Pope encourages Catholic Action youth to become "leaven" in society
By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Pope Francis received young parish leaders of the Italian Catholic Action group in the Vatican on Saturday morning.
Addressing them, the Pope expressed appreciation for their care of parishes, noting that, as he belongs to a different generation when the parish and the parish priest, was a central point of reference in the lives of people through Sunday Masses, catechesis and the sacraments.
He further acknowledged that the socio-cultural reality has now significantly changed – in other countries and in Italy – and the mission of the Church, including the parish, has been rethought. However, one essential thing remains for everyone in their journey of faith and growth: “the parish experience has been and is important.”
The Pope said that the parish "is the 'normal' environment where we learned to hear the Gospel, to know the Lord Jesus, to offer service with gratuitousness, to pray in community, to share projects and initiatives, to feel part of God's holy people."
Catholic Action and the parish community
Through Catholic Action, Pope Francis pointed out, the parish leaders have had an “associational” experience intertwined with that of the parish community. Many, he added, have been part of the Catholic Action for youth group and are learning what it means to be part of a Christian community.
The Pope also upheld the Christian’s responsibility of taking an interest in social reality and making a contribution, moving from not caring to caring, in the face of human misery that is almost always the fruit of injustices to be eradicated. He said that these realities of life are often learned in the parish and in Catholic Action and many, in both Church and society have carried into adulthood these things they learned as young people.
“So, dear young people,” the Pope said, “we are from different generations, but we have in common a love for the Church and a passion for the parish, which is the Church in the midst of the homes, in the midst of the people.”
Contributing to the growth of the Church in fraternity
The Holy Father went on to recommend ways by which Catholic Action can contribute to the growth of the Church in fraternity.
First, he urged them not to be frightened even in the face of a weak community "dimension" – a social fact - which has also been aggravated by the pandemic. He noted that many young people no longer have the desire to have meetings and assemblies as it used to be 50 years ago, and in a way, it is a good thing, because “Catholic Action does not have to be a Catholic 'Session', and the Church does not move ahead with meetings."
However, he warned that individualism, closure in small groups and the tendency to relate “at a distance,” has also infected Christian communities; therefore, we need to respond, starting with “a work” on ourselves.
“Working” on ourselves
The Pope explained that he calls it “work” because “it is a challenging journey and requires constancy” as fraternity is not improvised, neither is it built only with emotions, slogans and events. Rather, it is a work “that each person does on himself together with the Lord, with the Holy Spirit, who creates harmony among diversity.” In this regard, he recommended that the Catholic Action leaders reread the part of the Exhortation “Christus vivit” titled “Paths of Fraternity”.
“The starting point is going out of oneself to open oneself to others and go out to meet them,” the Pope said. It is a “relationship in which we recognize ourselves and grow together.” He stressed that the fundamental reality for us is that “in the Church we experience this movement in Christ, through the Eucharist: He comes out of Himself and comes into us so that we come out of ourselves and are united with Him, and in Him we find ourselves in a new, free, gratuitous, oblative communion.”
The Holy Father also warned against gossipping, which he referred to as "the most serious sickness in a parish community." He stressed that it is "not Christian" and is "diabolical because it divides."
“Leaven” in society
Pope Francis then highlighted in what sense Christians become “leaven” in society, noting that if they are in Christ and animated by His Spirit, they cannot but be “leaven of humanity” because “Jesus Christ is the perfect Man and His Gospel is a humanizing force.”
He upheld the expression used by the Catholic Action: “being kneaded in this world”, saying that it is “the principle of incarnation” and “the way of Jesus” to bring new life from within.
The Pope also urged the Catholic Action leaders to allow “that leaven be leaven, that salt be salt, that light be light”, warning, that we risk becoming worldly, losing the newness of Christ and having nothing more to say or to give if we do otherwise. He added that this is what Jesus meant when on the one hand he says "You are the salt of the earth," and then immediately warns: be careful not to lose the flavor! (cf. Mt 5:13).
Responsible credible young believers
The Holy Father then highlighted another expression used by Catholic Action: “to be responsible credible young believers”. He said that these words are embodied by saints - even young saints, and pointed at the examples of a few Italian saints - Francis and Clare of Assisi, Rose of Viterbo, Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, Dominic Savio, Gemma Galgani, Maria Goretti, Pier Giorgio Frassati, Clare Badano and Carlo Acutis.
“They teach us what it means to be leaven, to be in the world but not of the world,” the Pope said.
He also recalled the life of Pier Giorgio Frassati who was an active and enthusiastic member of the Italian Catholic Action, and who showed us how to be a responsible credible young believer.
Learning from the Virgin Mary
Bringing his address to a close, the Pope recalled that October is the month of the Rosary and encouraged them to learn from Our Lady to “keep and meditate in your heart the mysteries of Jesus.”
Finally, Pope Francis blessed and thanked the Catholic Action for their witness and urged them to go forth with joy and courage.
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