Dear young people, dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
With the celebration of this Holy Mass we want to officially inaugurate the activities of the San Lorenzo International Youth Center, which from this year will be entrusted to the Shalom Catholic Community. The work that this center has been doing for more than 30 years is essentially a service of welcoming young people, and the Gospel just proclaimed can be a great help to understand the right spirit with which to live this service.
To the disciples who were discussing who was the greatest among them, Jesus taught that the “smallest” among them is, in reality, the “greatest”. And he explains these words by approaching a child and saying that those who welcome him in His name, welcome Christ Himself. We can emphasize two aspects from the words of Jesus.
The emphasis is placed first of all on the receiving of Christ: “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me.” A true disciple of the Lord is he who has become “small” because he has emptied himself. It is not all taken up by his ideas, his ambitions, his desires for self-affirmation and recognition by others, but he has become free of himself and has gradually learned to “fill himself with Christ”. His heart was enriched by the friendship of Christ, by the desire to follow in everything His holy will, to answer to the call that he received from him, because he tasted His mercy and His immense love. This disciple, who has become a child, is now a “bearer of Christ”, so whoever welcomes him, welcomes Jesus himself. He, therefore, does not inspire fear with his presumed intellectual, moral or spiritual superiority, but allows himself to be received by others with humility and simplicity, knowing well that by welcoming him, they will welcome Christ himself, the only one who can console and fill the human heart.
Dear friends, this is the first invitation that the Gospel addresses to all of you. In your personal life, in your life of prayer and in all the activities you do in this center, learn to be “poor of yourselves” and learn to “fill yourselves with Christ”, His Spirit, His words, His feelings and His gaze of compassion for every creature.
A second aspect to be emphasized, however, concerns the receiving that you will offer to the young people who will come. You are called to see within them the “little ones” of the Gospel, these helpless and needy children who are to be received because in receiving them you will receive Christ himself. By listening to their questions, making yourselves close to their sufferings, their doubts, their anxieties, you will discover that there is in many young people a keen desire to be understood and accepted without being judged, to establish authentic bonds of friendship and brotherhood, and to find, precisely within these authentic human relationships, the path to Truth.
It is a service of listening and welcoming that requires a lot of charity, patience and openness, because every person is unique and comes from a different life experience.
It is about having an authentic missionary spirit! Anyone who works with young people must have this spirit. In fact, the youth world is an essentially missionary area, because it requires the ability to meet people often different from us who seem to be very far from God, requires the ability to bring the first proclamation of the Gospel in a simple and effective way, the ability to be credible announcers and the ability to engage and attract others, through our zeal and our joy. It helps us, the liturgical memorial of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, which we celebrate today, patron of the missions, a young saint in love with Jesus.
Dear friends, I invite you, in a special way, to put into your prayer intentions the Synod on the young people that is about to begin, so that you may inspire in the Church a new love for the young and a new missionary impulse, to overcome fears and prejudices, and to feel strongly the desire to bring the light of the Gospel to all young people.
May the Virgin Mary, St. Therese of the Child Jesus and St. John Paul II, creator of this center, assist and bless all those who will offer their service in the San Lorenzo Center for the benefit of the young.