|WORLD YOUTH DAY 2000 - PRAYER VIGIL
Pope John Paul II
19 August 2000
"But who do you say that l am?" (Mt 16:15).
Dear young people, it is with great joy that I meet you
again at this Prayer Vigil, during which we wish to listen
together to Christ whom we feel present among us. It is he who
is speaking to us.
"Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asks his
disciples this question near Caesarea Philippi. Simon Peter
answers: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living
God" (Mt 16:16). The Master then turns to him with the
surprising words: 'Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For
flesh and blood has not revealed this to you; but my Father
who is in heaven" (Mt 16:17).
What is the meaning of this dialogue? Why does Jesus want
to know what people think about him? Why does he want to know
what his disciples think about him?
Jesus wants his disciples to become aware of what is
hidden in their own minds and hearts and to give voice to
their conviction. At the same time, however, be knows that the
judgment they will express will not be theirs alone.
Because it will reveal what God has poured into their hearts
by the grace of faith.
This event which took place near Caesarea Philippi leads
us, in a sense, into the "school of faith". There
the mystery of the origin and development of our faith is
disclosed. First there is the grace of revelation: an
intimate, ineffable self-giving of God to man. There then
follows the call to respond. Finally there comes the human
response, a response which from that point on must give
meaning and shape to one's entire life.
This is what faith is all about! It is the response of the
rational and free human person to the word of the living God.
The questions that Jesus asks, the answers given by the
Apostles, and finally by Simon Peter, are a kind of
examination on the maturity of the faith of those who are
closest to Christ.
2. The conversation near Caesarea Philippi took place
during the time leading up to the Passover, that is before
Christ's passion and resurrection We should also recall
another event, when the Risen Christ checked the maturity of
faith of his Apostles. This is the meeting with the Apostle
Thomas. He was the only one not there when, after the
resurrection, Christ came for the first time into the Upper
Room. When the other disciples told him that they had seen the
Lord, he would not believe it. He said: "Unless I see in
his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the
mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not
believe" (Jn 20:25). A week later, the disciples were
gathered together again and Thomas was with them. Jesus
came through the closed door, and greeted the Apostles with
the words: "Peace be with you" (Jn 20:26), and
immediately he turned to Thomas: "Put your finger here,
and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my
side; do not be faithless, but believing"! (Jn 20:27).
Thomas then answered: "My Lord and my God!" (Jn
The Upper Room in Jerusalem too was a kind of "school
of faith" for the Apostles. However, in a sense, what
happened to Thomas goes beyond what occurred near Caesarea
Philippi. In the Upper Room we see a more radical dialectic of
faith and unbelief; and, at the same time, an even deeper
confession of the truth about Christ. It was certainly not
easy to believe that the One who had been placed in the tomb
three days earlier was alive again.
The divine Master had often announced that he would rise
from the dead, and in many ways he had shown that he was the
lord of life. Yet the experience of his death was so
overwhelming that people needed to meet him directly in order
to believe in his resurrection: the Apostles in the Upper
Room, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the holy women
beside the tomb. . . Thomas too needed it. But when his
unbelief was directly confronted by the presence of Christ,
the doubting Apostle spoke the words which express the deepest
core of faith: If this is the case, if you are truly living
despite having been killed, this means that you are "my
Lord and my God".
In what happened to Thomas, the "school of faith"
is enriched with a new element. Divine revelation, Jesus'
question and man's response end in the disciple's personal
encounter with the living Christ, with the Risen One. This
encounter is the beginning of a new relationship between each
one of us and Christ, a relationship in which each of us comes
to the vital realization that Christ is Lord and God; not only
the Lord and God of the world and of humanity, but the Lord
and God of my own individual human life. One day Saint Paul
would write: "the word is near you, on your lips and in
your heart: that is, the word of faith which we preach.
Because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and
believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you
will be saved" (Rom 10:8-9).
3. The readings of today's Liturgy describe the elements of
the "school of faith" from which the Apostles
emerged as people fully aware of the truth which God had
revealed in Jesus Christ, the truth which would scrape their
personal lives and the life of the Church throughout history.
This gathering in Rome, dear young people, is also a kind of
"school of faith" for you, the disciples of today;
it is the "school of faith" for all who proclaim
Christ at the beginning of the Third Millennium.
You can all sense in yourselves the process of questions
and answers that we have just been talking about. You can all
measure the difficulties you have in believing, and
even feel the temptation not to believe. But at the
same time you can also experience a slowly maturing sense and
conviction of your commitment in faith. In fact, there is
always a meeting between God and the human person in this
wonderful school of the human spirit, the school of faith.
