World Youth Day begins in Rio de Janeiro this week. It’s a multi-day, multi-event phenomenon that draws huge numbers of young Catholic pilgrims every year. They come in buses, on planes, with their church youth groups and choirs. They camp out, they go to Mass, they network with each other, and they spend time comparing notes on the way Catholics display their faith in this electronic age. They can even get special indulgences for following the Holy Father on his @Pontiflex Twitter account.
They get to listen to the Pope speaking directly to them in a way that is not replicated in other venues, at other times. World Youth Day is presenting the theme, “Go and Make Disciples of All Nations.” It’s appropriate, it’s timely, and it is important to engage these motivated young people to live out their faith in their communities.
Here is my own short list of what I wish the Pope would say:
1) Be kind to one another. Remember that we are all living on one very crowded planet. Over the course of your life, you may regret treating others poorly, but you will never regret being kind.
2) Be attentive to the Earth. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all been too complacent about the fragile nature of this planet. You could be the one to make a difference, so please take climate change seriously right now.
3) Respect your parents and support them. By the time you are raising your own children, it will be too late to repair the damage you cause now by being willful, rude, selfish, or mean-spirited.
4) Don’t live cluttered lives. Learn to live simply. Don’t surround yourself with toys, expecting them to continue to amuse you once the novelty of acquiring them wears off.
5) Don’t be afraid of the truth. Be honest with your family, be honest with your friends, and be honest with yourself.
I want to tell these young pilgrims that comparing how Catholic you are is like comparing your savings account to the wealth of someone else. No matter how well off you think you are, there is always someone with much, much more. Don’t ever think that you have a license to judge anyone but yourself. And if you need help, just ask for it. We won’t judge you.
Variety is what makes this life so wonderful. This beautiful planet produces a myriad of beautiful things every single day but not everyone has the advantages you have. Enjoy fresh water and pray for people who don’t have access to fresh water. Enjoy plants and vegetation and remember that many people are struggling because their land will not produce sufficient foods. Enjoy your health and your youth and remember the people who are ill. And more importantly, pray for the dedicated souls who care for all of these people, pray for the ones who work tirelessly to bring in fresh water, food, and medical supplies.
Please don’t go home and just make disciples. Go make neighbors. Find people who enjoy the things you like and keep them close. Find people who need you, who need your skills, your strength, and pull them into your life. Set an example to others. Be the person you want to have as a lifelong friend.
Last, pray for everyone who is less fortunate and not because they don’t meet your religious standards. When the apostles asked Jesus how people will know they are his followers once he is no longer with them, he says, they will know you are Christians because you love one another. Imagine if all these pilgrims carried that message home with them. Imagine if they dedicated themselves to lives of service, in harmony with their neighbors.
We don’t need disciples, we need more neighbors.
Anne Born has been an editor and writer all her life. She writes poems, short stories, and personal essays on family history and her view of living in a big city after growing up in a small one. She likes an audience or she would keep her writing in her personal notebook. This embarrasses her children. She lives in the South Bronx and writes on and about the MTA – the New York City system of buses and subways. You also find her at Open Salon and Red Room, and you can follow her on Twitter at @nilesite.