By Linda Bordoni
According to a well-rehearsed formula, the meeting between Pope Francis and young people in Tokyo’s St Mary Cathedral began with some first-hand testimonies. Representing the cultural and religious diversity of young people living in Japan today, a young Catholic, a young Buddhist, and a young migrant were able to voice their deepest fears and aspirations and ask the Pope some important questions.
Miki highlighted a reality in which lack of time and fraught competitiveness often cause young people to “fail to see the uncountable stars and lose the joy-filled chance to experience the greatness of God and their own weakness and realize that God is with them”.
Masako shone the spotlight on the scourge of bullying and suicide, particularly amongst scholars and students in Japan, and on the fact that a wrong use of technology leads many young people to experience loneliness, isolation, and a lack of true friends.
Her concerns were echoed by Leonardo, the son of Filipino immigrants, who said to the Pope: “Please tell me, Holy Father, how should we confront the problems of discrimination and bullying that are spreading throughout the world?
"Thank you, Leonardo", Pope Francis said, “For sharing the experience of bullying and discrimination,” and he noted that more and more young people are finding the courage to speak up about such experiences.
Bullying, he said, “attacks our self-confidence at the very time when we most need the ability to accept ourselves and to confront new challenges in life”.
The Pope described the phenomenon as an epidemic and said the best way to treat it is to unite and learn to say “Enough!”. And he urged all young people never to be afraid of “standing up in the midst of classmates and friends and saying: “What you are doing is wrong”.
Fear, the Pope explained, is always the enemy of goodness, because it is the enemy of love and peace.
He said that all great religions teach tolerance, harmony and mercy, not fear, division and conflict. He reminded those present that Jesus constantly told his followers not to be afraid. Love for God and for our brothers and sisters, the Pope said, casts away fear. “Jesus himself,” he said, “knew what it was to be despised and rejected – even to the point of being crucified”.
“He knew too what it was to be a stranger, a migrant, someone who was “different”. In a sense, Jesus was the ultimate “outsider”, an outsider who was full of life to give,” he said.
“The world needs you, never forget that!” Pope Francis said to all the ‘Leonardo’s of the world’: we can always look at all the things we don’t have, but we must see all the life that we can give and share with others: “The Lord needs you, so that you can encourage all those people around us who are looking for a helping hand to lift them up.”
This, he said, involves “developing a very important but underestimated quality: the ability to learn to make time for others, to listen to them, to share with them, to understand them”.
Love changes the world
Only then, the Pope explained, can we open our experiences and our problems to a love that can change us and start to change the world around us.
That, the Pope continued is exactly what Miki talked about during his presentation when he asked how young people can make space for God in a society that is frenetic and focused on being competitive and productive.
Increasingly, he said, we see that “a person, a community or even a whole society can be highly developed on the outside, but have an interior life that is impoverished and under-developed, lacking real life and vitality”.
“Everything bores them; they no longer dream, laugh or play. They have no sense of wonder or surprise. They are like zombies; their hearts have stopped beating because of their inability to celebrate life with others,” he said.
Remarking on how many people throughout our world are materially rich, but live as slaves to unparalleled loneliness, the Pope quoted Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta who worked among the poorest of the poor and said: “Loneliness and the feeling of being unloved is the most terrible form of poverty”.
We are all called to combat spiritual poverty, Pope Francis said, but young people have a special role to play “because it demands a major change in priorities and options”.
“It means recognizing that the most important thing is not what I have or can acquire, but with whom I can share it. It is not so important to focus on what I live for, but whom I live for. Things are important, but people are essential,” he said.
Without people, the Pope continued, we grow dehumanized, we lose our faces and names, and we become just another object.
Friendship, the Pope said is something beautiful that you can offer to our world, and he invited young people to place their hope in a future “based on the culture of encounter, acceptance, fraternity and respect for the dignity of each person, especially those most in need of love and understanding.”
“In order to stay alive physically, we have to keep breathing; it is something we do without realizing it, automatically. To stay alive in the fullest sense of the word, we also need to learn how to breathe spiritually, through prayer and meditation,” he said.
He urged those present to do that and learn to hear God speak to them in the depths of their hearts, and at the same time reach out to others in acts of love and service.
Never set aside your dreams
Finally Pope Francis referred to Masako’s experience as a student and a teacher noting that the key to growing in wisdom is not so much finding the right answers but discovering the right questions to ask.
“Keep asking, and help others to ask, the right questions about the meaning of our life and about how we can shape a better future for those who are coming after us,” he said.
Dear young people, the Pope concluded, “Never lose heart or set aside your dreams. Give them plenty of room, dare to glimpse vast horizons and see what awaits you if you aspire to achieve them together”.
Watch the video of the full event (with English commentary):