Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Pope John Paul II Homily for World Youth Day's Prayer Vigil

by Pope Saint John Paul II


Homily delivered on January 14, 1995, at Luneta Park in Manila, the Philippines.

Publisher & Date

January 14, 1995

Part I

1. In your questions I see repeated once more the scene from the Gospel where a young man asks Jesus, "Good teacher, what must I do?" (cf. Mk. 10:17). The first thing that Jesus looked for was the attitude behind the question, the sincerity of the search. Jesus understood that the young man was sincerely looking for the truth about life and about his own personal path in life.

This is important. Life is a gift of a certain period of time in which each of us faces a challenge which life itself brings: the challenge of having a purpose, a destiny and of striving for it. The opposite is to spend our lives on the surface of things, to "lose" our lives in futility; never to discover in ourselves the capacity for good and for real solidarity, and therefore never to discover the path to true happiness. Too many young people do not realize that they themselves are the ones who are mainly responsible for giving a worthwhile meaning to their lives. The mystery of human freedom is at the heart of the great adventure of living life well.

2. It is true that young people today experience difficulties that previous generations experienced only partially and in a limited way. The weakness of much of family life, the lack of communication between parents and children, the isolating and alienating influence of a large part of the media, all these things can produce confusion in young people about the truths and values which give a genuine meaning to life.

False teachers, many belonging to an intellectual elite in the worlds of science, culture and the media, present an anti-Gospel. They declare that every ideal is dead, contributing in this way to the profound moral crisis affecting society, a crisis which has opened the way for the toleration and even exaltation of forms of behavior which the moral conscience and common sense formerly held in abhorrence. When you ask them, "What must I do?" their only certainty is that there is no definite truth, no sure path. They want you to be like them: doubtful and cynical. Consciously or not, they advocate an approach to life that has led millions of young people into a sad loneliness in which they are deprived of reasons for hope and are incapable of real love.

3. You ask, "What are my expectations of young people?" In Crossing the Threshold of Hope I have written that "the fundamental problem of youth is profoundly personal. Young people ... know that their life has meaning to the extent that it becomes a free gift for others" (p. 121). A question therefore is directed to each one of you personally: Are you capable of giving of yourself, your time, your energies, your talents, for the good of others? Are you capable of love? If you are, the church and society can expect great things from each one of you.

The vocation to love, understood as true openness to our fellow human beings and solidarity with them, is the most basic of all vocations. It is the origin of all vocations in life. That is what Jesus was looking for in the young man when he said, "Keep the commandments" (cf. Mk. 10:19). In other words, "Serve God and your neighbor according to all the demands of a true and upright heart." And when the young man indicated that he was already following that path, Jesus invited him to an even greater love: "Leave all and come, follow me: Leave everything that concerns only yourself and join me in the immense task of saving the world" (cf. v. 21). Along the path of each person's existence, the Lord has something for each one to do.

"As the Father sent me, so am I sending you" (Jn. 20:21). These are the words which Jesus addressed to the apostles after his resurrection. These are the words of Christ which guide our reflection during this 10th World Youth Day. Today the church and the pope address these same words to you, the young people of the Philippines, the young people of Asia and Oceania, the young people of the world.

4. Two thousand years of Christianity show that these words have been wonderfully effective. The little community of the first disciples, like a tiny mustard seed, has grown to be like a very big tree (cf. Mt. 13:31-32). This great tree, with its different branches, reaches all the continents, all the countries of the world, the great majority of which are represented here by their delegates. Dear Filipino young people: On that tree your country is an especially strong and healthy branch, stretching out to the whole vast continent of Asia. In the shade of this tree, in the shade of its branches and leaves, the people of the world can find rest. They can gather under its welcoming shade to discover, as you have been doing here during the World Youth Day, the marvelous truth which is at the center of our faith:

That the eternal Word, of one being with the Father, through whom all things were made, became flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary. He dwelt among us. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And from his fullness have we all received grace upon grace (cf. Prologue to the Gospel of St. John).

Through prayer and meditation, this evening vigil is meant to help you to realize more clearly what the extraordinary good news of salvation through Jesus Christ means for your lives. The good news is for everyone. That is why the World Youth Day is held in different places.

5. On Palm Sunday last year in St. Peter's Square in Rome, young Catholics from the United States handed over to representatives of the church in the Philippines the World Youth Day cross. The pilgrim cross goes from one continent to another, and young people from everywhere gather to experience together the fact that Jesus Christ is the same for everyone, and his message is always the same. In him there are no divisions, no ethnic rivalries, no social discrimination. All are brothers and sisters in the one family of God.

This is the beginning of an answer to your question about what the church and the pope expect of the young people of the 10th World Youth Day. Later we shall continue our meditation on the words of Jesus: "As the Father sent me, so am I sending you," and their significance for the young people of the world.

Part II

6. Your questions this time concern the person and the work of Jesus Christ our redeemer. You feel the mystery of his person drawing you to know him better. You see how his words inspired his disciples to go out and preach the Gospel to every people, thus beginning a mission which continues to this day and which has taken the church to every corner of the world. You want to be sure that if you follow him you will not be let down or disappointed.

