next, the Pope addressed Sara’s question about confidence in life. "There are situations that make us think, ‘But, is it worthwhile to live like this? What can I expect from this life?’” He acknowledged that there is a "piecemeal" world war going on today, that makes us ask ourselves, "Can I trust world leaders? When I go to vote for a candidate, can I trust that he won’t lead my country into war? If you only trust in mankind, you have lost!"

Pope Francis affirmed that there are leaders and other people "who call themselves Christians," with a double moral standard, who put their savings and investments into arms factories. He denounced this hypocrisy and lack of coherence between the faith they profess and their actions.  

"We see what happened in the last century," he added, referring to the tragedies that marked the early 1900’s: more than a million deaths in Armenia, and many more in the genocide of millions of people in the Shoah in Germany and in the Russian Gulag under Stalin. "But where were the great powers of the time?" the Pope asked. "They were looking the other way. Why? Because they were interested in war: their war!"

And, as the Pope pointed out, those who were being killed were unjustly dismissed as second-class human beings.

Pope Francis continued to condemn the hypocrisy of those who didn’t defend the people who died in concentration camps in World War II. "The great powers had photographs of the railroads that took trains to the concentration camps, such as Auschwitz, to kill Jews, and also Christians, also Rom, also homosexuals, to kill them there. But tell me, why didn’t they bomb that? Interest! […] The great powers divided Europe among themselves like a cake."

The Pope also spoke about suicide among young people in Europe, and about "these young people [who] go to fight with terrorists, at least to do something, for an ideal." He invited today’s youth not to live a worldy life seeking happiness in money and power.

In response to Luigi, a young college student who spoke about a project aimed at building solidarity, the Pope said that "if you get involved there, in a plan for building, helping—let’s think of street children, of migrants, of so many in need, but not only to feed them for one or two days, but to promote them with education[…] Then that sense of mistrust in life recedes, it goes away." In that case, young people won’t "retire too early" even though they must "go against the tide."

"Values like soap bubbles" take us nowhere, he pointed out, and encouraged people to "go against the tide" and "be courageous and creative."

The Pope told how last summer in August, when "Rome was dead" due to the heat, a group of young people called him to visit. They were on a camping trip through various Italian cities. They were "all dirty and tired… but joyful! Because they had done something ‘against the tide.’"

Once again he repeated the words of Pier Giorgio Frassati: "If you want to do something good in life, live, don’t just get by."

"’But Father, you speak this way because you are in the Vatican. You have so many monsignors there who do the work'[…] Yes, one could think so. The secret is to understand where one lives," the Pope explained.  He invited the youth of Turin to find inspiration in the saints from their own region who suffered the oppression of Freemasonry, Communism and religious persecution, and who never gave up. On the contrary, in the face of an unpleasant reality, they went against the tide to create a new reality at the service of others.

"Always love, life, friends. However, these words can only be lived by ‘going forth:’ always going forth to contribute to something. If you stand still, you won’t do anything in life and you will ruin your own [life]," he concluded.

Keeping in mind that many in the audience were students, he reminded them to "avoid the belief that university is only for studying […]: [it] also means to go forth, to go forth in service, especially to the poor!"

Ari Waldir Ramos Diazis a Rome correspondent for Aletiea. This article was translated from the Spanish by Matthew Green.

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