“It makes me very upset when I see a sad young person… who has aged prematurely.”
Pope Francis began the interview expressing his “great affection” for the people of Santiago and his blessing on them all. In fact, the Pope is not at stranger to them. When he was still known as Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, he sent missionaries to the region, located in the diocese of Añatuya in the province of Santiago del Estero. That connection was clear in the informal, friendly tone of his conversation with missionary priests Joaquín Giancreco and Juan Ignacio Liébana.
The first topic brought up was the celebration of the local feast day of the Virgin of Huachana.
“A feast day is a very Christian thing, very proper to the People of God,” Pope Francis commented. “A feast day is a great thing, and if we add to it the fact that it is a celebration of our Mother, a feast day of the Virgin Mary, it’s even more beautiful…” Celebrations of this sort, the Pope implied, bring us happiness. They are more than noise and distraction; they are moments when we know that “God is present” and we are together with others as a family.
He particularly addressed this topic of happiness in his words to young people, echoing ideas he has expressed in past encounters with youth, such as in his recent apostolic voyage to Latin America. “I would ask the young people, ‘are you really happy?’ … Do you know what it means to have joy in your heart?… It makes me very upset when I see a sad young person… who has aged prematurely,” who has already “retired” to “wait for life to pass by.”
What is the secret for young people to find happiness? In Pope Francis’ words, “If you take risks to achieve great things… doing things for others, working hard to make them happy… you will know joy and happiness.”
“I would say to each young person, ‘Are you ready to risk giving yourself to something that is truly worthwhile? Are you ready to take risks, or are you going to wait for life to pass you by? …You should take the risk of doing great things.”
“And so I say to young people, please, don’t waste your life, don’t get old before your time, and don’t ‘retire’ because then you will have a sad face and a very sad life,” the Pope continued. “Dare to dream, because those who don’t dream, have nightmares. If you dream of big things, God will bless you.”
Elsewhere during the interview, Pope Francis made specific reference to challenges that need to be addressed and that are essential for achieving peace and happiness: taking care of each other, as families and nations, which also requires taking care of the planet.
“We have to make a very great effort to take care of ourselves. That is to say, taking care of this common home, which is the earth that God gave us, also means that we take care of each other. A family or a nation that doesn’t take care of itself is a nation or family in conflict. It is, above all, a sad family.”
“We must take care of our children, we must take care of our grandparents, with that tenderness that Jesus taught us,” he said, as well as “take care of the earth, take care of the water, take care of everything that God has given us.”
We can only be happy when we have a healthy relationship with others, the Pope explained: “First, we must be together and walk together. Friendship is always better than conflict, always. Peace is always better than war, always. There is only one way to win a war: not to engage in it. Because each time someone engages in a fight, or a war, he loses. He loses concord, he loses peace, he loses happiness.”
Many “people aren’t happy. They grow up alone and they die alone,” the Pope emphasized; “we exist to live in a family.”
When families or “nations walk together, that brings joy, that brings happiness, and it helps us to be actively involved in helping solve the difficulties of others. When one person is having a hard time, the other gives them a shoulder to lean on, and they walk together. Life becomes happy when we act this way.”
The people of Santiago have a home-grown example to follow in this regard. Pope Francis referred the example of great strength and service given by Venerable Antula. “Mama” Antula was an 18th century consecrated lay woman from Santiago who dedicated herself to working with the Jesuits, who guided her and her followers in serving those in need. After the Jesuits were expulsed from America in 1767, she undertook a voyage during which she directed the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises at locations throughout Argentina, eventually establishing a retreat center in Buenos Aires.
“When I think of Santiago,” the Pope mentioned, “I have a great desire that Mama Antula be beatified soon, that she work a miracle so that she can be beatified. Pray for her, ask for that blessing, because Mama Antula is an example of the strength of the people of Santiago.”
The Pope closed the interview on a cordial and fatherly tone. “A special blessing on each of you and especially the children and the elderly. A special blessing on families. May the Lord bless you and the Virgin watch over you.” Lastly, he sent them “a big hug.”
Thanks to Emma Beatriz for her help with transcribing the interview.
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