Speaking to youth in Colombia Thursday, Pope Francis urged them to move away from the violence of the past and to work toward healing and building a culture of encounter, which he said often begins simply with a drink or a cup of coffee.
“For you, young people, it is so easy to encounter one another. All you need is a good coffee, a good drink or any other excuse to meet,” the Pope said Sept. 7, his first full day in Colombia.
Topics such as art and music can often bring people together, he said.
“Even a final between Atlético Nacional and América de Cali is an opportunity to be together,” he exclaimed, referring to the rival association football teams from Medellin and Cali who compete in Colombia's premier tournament league.
Youth are able to teach their elders that “the culture of meeting is not in thinking, living or reacting to everyone in the same way; it is rather in knowing that beyond our differences we are all part of something greater that unites and transcends us; we are part of this wonderful country.”
“Help us, your elders, to enter into this culture of encounter that you practice so well,” he implored them.
Pope Francis spoke to the youth gathered below the balcony of the Cardinal's Palace in Bogota. He greeted the crowd and offered his blessing after meeting the country's authorities earlier that morning, marking the first day of official appointments during his Sept. 6-11 visit to Colombia.
Immediately before his greeting to the faithful, Francis had visited Bogota's Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, leading a Marian litany for peace in the country.
In his address, Pope Francis said he had come to Colombia “as a pilgrim of peace and hope” and “to understand you”, and “to learn from your faith, your strength in the face of adversity. You have endured difficult and dark moments, but the Lord is near you, in the heart of every son and daughter of this country. He is not selective, he does not exclude anyone but embraces all; and we are all important and essential to him.”
“During these days I would like to share with you the most important truth: that God loves you with the love of a Father who encourages you to continue looking for and desiring peace, that peace which is authentic and abiding.”
He reiterated that “God loves us with the love of a father,” and then had the youths repeat his words — something he did several times in his address when he wanted to emphasize a point.
the Pope said he's always happy when he meets young people, and told them to “keep joy alive,” because it is “a sign of a young heart, of a heart that has encountered the Lord.”
“Do not let anyone rob you of joy,” he said, and asked them to preserve the joy that “unites everyone in the knowledge of being loved by the Lord,” because “the flame of the Lord Jesus’ love makes this joy burst forth, and is sufficient to set the whole world ablaze.”
“How could you not be capable of changing this society and accomplishing all you decide to do!” he said, and told them to “dare to dream big … please, don't think small. Dream high, and dream big!”
Youth have a special knack for recognizing pain and suffering in others, he said, noting that this is made obvious by the sheer number of youth who serve as volunteers in programs to help the poor and needy.
But this quality can also emerge “in contexts where death, pain and division have impacted you so deeply that they have left you half-dazed, as if numb,” he said, alluding to the effects of the country's longstanding civil war, which has largely de-escalated, thanks in part to the encouragement of Pope Francis and the Holy See.
With as many as 260,000 killed and millions displaced in the five-decade conflict, Francis told the youth to “allow the suffering of your Colombian brothers and sisters to strike you and mobilize you! Help us, your elders, not to grow accustomed to pain and neglect.”
Those who come from complex backgrounds and different family situations “have grown used to seeing that not everything is black and white; you have seen that daily life is made up of a broad scale of grey tones, and that this can expose you to the risk of falling into a climate of relativism, thus discarding that potentiality which young people have, of perceiving the pain of those who suffered.”
Youth not only have the ability to recognize and point out mistakes, but they are also capable of something more “beautiful (and) constructive.” This, he said, is the ability of “understanding. An understanding that even behind a wrong — for wrong is (always) wrong and cannot be just smoothed over — lies an endless number of causes, of mitigating factors.” He reiterated that “wrong is always wrong: you can't put lipstick on it.”
“Colombia needs you so much to put yourselves in the shoes of those who, many generations earlier, could not or did not know how to do so, or did not come up with the right way to reach understanding,” he said.
Another unique ability which, while generally difficult, comes a bit easier to youth is the ability to forgive, especially those who have hurt us, Francis said.
“It is remarkable to see how you do not get entangled in old stories, how you watch with surprise when we adults repeat events that divide us simply by being tied to resentments,” he said, telling youth they are able to help their elders “in the desire to leave behind what has hurt us, to look to the future without the burden of hatred.”
“You make us see the wider world which stands before us, the whole of Colombia that wishes to grow and continue its development; that Colombia which needs all of us, and which we older people owe to you,” he said.
Because of this, youth now face the challenging task of “helping us to heal,” he said.
“An atmosphere of anxiety sickens the soul; it sees no way out of problems, and ostracizes those who try,” he said, and voiced hope that the dreams of the youth would “give fresh life to Colombia, and fill the country with wholesome goals.”
“Only in this way will people be motivated to discover the country hidden behind the mountains, the one that goes beyond newspaper headlines and which does not seem to be a daily concern since it is so far away,” he said.
The Pope noted that young people are often “spurred into action” when faced with great challenges, and told them he believes they have what it takes “to build the nation we have always dreamed of.”
Pope Francis closed his address by offering a word to all those present “as someone bringing you hope.”
“Do not let difficulties weigh you down; may violence not break you; may evil not overwhelm you,” he said, noting that as Christians, we believe Christ has already conquered evil, sin, and death, and “all we need to do is go out to meet him.”
“I invite you not to be just dutiful but to be committed to renewing society, so that it will be just, stable and fruitful,” he said, and urged them to place their trust in the Lord, “who is the only one who sustains us and inspires us to contribute to reconciliation and peace.”
Concluding, the Pope led those gathered in praying the Hail Mary, and gave them his blessing.