Spending a bit of time with young people before leaving Greece, Pope Francis encouraged them to have the courage to hope, to dream and even to question their faith.
He met with Catholic teenagers and young adults from across Greece at St. Dionysius School in Maroussi, a suburb of Athens, Dec. 6. Three of them had a chance to briefly share their stories with him.
Having read their experiences beforehand, Pope Francis’ lengthy talk gave a detailed response to each of their concerns, revelations and questions with the understanding that their unique experiences also reflected something many other young people have in common.
For example, Katerina Binibini, whose family came from the Philippines, said she sometimes feels angry or jealous when she sees people without any faith easily coast through life without any problems, while as “a faithful Christian, I feel constantly put to the test.”
She said she finds it hard to explain her faith to others, especially when there is so much suffering or injustice in the world. But, nonetheless, she still recognizes the strength, graces and opportunities she has had because of her faith and is grateful for God’s love.
Pope Francis said all those moments of doubt in life are “vitamins” for the faith, making it stronger, more resilient, wiser and more mature.
“Faith is precisely that: a daily journey with Jesus who takes us by the hand, accompanies us, encourages us, and, when we fall, lifts us up,” he said. Never be afraid to reflect and ask questions because “you cannot walk this path of faith blind.”
Whenever the devil sows doubt in one’s heart, he said, always remember that faith “is not primarily about a list of things to believe and rules to follow,” but is the “reality, a beautiful truth that does not depend on us and that leaves us amazed: we are God’s beloved children!”
The wisdom inscribed on the Greek temple of Delphi, “Know thyself,” is still valid today, he said.
“Realize that your worth is in who you are and not what you have. Your worth is not in the brand of the dress or shoes you wear, but because you are unique,” he said.
This wisdom will serve them well to avoid, like Odysseus, the dangerous allure of the sirens’ song, the pope said. “Today’s sirens want to charm you with seductive and insistent messages that focus on easy gains, the false needs of consumerism, the cult of physical wellness, of entertainment at all costs.”
In response to Ioanna Vidali from Tinos, the pope talked about the importance of other people when it comes to growing in the faith. Vidali had explained the central role her mother and grandmother played in her life and faith, but described how, as she got older, “everything that seemed clear became complicated” to the point that she almost stopped believing in God.
But she said she came to realize that no matter how much she tried to turn away from him, he was always there, ready to guide and accompany her.
“The greatness of God’s love,” she said, is seen in the fact that he gave her the freedom to be wrong, and she seeks to share this “greatness” with other young people she serves.
Jesus makes himself known also through the people who are in one’s life, he said. “God does not hand us a catechism; he makes himself present through people’s life stories. He walks among us.”
Serving others is “the path to true joy! Helping others is not for losers, but for winners; it is the way to bring about something truly new in history,” he said.
“Don’t settle for posting a few tweets. Don’t settle for virtual encounters; look for real ones, especially with people who need you. Don’t look for visibility, but for those who are invisible in our midst. That is new, even revolutionary,” he added.
Lastly, Aboud Gabro, who escaped with his family from war-torn Syria, told the pope about the series of “miracles” that led to their safety and then being welcomed, integrated and thriving in Greece.
The pope said he was struck by his story of overcoming “so many refusals and a thousand difficulties” — a true modern-day odyssey.
Odysseus’ son, Telemachus, was also at a crossroads in life, wondering if he should stay home waiting for his father or go off on a wild search for him; the young man finally found the courage to set out on his adventure, the pope said.
This shows “the meaning of life is not found by staying on the beach waiting for the wind to bring something new. Salvation lies in the open sea, in setting sail, in the quest, in the pursuit of dreams, real dreams, those we pursue with eyes open, those that involve effort, struggles, headwinds, sudden storms,” the pope said.
“Don’t be paralyzed by fear: Dream big! And dream together,” the pope told the young people. “As with Telemachus, there will always be those who try to stop you,” but they are just “destroyers of dreams, the slayers of hope, incurably stuck in the past.”