Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — The “poor in spirit,” the pure and the merciful, whom Jesus described as “blessed,” are the same people the world considers to be “losers,” Pope Francis told Catholic young people.
But Jesus offers his followers the true path to happiness, and faith in him “will allow you to expose and reject the low-cost offers and approaches all around you,” the pope said in his message for World Youth Day 2014.
The message, released Feb. 6 at the Vatican, focused on the beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Pope Francis has chosen the beatitudes from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew as the themes for World Youth Day 2014-2016. This year and next, World Youth Day will be celebrated on a local level, on Palm Sunday at the Vatican, and in 2016 it will be an international gathering in Krakow, Poland.
The pope told young people that in April, he will canonize Blessed John Paul II, who began the international celebrations and will be “the great patron of the World Youth Days.”
“To be blessed means to be happy,” the pope said. “In an age when we are constantly being enticed by vain and empty illusions of happiness, we risk settling for less and thinking small when it comes to the meaning of life.
“Think big instead,” he told young people. “Open your hearts.”
“Young people who choose Christ are strong: They are fed by his word and they do not need to stuff themselves” with money, possessions and fleeting pleasure, the pope said.
“Have the courage to swim against the tide. Have the courage to be truly happy,” he said.
Explaining how true happiness includes being “poor in spirit,” the pope said he knew it seemed strange to link happiness and poverty.
But, he said, in the Bible being poor isn’t just about having few material possessions. “It suggests lowliness, a sense of one’s limitations and existential poverty. The ‘anawim’ (God’s poor) trust in the Lord, and they know they can count on him.”
The pope said his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, “understood perfectly the secret of the beatitude” and demonstrated that by living “in imitation of Christ in his poverty and in love for the poor.”
To be poor in spirit, the pope told young people, they must learn to be free or detached from material things, living simply, being concerned about the essentials, but “learning to do without all those unneeded extras.”
Poverty in spirit also requires “a conversion in the way we see the poor,” which means meeting them, listening to them, caring for them and offering them both material and spiritual assistance, he said.
Living according to the beatitude also means recognizing that the poor “have much to offer us and to teach us,” particularly that “people’s value is not measured by their possessions or how much money they have in the bank.”
Looking to Mary, particularly in the Magnificat, the pope told young people, “the joy of the Gospel arises from a heart which, in its poverty, rejoices and marvels at the works of God.”
The text of Pope Francis’ message in English is available at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/messages/youth/documents/papa-francesco_20140121_messaggio-giovani_2014_en.html.