Dearest young people, you know that what brought me to Assisi was the desire to relive the interior journey of Francis on the occasion of the eighth centenary of his conversion.
St. Francis speaks to all, but I know that for you young people he has a special attraction. His conversion came about when he was in the prime of life, of his experience, of his dreams. He had spent 25 years without coming to terms with the meaning of life. A few months before he died, he would recall that period as the time when he “was in sin”.
What was Francis’ thought concerning sin? According to biographies, each one according to its own view, it is not easy to determine. A meaningful portrait of his way of living is found in the Legend of the Three Companions, where one reads: “Francis was always happy and generous, dedicated to play and song, roaming through the town of Assisi day and night with friends like him, spend-thrifts, dissipating all that they could have or earn on lunches and other things.”
Of how many of today’s youth could something similar be said? Then today, there is also the possibility of going far from one’s city to have fun. The initiatives for relaxation during the weekend attract many young people. One can even “surf” virtually, “navigating” on the internet and seeking every type of information or contact.
Unfortunately, there is no lack of - and rather, there are many, too many! - young people who seek mental scenes as fatuous as they are destructive in the artificial paradise of drugs. How can it be denied that there are many young people, and not so young people, who are tempted to emulate the life of Francis before his conversion?
In that way of living there was the desire for happiness that dwells in every human heart. But could that life bring true joy? Francis certainly did not find it.
You yourselves, dear young people, can verify this, beginning with your experience. The truth is that finite things can give only a faint idea of joy, but only the Infinite can fill the heart. Another great convert said so, St. Augustine: “You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”
In Christ’s passion narrative we find Pilate’s question: “What is truth?” (Jn. 18:38). Many today also say: “But what is the truth? We can find fragments, but how can we find the truth?” It is really hard to believe that this is the truth: Jesus Christ, the true Life, the compass of our life. And yet, if we begin, as it is very tempting to do, to live for the moment without truth, we really lose the criteria and we also lose the foundation of common peace which alone can be the truth.
And this truth is Christ. The truth of Christ has been proven in the lives of the saints in all ages. The saints are the great trails of light in history that attest: this is the life, this is the way, this is the truth.
Therefore we have the courage to say “yes” to Jesus Christ: “Your truth is proven in the lives of many saints. We will follow you!”
Dear young people, may we let ourselves encounter Christ! We entrust ourselves to his Word. In him there is not only a fascinating human being.
Certainly he is fully human and similar to us in everything except sin (cf. Heb.4:15). But he is also much more: God is made man in him and therefore he is the only Saviour, as his very name says: Jesus, or rather, “God saves”.
Francis was truly in love with Jesus. He met him in the Word of God, in the brethren, in nature, but above all in the Eucharistic Presence. If Francis rids himself of everything and chooses poverty, the reason for all of this is Christ, and only Christ. Jesus is his all: he is enough!
Exactly because he is of Christ, Francis is also a man of the Church. From the Crucifix of San Damiano he heard the direction to repair the house of Christ, which is precisely the Church.
We are all called to repair in every generation the house of Christ, the Church, anew. And only by doing this does the Church live and become beautiful. There are many ways to repair, to edify, to build the house of God, the Church. One also edifies through the different vocations, from the lay and family vocation, to the life of special consecration, to the priestly vocation.
Dear young people, surround your priests with love and gratitude. If the Lord should call some of you to this great ministry, or even to some form of consecrated life, do not hesitate to say your “yes”. Yes is not easy, but it is beautiful to be ministers of the Lord. It is beautiful to spend your life for him!
Once again, I make my own the invitation that my beloved Predecessor, John Paul II, always liked to address especially to youth: “Open the doors to Christ”. Open them like Francis did, without fear, without calculation, without measure. Be, dear young people, my joy, as you were for John Paul II.
My Blessing to all of you. Thank you for everything, for your prayers.