World Youth Day festivities came to an end in Rio de Janeiro yesterday, but not before millions of young people had the experience of a lifetime, and Pope Francis made his mark on the “Marvelous City” forever. So critical may this World Youth Day of 2013 prove in defining Francis’ pontificate in Church history that even those closest to the Pope are admitting that as a result of it, some defining characteristics of his papacy are beginning to emerge. We’ve heard some of the themes that the Holy Father discussed during this special trip before now, but in Rio these ideas found concrete expression. For example, the Holy Father repeatedly has spoken of the need for solidarity with the very poor, but that solidarity found real expression in the papal visit to a Brazilian favela, where the poorest of the poor live.
Francis has talked often of the need for the clergy to take the faith to the people and not to live in a way that appears “apart” from them and their daily struggles. He then warns the South American bishops against what he called too much ambition, and praised what he called a “spirit of poverty” among some bishops, saying “Bishops must be pastors, close to people, fathers and brothers, and gentle, patient and merciful. Men who love poverty,” saying that a good bishop should seek “simplicity and austerity of life.” He again repeated his distaste for bishops who, in his words, “act like princes.” The Holy Father said that “Christ’s followers are not individuals caught up in a privatized spirituality, but persons in community, devoting themselves to others.” He praises increased movements of popular piety and greater lay participation and warns against clericalism, the temptation for which the Pope said was “very present in Latin America.”Pope Francis calls on bishops, priests, deacons, and laity alike to be missionaries for the sake of the Gospel. The Pontiff even called on priests to be “more pastoral than administrative.” However, lest anyone believe that this may mean that the Holy Father might somehow “change Church teaching,” he also warned the bishops against what he called the “gnostic error” of groups of “enlightened Catholics” who claim to have “higher knowledge” than the Magesterium. Catholic News Agency reported that the Pope went so far as to say that some of those who advocate ordaining nuns to the priesthood or giving Holy Communion to the divorced and remarried fall into this erroneous thinking. However, the Pope said that it is the job of the clergy to help make the laity an active part of the Church’s ministry. The Pope asked: “In practice, do we make the lay faithful sharers in the mission?”
The Holy Father urged young people over and over again to branch out of their parishes, their own ecclesiastical groups, and their own comfort zones. Youth are responding, with some even walking across continents to worship with the Holy Father. Others literally risked everything, even their lives and the use of their bodies in order to be in Rio to hear the Gospel. The Pope is asking them, and all of us, to live the Gospel every day, to infect the world with the presence of the Holy Spirit that they experienced in Brazil this week.
Is there something that all of us can take from the experience of World Youth Day even though most of us weren’t there, and perhaps we were just lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the events on television or the internet? How can we take what Pope Francis is trying to tell us and apply it to our lives and to the Church in East Tennessee. It may be that evangelization isn’t something reserved for a select few people to go and do. After all, most of the people who need to hear the Good News weren’t in the pew at Mass this past weekend. They didn’t hear the scripture readings or the great homily (or even the not so great one), they didn’t hear the prayers of the faithful, and they didn’t have a personal experience with Jesus in the Eucharist. Some of them have fallen away from the faith, but still others do not know the Lord at all. For many of these people, we are the only examples of the faith that they have.
With that reality in mind, why not ask someone to Mass this Sunday, especially someone without a Church home, or who has been drifting away from faith in Christ? Even better, invite someone to the Diocese of Knoxville 25th Anniversary Eucharistic Congress who might not otherwise have the ability to attend. Maybe they’ll hear something there that will change their life and bring them closer to the faith.
People observe our lives every day, and often they see by observing that they want something that we have, though they aren’t at first sure what it is. The best evangelization that we can give is to appear joyful and alive in our faith to others, because if we do, other people will want what we’ve got. If we can take anything from Pope Francis’ words, it may be that we should live our lives as Jesus would, because the whole world is watching, and Christ is counting on all of us to be heralds of the Good News.