Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
Before ending his visit to Myanmar, Pope Francis turned to the nation's young Catholics, urging them to pursue lives of faith, hope and love.
Celebrating Mass on 30 November in Yangon's St Mary's Cathedral, the pope asked the youths to serve their tiny church and their struggling nation with prayer, solidarity and a defence of human rights.
The cathedral was packed full of teenagers and young adults, many of whom were wearing traditional outfits. Despite their numbers, the atmosphere was hushed except for the chirping of birds in the trees outside the open windows.
Thousands of young people also filled the gardens surrounding the cathedral, hoping for a close-up encounter with the pope.
In his homily, Pope Francis, whose 81st birthday was less than three weeks away, said he wanted to speak to the young as a grandfather.
The Bible, he told them, ‘asks us to think about our place in God's plan’ and to proclaim God's love and mercy.
‘As messengers of this good news, you are ready to bring a word of hope to the church, to your own country, and to the wider world.’ he said. ‘You are ready to bring good news to your suffering brothers and sisters who need your prayers and your solidarity, but also your enthusiasm for human rights, for justice and for the growth of that love and peace which Jesus brings.’
Pope Francis' grandfatherly advice to them was to find a place away from the noise and distractions of modern life where they could learn to listen to God in prayer. And he encouraged them to rely on the help of the saints, who were men and women who made mistakes but learned to trust in God's mercy.
‘You know that Jesus is full of mercy,’ the pope told the young people. ‘So share with him all that you hold in your hearts: your fears and your worries, as well as your dreams and your hopes.
Pope Francis greets young people after celebrating Mass with youths on 30 November at St Mary's Cathedral in Yangon, Myanmar. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
‘Cultivate your interior life, as you would tend a garden or a field,’ the pope continued. ‘This takes time; it takes patience. But like a farmer who waits for the crops to grow, if you wait the Lord will make you bear much fruit, a fruit you can then share with others.’
Finally, Pope Francis told them, be young and be bold.
‘Do not be afraid to make a ruckus, to ask questions that make people think,’ he said. ‘And don't worry if sometimes you feel that you are few and far between. The Gospel always grows from small beginnings. So make yourselves heard.’