Tor Vergata, Sunday 20
l "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of
eternal life" (Jn 6:68).
Dear young people of the Fifteenth World Youth Day! These
words of Peter, in his conversation with Christ at the end of
the discourse on the "bread of life", affect
us personally. In these days we have meditated on John's
statement: "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among
us" (Jn 1:14). The evangelist has brought us back to
the great mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, the
Son given to us through Mary "when the fullness of time
had come" (Gal 4:4 ).
In his name I greet you all once more with great affection.
I greet Cardinal Camillo Ruini, my Vicar for the Diocese of
Rome and President of the Italian Episcopal Conference, and I
thank him for his words at the beginning of this Mass. I
also greet Cardinal James Francis Stafford, President of
the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and the many Cardinals,
Bishops and priests gathered here. With gratitude I extend
respectful greetings to the President of Italy and the head of
the Italian Government, as well as ail the civil and religious
Authorities who honour us with their presence.
2. We have reached the high point of World
Youth Day. Yesterday evening, dear young people, we
confirmed our faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God whom the
Father sent, as the First Reading reminded us today,
"to bring good tidings to the poor, ... to bind up the
brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the
opening of the prison to those who are bound, to comfort
all who mourn" (Is 61:1-3).
In today's Eucharistic celebration, Jesus helps us to come
to know a particular aspect of his mystery. In the
Gospel, we listened to a part of his discourse in the
synagogue at Capernaum after the miracle of the
multiplication of the loaves. In it he reveals himself as the
true bread of life, the bread which has come down from
heaven to give life to the world (cf. Jn 6:51). These are
words that those who hear him do not understand. Their
outlook is too material for them to grasp what Christ
really means. They are thinking in terms of flesh, which
"is of no avail" (Jn 6:63): Jesus' words, instead, have to do with the unlimited horizons of
the spirit: "The words that I have spoken to you - he
insists -- are spirit and life" (ibid.).
But his hearers are hesitant: "This is a hard
saying, who can listen to. it?" (Jn 5:60). They consider themselves to be persons of common sense, with their feet on
the ground. For this reason they shake their heads and go away
muttering, one after another. The initial crowd gradually
grows smaller. At the end, only the tiny group of his
most faithful disciples remains. But with regard to the
"bread of life" Jesus is not prepared to back
down. Rather, he is ready to lose even those closest to
him: "Will you also go away?" (Jn 6:67).
3. "Will you also?" Christ's question cuts across
the centuries and comes down to us; it challenges us
personally and calls for a decision. What is our answer? Dear
young people, if we a re here today, it is because we
identify with the Apostle Peter's reply: "Lord, to whom
shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (Jn
Around you, you hear all kinds of words. But only Christ
speaks words that stand the test of time and remain for all
eternity. The time of life that you are living calls for
decisive choices on your part: decisions about the direction of
your studies, about work, about your role in society and in
the Church. It is important to realize that among the many
questions surfacing in your minds, the decisive ones are
not about "what". The basic question is
"who": "who" am I to go to, "who"
I to follow, "to whom" should I entrust my life?
You are thinking about love and the choices it entails, and
I imagine that you agree: what is really important in life is
the choice of the person who will share it with you. But be
careful? Every human person has inevitable limits: even
in the most successful of marriages there is always a certain amount of
disappointment. So then, dear friends, does
not this confirm what we heard the Apostle Peter say? Every
human being finds himself sooner or later saying what he said:
"To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal
life". Only Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and of Mary, the eternal Word of the Father born two
thousand years ago at Bethlehem in Judaea, is capable of
satisfying the deepest aspirations of the human heart.
In Peter's question: "To whom shall we go?" the
answer regarding the path to follow is already given. It is the path that leads to Christ. And it is possible
to meet the divine Master personally: he is is in fact truly
present an the altar in the reality of his Body and Blood. In
the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we can enter into contact with
the person of Jesus in a way that is mysterious but real, drinking at the inexhaustible fountain that is his life
as the Risen Lord.
4. This is the stupendous truth, dear friends: the Word,
who took flesh two thousand years ago, is present today in
the Eucharist. That is why the year of the Great Jubilee,
in which we are celebrating the mystery of the Incarnation, had to be
an "intensely Eucharistic" year as well (cf. Tertio
Millennio Adveniente, 55).
The Eucharist is the sacrament of the presence of Christ,
who gives himself to us because he loves us. He loves each
one of us in a unique and personal way in our practical daily lives: in our families, among our friends, at
study and work, in rest and relaxation. He loves us when he
fills our days with freshness, and also when, in times of
suffering, he allows trials to weigh upon us: even in the most
severe trials, he lets us hear his voice.