In other words, how can we explain the extraordinary effect of his life and the effectiveness of his words? Where do his power and authority come from?

7. (In Spanish) A careful reading of the Gospel of St. John will help us to find an answer to our query.

We see Jesus, despite the locked doors, coming into the room where the disciples are gathered (cf. Jn. 20:26). He shows them his hands and his side. What do these hands and this side indicate? They are the signs of the Redeemer's passion and death on the cross. On Good Friday those hands were pierced with nails so that his body could be hung on the cross, between heaven and earth. And when the agony was over, the Roman centurion thrust a lance into his side in order to make sure that he was no longer alive (cf. Jn. 19:34). Immediately blood and water flowed out: a confirmation of death. Jesus had really died. He died and was placed in the tomb in the way that all Israelites were buried. It was the tomb offered by Joseph of Arimathea, who had prepared a family burial place nearby. There Jesus lay until Easter morning. Early that morning certain women came from Jerusalem to anoint the lifeless body. But they found the tomb empty. Jesus had risen.

(In French)So the risen and living Jesus comes to the apostles in the room where they are gathered. And to prove that he is the same one they had always known, he shows them the wounds: his hands and his side. These are the marks of his redemptive passion and death, the source of the power which he passes on to them. He says: "As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.... Receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn. 20:21-22).

8. (In Italian) The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the key to the history of the world, to the history of the whole of creation and especially the key to the history of man. Man, like the whole of creation, is subject to the law of death. We read in the Letter to the Hebrews, "It is appointed that men die" (cf. 9:27). But because of what Christ has done, that law has been subjected to another law - the law of life. Because of Christ's resurrection, man no longer exists only for death, he exists for the life which is to be revealed in us. This is the life which Christ brought into the world (cf. Jn. 1:4). Hence the importance of Jesus' birth at Bethlehem, which we have just celebrated at Christmas. For this reason the church is preparing for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. The human life which was revealed to the shepherds and to the wise men from the East on a starry night in Bethlehem was shown to be indestructible on the day of the resurrection. There is an intimate link between the night of Bethlehem and the day of the resurrection.)

9. The victory of life over death is what every human being desires. All religions, especially the great religious traditions followed by most of the peoples of Asia, bear witness to how deeply the truth regarding our immortality is inscribed in man's religious consciousness. Man's search for life after death finds definitive fulfillment in the resurrection of Christ. Because the risen Christ is the demonstration of God's response to this deeply felt longing of the human spirit, the church professes: "I believe in the resurrection of the body and in life everlasting" (Apostles' Creed). The risen Christ assures the men and women of every age that they are called to a life beyond the frontier of death.

The resurrection of the body is more than just the immortality of the soul. The whole person, body and soul, is destined to etemal life. And etemal life is life in God. Not life in the world, which as St. Paul teaches is "subject to futility" (Rom. 8:20). As a creature in the world, the individual is subject to death, just like every other created being. The immortality of the whole person can come only as a gift from God. It is in fact a sharing in the eternity of God himself.

10. How do we receive this "life in God"? Through the Holy Spirit! Only the Holy Spirit can give this new life, as we profess in the creed: "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life." Through him we become, in the likeness of the only begotten Son, adopted children of the Father.

When Jesus says, "Receive the Holy Spirit!" he is saying: Receive from me this divine life, the divine adoption which I brought into the world and which I grafted onto human history. I myself, the eternal Son of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, became the Son of man, born of the Virgin Mary. You, through the power of the same Spirit, must become - in me and through me - adopted sons and daughters of God.

"Receive the Holy Spirit!" means: Accept from me this inheritance of grace and truth, which makes you one spiritual and mystical body with me. "Receive the Holy Spirit!" also means: Become sharers in the kingdom of God, which the Holy Spirit pours into your hearts as the fruit of the suffering and sacrifice of the Son of God, so that more and more God will become all in all (cf. 1 Cor. 15:28).

11. Dear young people: Our meditation has reached the heart of the mystery of Christ the redeemer. Through his total consecration to the Father, he has become the channel of our adoption as the Father's beloved sons and daughters.

The new life which exists in you by reason of baptism is the source of your Christian hope and optimism. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. When he says to you, "As the Father sent me, so am I sending you," you can be certain that he will not let you down; he will be with you always!

Part III

Dear young friends,

12. The enthronement of Our Lady of Antipolo invites us to look to Mary to see how to respond to Jesus' call. First, she kept all things, pondering them in her heart. She also went in haste to serve her cousin Elizabeth. Both attitudes are essential parts of our response to the Lord: prayer and action. That is what the church expects of her young people. That is what I have come here to ask of you. Mary, mother of the church and our mother, will help us to hear her divine son.

