On the weekend of the 4-7 July, Rome witnessed some truly amazing scenes of hope for the Universal Church. Christ’s “army of hope” – the seminarians, novices and those on a vocational journey, descended upon the capital of Christianity to make a pilgrimage, celebrating the Year of Faith, with Pope Francis.
Young people, representing every different charism in the Church, originating from all the four corners of the globe, came to Rome to take part in this special pilgrimage and give visible witness to being united as one in the Holy Spirit. It was edifying to see the main road leading to St Peter’s filled with seminarians and religious singing in procession making their way to St Peter’s tomb to celebrate their joy at responding to the Lord’s call to “follow me” just as Peter did almost 2,000 years before. Throughout the weekend, young people spoke of conversions and of having the courage to respond ever more decisively with their “yes” to the Lord’s invite and the great joy that this brings.
Saturday stood out in everyone’s minds as there was a meeting with Pope Francis to hear his powerful advice about how to follow the Lord and give witness to the Gospel in the 3rd millennium. Pope Francis spoke of joy, the authenticity of Christian witness, the importance of prayer, the logic of the Cross and the Church’s mission.
Pope Frances said that the joy of the vocation is born of a real encounter with Christ, when one “feels loved by God [and we recognise that it is] He who calls us”. Pope Francis went on to remind us that “joy, real joy, is contagious, it infects” those around us and this is the joy that is necessary to be true heralds of the Gospel today. However, he also went on to add that the religious must be authentic and able to preach the Gospel by the very lives that they lead and “only if necessary to use words”. Speaking very directly to the thousands gathered, Pope Francis said that religious must be liberated from material attachments, not bowing before the latest trends but, rather, they must be poor in order to hear the cry of the “poor Christ” that resounds in the lives of men and women in the world who are starved of basic necessities. He reminded everyone of the power of the logic of the cross which is never without the consolation that the Lord brings to those in difficult situations. The success of the Church’s mission cannot be measured in human terms but only by the logic of love!
According to the Roman Pontiff, the Church must be missionary and “not so tranquil”. Calling everyone to be united to the Lord in prayer, Pope Francis reminded all gathered that “evangelisation is done on your knees!” We must be truly united to Christ in prayer to bring Him to others. Isaiah proclaimed the Lord’s invite to “Comfort my people” (Is 40:1) and so people today need religious to “bear witness to the mercy and tenderness of the Lord, which warms the heart, rekindles hope and attracts people to the good”.
Preparing all present to participate in the Marian Prayer Vigil the Pope called on everyone to have devotion to the recitation of the Holy Rosary and to follow St John’s example by taking Mary into our homes as she is the model of the consecrated life. All present offered the Rosary for the Holy Father whilst processing through the beautiful Vatican Gardens and pausing for a moment to greet our heavenly Mother before the replica of the Lourdes Grotto that stands in the heart of this beautiful setting.
In the Gospel the Lord reminds us to “ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers for His harvest” (Mt 9:37-38) and looking at this “army of hope” it is clear that, just as 2000 years ago, the Lord is calling and thousands of young people are responding “Yes”. They are the “army of hope” because, in their great number, they are a visible sign that the Lord is sending labourers for the harvest and also because they are the ones to bring Christ’s message of hope to the world.