"You are the salt of the earth...
You are the light
of the world" (Mt 5:13-14)
Dear Young People!
1. I have vivid memories of the wonderful moments we shared in Rome during the
Jubilee of the Year 2000, when you came on pilgrimage to the Tombs of the
Apostles Peter and Paul. In long silent lines you passed through the Holy Door
and prepared to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation; then the Evening Vigil
and Morning Mass at Tor Vergata were moments of intense spirituality and a deep
experience of the Church; with renewed faith, you went home to undertake the
mission I entrusted to you: to become, at the dawn of the new millennium,
fearless witnesses to the Gospel.
By now World Youth Day has become an important part of your life and of the life
of the Church. I invite you therefore to get ready for the seventeenth
celebration of this great international event, to be held in Toronto, Canada, in
the summer of next year. It will be another chance to meet Christ, to bear
witness to his presence in today’s society, and to become builders of the
"civilization of love and truth".
2. "You are the salt of the earth... You are the light of the
world" (Mt 5:13-14): this is the theme I have chosen for the
next World Youth Day. The images of salt and light used by Jesus are rich in
meaning and complement each other. In ancient times, salt and light were seen as
essential elements of life.
"You are the salt of the earth...". One of the
main functions of salt is to season food, to give it taste and flavour. This
image reminds us that, through Baptism, our whole being has been profoundly
changed, because it has been "seasoned" with the new life which
comes from Christ (cf. Rom 6:4). The salt which keeps our Christian
identity intact even in a very secularized world is the grace of Baptism.
Through Baptism we are re-born. We begin to live in Christ and become
capable of responding to his call to "offer [our] bodies as a living
sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God" (Rom 12:1). Writing to the
Christians of Rome, Saint Paul urges them to show clearly that their way of
living and thinking was different from that of their contemporaries: "Do
not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your
mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing
and perfect" (Rom 12:2).
For a long time, salt was also used to preserve food. As the salt of the earth,
you are called to preserve the faith which you have received and to pass it on
intact to others. Your generation is being challenged in a special way to keep
safe the deposit of faith (cf. 2 Th 2:15; 1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim
Discover your Christian roots, learn about the Church’s history, deepen your
knowledge of the spiritual heritage which has been passed on to you, follow in
the footsteps of the witnesses and teachers who have gone before you! Only by
staying faithful to God’s commandments, to the Covenant which Christ sealed
with his blood poured out on the Cross, will you be the apostles and witnesses
of the new millennium.
It is the nature of human beings, and especially youth, to seek the Absolute,
the meaning and fullness of life. Dear young people, do not be content with
anything less than the highest ideals! Do not let yourselves be dispirited by
those who are disillusioned with life and have grown deaf to the deepest and
most authentic desires of their heart. You are right to be disappointed with
hollow entertainment and passing fads, and with aiming at too little in life. If
you have an ardent desire for the Lord you will steer clear of the mediocrity
and conformism so widespread in our society.
3. "You are the light of the world...". For those who first
heard Jesus, as for us, the symbol of light evokes the desire for truth and the
thirst for the fullness of knowledge which are imprinted deep within every human
When the light fades or vanishes altogether, we no longer see things as they
really are. In the heart of the night we can feel frightened and insecure, and
we impatiently await the coming of the light of dawn. Dear young people, it is
up to you to be the watchmen of the morning (cf. Is 21:11-12) who
announce the coming of the sun who is the Risen Christ!
The light which Jesus speaks of in the Gospel is the light of faith, God’s
free gift, which enlightens the heart and clarifies the mind. "It is the
God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts
to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of
Christ" (2 Cor 4:6). That is why the words of Jesus explaining his
identity and his mission are so important: "I am the light of the world;
whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of
life" (Jn 8:12).
Our personal encounter with Christ bathes life in new light, sets us on the
right path, and sends us out to be his witnesses. This new way of looking at the
world and at people, which comes to us from him, leads us more deeply into the
mystery of faith, which is not just a collection of theoretical assertions to be
accepted and approved by the mind, but an experience to be had, a truth to be
lived, the salt and light of all reality (cf. Veritatis Splendor, 88).
In this secularized age, when many of our contemporaries think and act as if God
did not exist or are attracted to irrational forms of religion, it is you, dear
young people, who must show that faith is a personal decision which involves
your whole life. Let the Gospel be the measure and guide of life’s decisions
and plans! Then you will be missionaries in all that you do and say, and
wherever you work and live you will be signs of God’s love, credible witnesses
to the loving presence of Jesus Christ. Never forget: "No one lights a lamp
and then puts it under a bushel" (Mt 5:15)!
Just as salt gives flavour to food and light illumines the darkness, so too
holiness gives full meaning to life and makes it reflect God’s glory. How many
saints, especially young saints, can we count in the Church’s history! In
their love for God their heroic virtues shone before the world, and so they
became models of life which the Church has held up for imitation by all. Let us
remember only a few of them: Agnes of Rome, Andrew of Phú Yên, Pedro Calungsod, Josephine
Bakhita, Thérèse of Lisieux, Pier Giorgio Frassati,
Marcel Callo, Francisco Castelló Aleu or again Kateri Tekakwitha, the young
Iroquois called "the Lily of the Mohawks". Through the intercession of
this great host of witnesses, may God make you too, dear young people, the
saints of the third millennium!
4. Dear friends, it is time to get ready for the Seventeenth World Youth Day. I
invite you to read and study the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, which
I wrote at the beginning of the year to accompany all Christians on this new
stage of the life of the Church and humanity: "A new century, a new
millennium are opening in the light of Christ. But not everyone can see this
light. Ours is the wonderful and demanding task of becoming its
‘reflection’" (No. 54).
Yes, now is the time for mission! In your Dioceses and parishes, in your
movements, associations and communities, Christ is calling you. The Church
welcomes you and wishes to be your home and your school of communion and prayer.
Study the Word of God and let it enlighten your minds and hearts. Draw strength
from the sacramental grace of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Visit the Lord
in that "heart to heart" contact that is Eucharistic Adoration. Day
after day, you will receive new energy to help you to bring comfort to the
suffering and peace to the world. Many people are wounded by life: they are
excluded from economic progress, and are without a home, a family, a job; there
are people who are lost in a world of false illusions, or have abandoned all
hope. By contemplating the light radiant on the face of the Risen Christ, you
will learn to live as "children of the light and children of the day"
(1 Th 5:5), and in this way you will show that "the fruit of light
is found in all that is good and right and true" (Eph 5:9).
5. Dear young friends, Toronto is waiting for all of you who can make it! In the
heart of a multi-cultural and multi-faith city, we shall speak of Christ as the
one Saviour and proclaim the universal salvation of which the Church is the
sacrament. In response to the pressing invitation of the Lord who ardently
desires "that all may be one" (Jn 17:11), we shall pray for
full communion among Christians in truth and charity.
Come, and make the great avenues of Toronto resound with the joyful tidings that
Christ loves every person and brings to fulfilment every trace of goodness,
beauty and truth found in the city of man. Come, and tell the world of the
happiness you have found in meeting Jesus Christ, of your desire to know him
better, of how you are committed to proclaiming the Gospel of salvation to the
ends of the earth!
The young people of Canada, together with their Bishops and the civil
authorities, are already preparing to welcome you with great warmth and
hospitality. For this I thank them all from my heart. May this first World Youth
Day of the new millennium bring to everyone a message of faith, hope and love!
My blessing goes with you. And to Mary Mother of the Church I entrust each one
of you, your vocation and your mission.
From Castel Gandolfo, 25 July 2001