13. "As the Father sent me, so am I sending you." These words are addressed to you. The church addresses them to all young people around the world. Today, though, they are being addressed especially to the young people of the Philippines; and to the young people of China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam; to the young people of Laos and Cambodia; to those of Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia; to the young people of India and of the islands of the Indian Ocean; to the young people of Australia and New Zealand, and of the islands of the vast Pacific.

Sons and daughters of this part of the world, the home of the greatest part of the human family, you are called to the same task and challenge to which Christ and the church call the young people of every continent: the young people of the Middle East, of Eastem Europe and Western Europe, of North America, of Central and South America, of Africa. To each one of you Christ says, "I am sending you."

14. Why is he sending you? Because men and women the world over - north, south, east and west - long for true liberation and fulfillment. The poor seek justice and solidarity; the oppressed demand freedom and dignity; the blind cry out for light and truth (cf. Lk. 4:18). You are not being sent to proclaim some abstract truth. The Gospel is not a theory or an ideology! The Gospel is life! Your task is to bear witness to this life: the life of God's adopted sons and daughters. Modem man, whether he knows it or not, urgently needs that life - just as 2,000 years ago humanity was in need of Christ's coming; just as people will always need Jesus Christ until the end of time.

15. Why do we need him? Because Christ reveals the truth about man and man's life and destiny. He shows us our place before God as creatures and sinners, as redeemed through his own death and resurrection, as making our pilgrim way to the Father's house. He teaches the fundamental commandment of love of God and love of neighbor. He insists that there cannot be justice, brotherhood, peace and solidarity without the Ten Commandments of the covenant, revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai and confirmed by the Lord on the mount of the Beatitudes (cf. Mt. 5:3-12) and in his dialogue with the young man (cf. Mt. 19:16-22).

The truth about man - which the modern world finds so hard to understand - is that we are made in the image and likeness of God himself (cf. Gn. 1:27), and precisely in this fact, apart from any other consideration, lies the inalienable dignity of every human being, without exception, from the moment of conception until death. But what is even - more difficult for contemporary culture to understand is that this dignity, already forged in the creative act of God, is raised immeasurably higher in the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God. This is the message which you have to proclaim to the modern world, especially to the least fortunate, to the homeless and dispossessed, to the sick, the outcasts, to those who suffer at the hands of others. To each one you must say: Look to Jesus Christ in order to see who you really are in the eyes of God!

16. Increasing attention is being given to the cause of human dignity and human rights, and gradually these are being codified and included in legislation both at national and international levels. For this we should be grateful. But the effective and guaranteed observance of respect for human dignity and human rights will be impossible if individuals and communities do not overcome self-interest, fear, greed and the thirst for power. And for this, man needs to be freed from the dominion of sin through the life of grace: the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Jesus says to you: "I am sending you to your families, to your parishes, to your movements and associations, to your countries, to ancient cultures and modem civilization, so that you will proclaim the dignity of every human being, you will be revealing to the world the true face of Jesus Christ, who is one with every man, every woman and every child, no matter how poor, no matter how weak or handicapped.

17. How does Jesus send you? He promises neither sword, nor money, nor power, nor any of the things which the means of social communications make attractive to people today. He gives you instead grace and truth. He sends you out with the powerful message of his paschal mystery, with the truth of his cross and resurrection. That is all he gives you, and that is all you need.

This grace and truth will in turn give rise to courage. Following Christ has always demanded courage. The apostles, the martyrs, entire generations of missionaries, saints and confessors - known and unknown, and in every part of the world - have had the strength to stand firm in the face of misunderstanding and adversity. This is also true here in Asia. Among all the peoples of this continent Christians have paid the price of their fidelity - and that is the sure source of the church's confidence.

18. And so we come back to your original question: What does the church and the pope expect of the young people of the 10th World Youth Day? That you confess Jesus Christ. And that you learn to proclaim all that the message of Christ contains for the true liberation and genuine progress of humanity. This is what Christ expects of you. This is what the church looks for in the young people of the Philippines, of Asia, of the world. In this way your own cultures will find that you speak a language which is already echoed in some way in the ancient traditions of Asia: the language of true interior peace and the fullness of life, now and forever.

Because Christ says to you, "I am sending you," you become a sign of hope and the object of our trust in the future. In a special way you, the young people of the 10th World Youth Day, are a sign, an "epiphany" of Jesus Christ, a manifestation of the kingdom of God.

19. Lord Jesus Christ!

Through this 10th World Youth Day, put "new life" into the hearts of the young people gathered here in Luneta Park, in Manila, in the Philippines.

St. John writes that the life you give is the "light of men" (Jn. 1:4). Help these young men and women to take that light back with them to all the places from which they have come. Let their light shine for all peoples (cf. Mt. 5:16): for their families, for their cultures and societies, for their economic and political systems, for the whole international order.

Coming into the room where the disciples were gathered after your resurrection, you said: "Peace be with you!" (Jn. 20:21) Make these young people bearers of your peace. Teach them the meaning of what you said on the mountain: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God" (cf. Mt. 5:9).

Send them as the Father sent you: to free their brothers and sisters from fear and sin for the glory of our heavenly Father. Amen.

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