Praying with, and for, our youth22 Jul 2023
Pope Francis has dedicated his August prayer intention to young people – that they may live and witness the Good News.
August is youth month. It marks the International Youth Day (12 August), whose motto this year is Green Skills for Growth, an ecological focus. This year we also celebrate World Youth Day (1-6 August) in which many thousand young people will come to Lisbon in a sharing of faith. The theme of this Catholic celebration is a line from the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth after both had been told of their pregnancy by an angel. On hearing the news, ‘Mary rose up and went with haste’. Finally, Pope Francis who intends to visit Lisbon for World Youth Day has dedicated his August Prayer Intention to young people, praying that they may live and witness to the Good News.
Perhaps all these special days and their different themes are best summed up in the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. Mary was certainly witnessing to Good News. She had received the life-changing news that she would have a child by the power of the Spirit, and that her son would be the saviour of Israel. The Good News was personal: she had been chosen. The Good News also touched her family and her future: she was to bear a child. It was also far-reaching: the birth was part of God’s plan to save Israel and the world.
When we have been given Good News of this weight the natural thing is to want to share it. Mary, too, needed someone who could understand this incredible Good News and be a witness to it. Elizabeth was the right person. The angel had also told her that, despite having passed childbearing age, she would have a child who would also have a central place in God’s plan for the world. In a culture that saw childlessness as a reproach by God, Elizabeth’s Good News was also personal, far-reaching and familial. When Mary and Elizabeth met to share one another’s Good News, their meeting was itself Good News for all who heard of it.
Pope Francis sees the meeting of young people at World Youth Day to be an experience of Good News. They enjoy one another’s company, find that they are not alone in their faith, share the experience of Good News with one another in a celebration that bursts with Good News. For the week they are surfing the Good News as they hear and talk about it.
Pope Francis, however, looks beyond the week to the longer term. For Mary and Elizabeth after their meeting came the labours of giving birth and raising children. Much later they saw their sons executed. For us, as for them, the immediate joy of the Good News passes and needs to be carried into the joys and sorrows of every day. Pope Francis prays that young people will not simply hear the Good News but will live it and witness to it in all their encounters and the changing circumstances of their lives. The Good News must be rooted deeply in their lives.
In our world as in Mary’s the Good News had to overcome the bad news present in the anxieties and the threats of our world. The International Day for Youth picks up that challenge in calling in its focus on Green Skills. As Pope Francis insists, God’s Good News inspires us to love our world and to care for one another and for our environment. That love comes deeply from the heart, from the green shoots that take root in our whole lives and flower in our commitments. To witness to the Good News is to respect and defend a fertile and beautiful world.
Image: Pilgrims of World Youth Day sing and dance on the Main Square in Cracow, Poland 2016. Depositphotos.com