Yes, dear friends, Christ loves us and he loves us for
ever! He loves us even when we disappoint him, when we fail to meet his expectations for us. He never
fails to embrace us in his mercy. How can we not be grateful
to this God who has redeemed us, going so far as to accept
the foolishness of the Cross? To God who has come to be at our
side and has stayed with us to the end?
5. To celebrate the Eucharist "to eat his flesh and
drink his blood", means to accept the wisdom of the
Cross and the path of service. It means that we signal our
willingness to sacrifice ourselves for others, as Christ has
Our society desperately needs this sign, and young people
need it even more so, tempted as they often are by the
illusion of an easy and comfortable life, by drugs and
pleasure-seeking, only to find themselves in a spiral of
despair, meaninglessness and violence. It is urgent to change
direction and to turn to Christ. This is the way of
justice, solidarity and commitment to building a society and
a future worthy of the human person.
This is our Eucharist, this is the answer that Christ wants
from us, from you young people at the closing of your Jubilee. Jesus is no lover of half measures, and he does not
hesitate to pursue us with the question: "Will you also
go away?" In the presence of Christ, the Bread of Life,
we too want to say today with Peter: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You
have the words of eternal life" (Jn 6:68).
6. Dear friends, when you go back home, set the Eucharist
at the centre of your personal life and community life: love
the Eucharist, adore the Eucharist and celebrate it,
especially on Sundays, the Lord's Day. Live the Eucharist
by testifying to God's love for every person.
I entrust to you, dear friends, this greatest of God's
gifts to us who are pilgrims on the paths of time, but who
bear in our hearts a thirst for eternity. May every community
always have a priest to celebrate the Eucharist! I ask the
Lord therefore to raise up from among you many holy
vocations to the priesthood. Today as always the Church
needs those who celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice with a
pure heart. The world must not be deprived of the gentle and
liberating presence of Christ living in the Eucharist!
You yourselves must be fervent witnesses to Christ's
presence on the altar. Let the Eucharist mould your
life and the life of the families you will form. Let it guide
all life's choices. May the Eucharist, the true and living
presence of the love of the Trinity, inspire in you ideals of
solidarity, and may it lead you to live in communion with your
brothers and sisters in every part of the world.
In a special way, may sharing in the Eucharist lead to a
new flourishing of vocations to the religious life. In this way the Church will have fresh.
generous energies for the great task of the new
evangelization. If any of you, dear young men and women, hour
the Lord's inner call to give yourselves completely to him in
order to love him "with an undivided heart" (cf. 1
Cor 7:34), do not be held back by doubts or fears. Say
"yes" with courage and without reserve, trusting him
who is faithful to his promises. Did he not assure those who
had left everything for his sake that they would have a
hundredfold in this life and eternal life hereafter? (cf. Mk
7. At the end of this World Youth Day, as I look at you
now, at your young faces, at your genuine enthusiasm, from
the depths of my heart I want to give thanks to God for the
gift of youth, which continues to be present in the
Church and in the world cause of you.
Thank God for the World Youth Days! Thanks be to God for
all the young people who have been involved in them
in the past sixteen years! Many of them are now adults who
continue to live their faith in their homes and work-places. I am sure, dear friends, that
you too will be as good
as those who preceded you. You will carry the proclamation
of Christ into the new millennium.
When you return home, do not grow lax. Reinforce and deepen
your bond with the Christian communities to which you belong. From Rome, from the City of Peter and Paul,
follows you with affection and, paraphrasing Saint Catherine
of Siena's words, reminds you: "If you are what you
should be, you will set the whole world
ablaze!" (cf. Letter 368).
I look with confidence to this new humanity which you are
now helping to prepare. I look to this Church which in every
age is made youthful by the Spirit of Christ and today is made
happy by your intentions and commitment. I look to the future
and make my own the words of an ancient prayer, which sings
the praise of the one gift of Jesus, the Eucharist and the
"I give thanks to you, Father of us all,
for the life and the knowledge
which you have revealed to us through Jesus your servant.
To you be glory in every age!
Just as this bread now broken
was wheat scattered far and wide upon the hills
and, when harvested, became one bread,
so too let your Church be gathered into your kingdom
from the far ends of the earth.
You, O Lord almighty, have created the universe
to the glory of your name;
you have given people food
and drink for their comfort,
so that they may give you thanks,
but to us you have given a spiritual food and drink
and eternal life through your Son.
Glory be to you for ever!" (Didache 9:3-4; 10:3-4)