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 | Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

Christ is the Answer to Young People's Search for Hope

Young people around the world need to know that God loves them and that Christ's victory over sin and death means evil will never have the last word, Pope Francis said.

"Many young people, especially in large cities, are suffering from a loss of hope and withdrawing into themselves, with few relationships, few interests," the pope told participants at the International Youth Ministry Congress May 25.

Mega-events like World Youth Day can be "an injection of hope" for young people, but listening to young people, accompanying them in their search for meaning and praying with them regularly are the surest ways to bring them into a lasting relationship with Jesus, the pope told participants in the congress, which included young adult delegates and the coordinators of youth and young adult ministry from the world's bishops' conferences.

"Pastoral care made up of small steps, small numbers, simple words and actions, everyday decisions and moments of celebration and prayer in community" are "less spectacular experiences" than the international gatherings of World Youth Day, the pope said, "but they are the ones that touch hearts and bear lasting fruit over time."

The ongoing, day-to-day pastoral care of young adults need to help them "arrive at certain basic certainties in life, truths of the heart: God is love; Christ saves you; He lives; and the Spirit gives life," the pope said, before adding another that was not in his prepared text: "Our Lady loves you because she is a mother."

"Young people may be concerned about the bad news that bombards us daily, yet that should not obscure their certainty that the risen Christ is with them and is more powerful than any evil," the pope said. "Christ is alive! Everything that lives is in his hands. He alone knows the future of our world and of our individual lives."

The only way to convince young people of those truths, he said, is to help them encounter Christ through prayer, celebrations of the sacraments of Eucharist and reconciliation, community gatherings, service to the poor and the testimony of the lives of the saints.

"Young people who have had this experience become convincing witnesses of the message of the Gospel," he said.

Another essential element of youth and young adult ministry, the pope said, is training adults and even other young people in spiritual discernment so they can act as guides.

"It is a skill that cannot be improvised but must be cultivated, experienced and lived," he said. "For a young person, to find someone capable of discernment is to find a treasure. In the journey of faith and the discovery of one's vocation, a wise guide helps avoid many mistakes, much naivety, many moments of bewilderment and 'paralysis.' A guide does not take away freedom but accompanies."

A spiritual guide also knows that "discernment is personal" and must be tailor-made for the individual, he said. "In our world, everything has become mass-produced and standardized. Young people, instead, need to be accompanied personally, as individuals. Each one of them is unique, and each deserves to be listened to, understood and given advice suited to his or her age as well as human and spiritual maturity."

And, Pope Francis said, discernment is focused on truth.

"We live in a society that is poisoned by fake news, where personal profiles are often tailored or falsified, where people create alternative identities," he said. "Discernment represents for young people a path to authenticity: a way of emerging from artificial identities and discovering their true identity. Discernment is about being 'real': before oneself, before others and before God."