Panama Launches International Campaign for Pilgrim Registration!April 12, 2018
Opening of the Second Preparatory Meeting for World Youth Day Panama 2019June 7, 2018
Today we celebrate the Saint who is said to have founded the Church of Alexandria, one of the most important episcopal sees of Early Christianity. An author and Priest, St. Mark, known as the Evangelist, was a missionary who traveled on many occasions with St Barnabas and St Paul for the sake of the Gospel and the souls who needed it. An incredible witness to us, worthy to be admired. But, let us also ask, what could we learn from St Mark - one of Christ's 70 disciples and author of the first Gospel - in preparing for WYD Panama 2019?
Well, he surely understood the meaning of daily sacrifice and the joy in serving others while developing the gifts he possessed. And isn’t this the invitation that Pope Francis is making to all of us, world youth? To be Saints of everyday life? Truth is, there is much going on with young people and the movement of the Holy Spirit in our times. We see it in the Gospels, in the Pre-Synod on Youth of last month, and of course in the international celebration of WYD that has being going on since 1985!
Let us first look in Scripture. At the beginning of St Mark’s Gospel, we find the first four Disciples who were called and prepared by Jesus: Peter, Andrew, James and John. And we are told that they were young men who were available. Young and available. But “available” for what? Maybe for us today, this could mean that they were available to study or work, and to pursue their happiness. And that is great. But in reality, and most importantly, they were available to meet, listen, and encounter Jesus of Nazareth.
If we continue reading St Mark’s gospel, we can also witness how such young disciples were surely called to go out in mission - just as us today! And we see how even Jesus himself took the good news to the most isolated families and realities! (I will leave up to you to find examples of this in St Mark’s Gospel). This movement entails avoiding the rejection of people, of the marginated, common in societies of all types. We learn to avoid individual issues, whether psychological, economical or emotional...“If they are different or broken, I must stay way”. But how different is the action of the Master and His disciples.
The best biblical example of this truth is actually the man who is believed to have written this gospel!: Leví - or “Mark” - who was a Tax Collector! He himself was judged and rejected by Pharisees who were Masters of the Law, and who were following Jesus. You see, it was normal for these men to feel out of place in the house of an “impure man” because of their culture and beliefs. But Jesus went a step forward, and taught them that they could only find God if they were willing to accept sinners. This meant to go out of their comfort zones, out of their cultural and personal experiences, to reach out and understand the life of the other human being in front of them, and from there create new life together. Maybe we can meditate on how to integrate - and accept - others who suffer, who are rejected. WYD is all about being open and transformed by Grace!
Let us now look at world youth and the movement of the Holy Spirit in our times through the Pre-synod of last month. The title should speak by itself: Pre-Synod on Youth. This means that the efforts of the Holy Father, and the Church, are moving towards young people. We read about the importance of young, available people in St Mark’s gospel. Essential for the change in their societies and people’s lives.
This too shall resound in our hearts with Pope Francis’ call to holiness! In his last Exhortation after the Pre-Synod on Youth, “Gaudete et Exsultate,” he invites us to the path towards sanctity, and reminds us of the openness of heart - and mind - that Jesus would expect of us in order to find Him in others. He states about people who judge others for their brokenness or lack of stability:
“Nor can we claim to say where God is not, because God is mysteriously present in the life of every person, in a way that he himself chooses, and we cannot exclude this by our presumed certainties”.
Holiness, therefore, means to love every person we encounter, no matter their culture, how broken they might be or their beliefs. We are called to live Jesus’ invitation to the extreme, and to keep His word! But this means to live with charity and share our testimony with the rest of the children of God. Indeed the call to find “common ground” for the common good. Just listen to what St. John Paul II - who began WYD in 1985 - had to say about the importance of ecumenical efforts in our Church.
He illustrated, in a very powerful and beautiful way, how this witnessing of Jesus has more weight than the differences leading us to reject each other:
“the witness to Christ borne even to the shedding of blood has become a common inheritance of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants”
But reaching further even from Christianity, through WYD we can experience the movement of the Holy Spirit and young people in our times. Just look at the testimony of one of the missionaries of the Shalom Catholic Community from Brazil, who is working here in Panama for WYD 2019, and who had the opportunity to meet Pope Francis together with muslims, jews, and christians - from different denominations - at last month’s pre-synod! What a blessing this is and a foretaste of WYD 2019 in Panama! The Vicar of Christ is moving our hearts to encounter our brothers and sisters, to live the gospel radically, and to encounter God in each and everyone. And I believe they are open, they are searching, they are longing for something bigger, something greater. Can we show to each other the merciful face of the Father?
“They undergo the same sufferings...” - 1 Peter 5:9. Could we not also hear that “they experience the same joy and difficulties to make a change in their families, in their communities, in politics, in their parishes, in art, in themselves…”? If you admire your brother or sister for their testimony, could you not follow their example? What then is really stopping you? What are you lacking? World Youth Day is a great door to find such answers - where the best opportunities to meet and encounter, to grow and change, and to be set on fire out of love, will be available for you! Through common effort, common prayer, and the common pursuit of truth and happiness for all.
Last Sunday we heard how the Lord Jesus appeared to His disciples, after His Resurrection, and they couldn’t believe they were in His presence. He showed them His wounds, and affirmed once more that this was to be fulfilled: “You are witnesses of these things." - Lk 24: 48. This same call and experience, as the disciples, we have at every mass and Eucharistic Adoration, and will experience during WYD! Having Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, appearing to us. Not visible to our eyes, yet underneath the veil of the sacrament and the appearance of bread, our hearts and our souls are able to see Him, to feel His presence, and to accept the dialogue He wishes to begin in our lives. Can we be more like Jesus was with St Mark, and sit at the table with the needy, the confused, the ignored and rejected, to begin new life in Him?
“Dear young people, the Lord, the Church, the world are waiting for your answer to the unique call that each one receives in this life! As World Youth Day in Panama draws closer, I invite you to prepare yourselves for our gathering with the joy and enthusiasm of those who wish to participate in such a great adventure. WYD is for the courageous! Not for young people who are searching only for comfort and who withdraw whenever difficulties arise. Do you accept the challenge?”