By Devin Watkins
Pope Francis sent a video message to participants in the 4th World Meeting of Young People, organized by Scholas Occurrentes and World ORT.
The encounter began in Mexico City on 28 October.
The end came on Thursday, coinciding with Halloween, and just ahead of the Feast of All Saints on Friday and the Feast of All Souls on Saturday, which is known in Mexico as Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
End versus aim
In his message (original in Spanish), the Pope took the occasion to reflect on “the end”, using a similarity in terms found in Romance languages (el final: the [temporal] end vs. el fin: the aim or end goal).
Pope Francis repeated that seemingly-paradoxical idea just to be clear: “It is death that allows life to remain alive!”
He said the “end goal” is what allows a story to be written or a painting to be painted.
The Holy Father invited the students in Mexico City to pay attention to “each small purpose of everyday life”, like the end of each word and the end of each silence.
Death, he said, kills our “illusion of omnipotence” and teaches us to engage with the mystery of life.
“This gives us confidence to jump into the void and to realize that we will not fall, that we will not sink, and that there is always Someone there to catch us. Both before and after the end.”
Not knowing the exact “end” of our life, he said, leads us to feel fragile but also opens us up to listen to other people and to create something together.
‘Nothing new under the sun’
Pope Francis turned his thoughts to the nature of modern human society.
He said society refuses to leave questions unanswered, considering its ideas fully-formed and well-defined.
“In a world that worships autonomy, self-sufficiency, and self-realization, there seems to be no place for the other,” he said.
Our world seems to be accelerated at such a rapid pace that no interruptions are allowed, leaving us enslaved and “put to sleep so that we forget what it means to stop in the end.”
The Pope said a culture that forgets death begins to wither and die. “He who forgets death has already begun to die.”
Die for one another
Pope Francis thanked the students participating in the Scholas Occurrentes meeting, because they had the courage to confront the question of death.
And he said there are three types of death that really fill us with life:
“The death of every instant. The death of the ego. The death of one world gives way to a new one.”
A Vatican Radio English-language translation is below:
Dear young people of Scholas Occurrentes gathered from so many nations of the world, I celebrate with you the end of this meeting. I want to stop there. I wish to dwell on this: the end.
What would become of this encounter if it did not have an end? Perhaps it wouldn't even be an encounter. And what would become of this life if it did not also have its end?
I know some will say: “Father, don't put on a funeral face.” But let us think this through. I know from a good source that you kept the question of death burning throughout this entire experience. You played, thought, and created out of your differences.
Good! I celebrate and thank you for this. Because, you know what? The question of death is really a question about life. And keeping the question of death open, perhaps, is the greatest human responsibility towards the question of life.
Just as words are born out of silence and return to it, allowing us to hear their meanings, so it is with life. This may sound somewhat paradoxical, but... It is death that allows life to remain alive!
It is the end goal that allows a story to be written, a painting to be painted, two bodies to embraced. But watch out, the end goal is not found only at the end. Perhaps we should pay attention to each small purpose of everyday life. Not only at the end of the story – we never know when it ends – but at the end of each word, at the end of each silence, of each page that is being written. Only a life that is conscious of the fact that this exact instant will end works to make it eternal.
On the other hand, death reminds us that it is impossible to be, understand, and encompass everything. It comes as a slap in the face to our illusion of omnipotence. It teaches us throughout life to engage ourselves with mystery. This gives us confidence to jump into the void and to realize that we will not fall, that we will not sink, and that there is always Someone there to catch us. Both before and after the end.
The "not knowing" part of this question results in fragility that opens us to listening to and meeting other people. It is that rising above the commotion that calls us to create something, and urges us to come together to celebrate it.
Lastly, the question of death has driven different communities, peoples, and cultures to be formed throughout the ages and throughout all lands. These are stories that have fought in so many places to stay alive, while others were never born. That is why today, perhaps as never before, we should touch on this question.
The world is already formed, and everything is already explained. There is no room for open questions. Is that true? It is true, but it is also not true. That is our world. It is already fully-formed, and there is no place for unanswered questions. In a world that worships autonomy, self-sufficiency, and self-realization, there seems to be no place for the other. Our world of plans and infinite acceleration – always speeding up – does not allow for interruptions. So the worldly culture that enslaves also tries to put us to sleep so we forget what it means to stop at last.
But the very oblivion of death is also its beginning. And a culture that forgets death begins to die within. He who forgets death has already begun to die.
That is why I thank you so much! Because you have had the courage to confront this question and to pass – with your own bodies – through the three deaths that, by emptying us, fill us with life! The ‘death’ of every instant. The death of the ego. The death of one world gives way to a new one.
Remember, if death is not to have the last word, it is because in life we learned to die for one another.
Finally, I would like to thank especially World ORT and each one of the people and institutions that made possible this activity in which the culture of encounter has become tangible.
I ask each of you please, each in his own way, each according to his own convictions: don't forget to pray for me. Thank you.