The Risen Christ always enters the Upper Roam of our life and
allows each of us to experience his presence and to declare:
You, O Christ, you are "my Lord and my God".
Christ said to Thomas: "Because you have seen me, you
have believed: blessed are those who have not seen and yet
believe (Jn 20:29). There is something of the Apostle Thomas
in every human being. Each one is tempted by unbelief and each
one asks the basic questions: Is it true that God exists? Is
it true that he created the world? Is it true that the Son of
God became man, died and rose from the dead? The answer comes
as the person experiences God's presence. We have to open
our eyes and our heart to the light of the Holy Spirit.
Then the open wounds of the Risen Christ will speak to each of
ups: "Because you have seen me, you have believed:
blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe".
Dear friends, to believe in Jesus today, to follow Jesus as
Peter, Thomas, and the first Apostles and witnesses did, demands of us, just as it did in the
post, that we take a stand for him, almost to the point at
times of a new martyrdom: the martyrdom of those who,
today as yesterday, are called to go against the tide in order
to follow t he divine Master, to follow "the Lamb
wherever he goes" (Rev 14:4). It is not by chance,
dear young people, that I wanted the witnesses to the
faith in the twentieth century to be remembered at the Colosseum
during this Holy Year.
Perhaps you will not have to shed your blood, but you will
certainly be asked to be faithful to Christ! A faithfulness to
be lived in the circumstances of everyday life: I am thinking
of how difficult it is in today's world for engaged couples to
be faithful to purity before marriage. I think of how the
mutual fidelity of young married couples is put to the test. I
think of friendships and how easily the temptation to be
disloyal creeps in.
I think also of how those who have chosen the path of
special consecration have to struggle to persevere in their
dedication to God and to their brothers and sisters. I think
of those who want to live a life of solidarity and love in a
world where the only things that seem to matter are the logic
of profit and one's personal or group interest.
I think too of those who work for peace and who see new
outbreaks of war erupt and grow worse in different parts of
the world; I think of those who work for human freedom and see
people still slaves of themselves and of one another. I think
of those who work to ensure love and respect for human life
and who see life so often attacked and the respect due to life
so often flouted.
5. Dear young people, in such a world is it hard to
believe? Is it hard to believe in the Third Millennium? Yes!
It is hard. There is no need to hide it. It is
hard, but with the help of grace it can be done, as Jesus
explained to Peter: "Neither flesh nor blood has revealed
this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (Mt 16:17).
This evening I will give you the Gospel. It is the
Pope's gift to you at this unforgettable vigil. The word which
it contains is the word of Jesus. If you listen to it in
silence, in prayer, seeking help in understanding what it
means for your life from the wise counsel of your priests and
teachers, then you will meet Christ and you will follow him,
spending your lives day by day for him!
It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of
happiness, he is waiting for you when nothing else you find
satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted;
it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fulness that
will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you
to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your
hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try
to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do
something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal,
the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by
mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and
patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the
world more human and more fraternal.
Dear young people, in these noble undertakings you are not
alone. With you there are your families, there are your
communities, there are your priests and teachers, there are so
many of you who in the depths of your hearts never weary of
loving Christ and believing in him. In the struggle against
sin you are not alone: so many like you are struggling and
through the Lord's grace are winning!
6. Dear friends, at the dawn of the Third Millennium I see
in you the "morning watchmen" (cf. Is 21:11-12).
In the, course of the century now past young people like
you were summoned to huge gatherings to learn the ways of
hatred; they were sent to fight against one another. The
various godless messianic systems which tried to take the
place of Christian hope have shown themselves to be truly
horrendous .Today you have come together to declare that in
the new century you will not let yourselves be made into tools
of violence and destruction; you will defend peace, paying the
price in your person if need be. You will not resign
yourselves to a world where other human beings die of hunger,
remain illiterate and have no work. You will defend life at
every moment of its development; you will strive with all your
strength to make this earth ever more livable for all people.
Dear young people of the century now beginning, in saying
"yes" to Christ, you say "yes" to all your
noblest ideals. I pray that he will reign in your hearts and
in all of humanity in the new century and the new millennium
Have no fear of entrusting yourselves to him! He will guide
you, he will grant you the strength to follow him every day
and in every situation.
May Mary most holy, the Virgin who said "yes" to
God throughout her whole life, may Saints Peter and Paul and
all the Saints who have lighted the Church's journey down the
ages, keep you always faithful to this holy resolve!
To each and every one of you I offer my blessing with