Good afternoon, dear Holy Father and brothers and sisters, boys and girls.
I would like to speak about the art of accompanying. It is a task for everyday. Great and saintly educators tell us that the basic rule for accompanying young people is to be present in their lives at all times. Rather than seeing this as controlling, it is the way to friendship and trust, to share the life of children and the young. This may sound like a control on their behaviour; instead it is the way to friendship and trust, to make them feel free at home with us.
How else would we find out who they are, and what they need? How else would we get to know how they relate to adults, to their peers and to the institutions? How would we prevent them from being lured into circles which would do more harm than good? How would we teach them to stay away from evil? How could we find out what the Spirit of God is telling them? How would they learn from us how to pray?
I think of Jesus as He spent all His time with the disciples. He knew how they related to one another. When they needed help He took them aside for just a while as He did with Peter. For Him the disciples and the people were His holy ground.
To have a thorough idea of a person it will be important to get the community involved. In guiding young people we are not alone. Everyone in a community, be it in school, institution or parish, will have a feeling about a young person. Therefore, if for example we need a decision on a vocation, not only the opinion of the professors in the seminary or the superior is important; also the parish priest, the catechists, the cook, the men and women in the community of the candidate should be heard.
In Belgium I admire educators in schools who welcome the students at the door of the premises every morning. I see them on the playground talking with the students, they are again at the gate when they leave for home. They are simply present at all times. They know their sheep, and the sheep know them, just as Jesus did. I see priests going out to the people all the time; on Sunday they are at the entrance of the church before and after the Eucharist, listening to the faithful and sharing their joys and sorrows. At that moment their place is not in the sacristy.
Accompanying means being present, listening, with open doors and hearts, with a keen and concrete interest; always encouraging and giving hope. An educator who accompanies young people is not just a professional in a counseling room nor a psychologist examining types of behaviour; he or she is a friend in the life of a person, ready to walk together….
How could the Shepherd get the smell of the sheep if He is not constantly present among them, and how could the sheep get the smell of the Shepherd if He only shows up in the parlor? If the spiritual director participates in the life of the youngster, just a few short moments of intense sharing will do.
In the end, Jesus became so intimate with His disciples that He washed their feet, He shared with them His body and blood, and He invited them to pray with Him when He was suffering.