"This Square has been waiting to be filled for a long time"
Some 80,000 young people from all over Italy gathered around Pope Francis for a pilgrimage organized by the Italian Bishops’ Conference on the theme “Follow Me” on April 18, 2022. Improvising a large part of his speech, the Pope urged young people to use their “flair” to find the Lord and not to be afraid of life.
“This Square has been waiting to be filled for a long time,” Pope Francis told the tens of thousands of teenagers who had come with their bishops, priests, and peers from all over Italy. Greeting the youth from the popemobile in St. Peter’s Square and part of Via della Conciliazione for more than 20 minutes, the Argentine Pontiff was visibly delighted to see so many young people gathered on this Easter Monday in a square that “for two years was empty.”
“Two years ago, on March 27, I came here alone to present to the Lord the supplication of the world stricken by the pandemic,” he recalled, referencing the momentous urbi et orbi blessing in March of 2020, as if to emphasize the contrast and the distance traveled since the first lock-down that spread across a large part of the planet.
The driving rain and silence of that March 27 was now replaced by the enthusiastic crowd celebrating with the Pope the resurrection of Jesus under a mild Roman sun. The hymn from the Rome WYD 2000, Jesus Christ You Are My Life, rang out several times under the colonnades of St. Peter’s. And among the thousands of faces present at the end of the afternoon, only a few masks recalled the Covid-19 pandemic.
In his catechesis, however, the Pope spoke of the “clouds that obscure” the current situation and the “terrible war” that is now affecting Europe. “So many brothers and sisters are still waiting for the light of Easter,” he lamented.
Then the Pope quickly made the choice to leave his notes completely to address more freely the young people. He called on them to use their “flair” to recognize Jesus in their lives, a “flair” that adults tend to lose and that encourages generosity. He also asked them to have “the courage of Peter,” the apostle who did not hesitate to dive into Lake Tiberias to reach Jesus.
We’re all afraid of the dark
He urged them to never be ashamed of their fears, but to bring them to the light:
Life sometimes puts us to the test, it makes us touch our frailties, it makes us feel naked, helpless, alone. … One should not be ashamed to say, “I’m afraid of the dark!” All of us are afraid of the dark. Fears need to be said, fears need to be expressed so that they can be chased away. Remember this: fears must be spoken. To whom? To dad, to mom, to a friend, to a person who can help you. They need to be brought to light. And when fears, which are in the darkness, go into the light, the truth breaks out. Do not be discouraged: if you are afraid, put it in the light and it will do you good!
Finally, the Bishop of Rome asked the young people not to be “afraid of life but of death,” of “the death of the soul,” of the “closing of the heart.”
“Life is beautiful,” he assured them.
And, in times of difficulty, children call their mom. We also call our mom, Mary. She – mind you – was almost your age when she accepted her extraordinary vocation to be Jesus’ mother. Nice: your age, more or less… May she help you to confidently answer your “Here I am!” to the Lord: “I am here, Lord: what am I to do? I am here to do good, to grow well, to help others with my flair.” May Our Lady, the mother who was almost your age when she received the angel’s announcement and became pregnant, may she teach you to say, “Here I am!” And to not be afraid. Courage, and onward!