Dearest Holy Father and Friends,
Whenever I meet with young people, I usually ask them two questions.
The first is: How are you? Often I would get ambivalent answers, like from one youth leader who used emoji to describe her feelings as laughing on the outside and crying on the inside. We have heard it repeatedly mentioned in this hall and in preceding documents how many of them suffer from dysfunctional families, “judgmental elders”, insecurity, pressure from all sides, etcetera, etcetera… which leave them vulnerable to frustration, depression and even suicide.
As I listen to them, I couldn’t help but be affected myself, and say: it’s unfair. Youth is supposed to be the best time of life and the most exciting time, just when it is about to unfold before them with all its promise. How sad that our young people today are robbed of the joy of living!
The second question I would ask them is: What is your deepest desire? They offer varied answers, like: finishing their studies, landing a good job, security, meaning… They say it in many ways, but I think it is best captured in what another youth said, “I may not know what life means, but I know that this is the only life I’ve got and I don’t want to lose it. I want to live it fully.”
This reminds me of the rich young man in the Gospel who asked, “Good master, what shall I do to gain eternal life?” (Mk 10:17) “Eternal life” may not be the words our youth will use today (it sounds too churchy and far too distant). But if we are to translate this question into their own language, I think it would sound something like this, “Good master, how can I live my life to the max?” To live life to the full - this is what every young person seeks. To explore life, to experience and enjoy all that it has to offer. Unfortunately in their eager search for joy, they often knock at the wrong doors and end up losing life itself.
Jesus does not give a direct answer to the young man’s question but simply tells him the conditions necessary to find the answer – empty your heart of self so you can make room for something bigger than yourself; grow in the capacity to give for it is only in giving yourself, that is loving, that you will find the joy of living. This is made possible through an encounter with Christ and an acceptance of His proposal to follow Him. (cf. Synod Working document, n. 84)
Pope Benedict XVI perfectly articulates this quest when he said: “Dear young people, the happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face: it is Jesus...” (Address at WYD 2005, Cologne) This is the goal and challenge of youth ministry – to accompany the young and lead them to Jesus, who alone can fulfill their deepest yearning for He came “that they may have life and have it to the full.” (Jn 10:10)