World Youth Day took place in Panama City last week, and tens of thousands of young people gathered together to joyfully celebrate their Catholic faith. Why would so many young people travel from around the world to a Catholic event? Because it is an opportunity to find, cultivate, and celebrate their Catholic identity, community, and sense of belonging in the Body of Christ.
Recently on St. Joseph’s Workshop, Father Matthew Spencer, OSJ spoke about how important identity, community, and a sense of belonging are for young people, because, as Pope Francis said during World Youth Day, young people have often been abandoned by our culture and society.
In a speech given to the bishops of Central America, Pope Francis said, “Young people have been orphaned by a culture and a society which do not prioritize people and the common good. This results in young people without families or homes, without a community, without a sense of belonging.”
Reflecting on this speech, Fr. Matthew said, “It is interesting to me that it is society and culture that has orphaned young people, according to Pope Francis. That in fact, the world is leaving young people behind. I mean, this is really true. When you look at the values that the world tries to embrace. When you look at the movements that are happening in the world.”
“When it comes to movements of life and movements of marriage and family, when they are so contrary to God’s plan for life, marriage, and family,” he explained. “By our culture pushing that on young people, it is leaving them completely abandoned, with a set of values that is never going to lead them to happiness. It’s never going to lead them to fulfillment. They’re just not realizing even what they’re missing sometimes.”
A society that values self-centered individualism over self-sacrificial love and efficiency over empathy is one that abandons the weakest among us, and that includes many young people.
“Since people are not prioritized in our society, then the young people are the ones who suffer,” said Fr. Matthew. “Without community, without a sense of belonging even.”
This is one reason that World Youth Day draws so many from around the world. It is a place where young people can find community, belonging, be shown the love of God, and learn how to live a life of Christian joy and hope. Pope Francis gave a powerful example of this by visiting Las Garzas de Pacora Juvenile Detention Center, about 30 miles outside Panama City. During his visit he heard confessions and told the prisoners, “God does not look at labels and prison terms, but at His sons and daughters.”
Of Pope Francis’ visit to the youth prison, Fr. Matthew said, “To me, this was a powerful witness. … Here is an opportunity to shed light on some young people who have really been abandoned by society. Some of the young people who have been orphaned by our culture and the world.”
“The source of so much of young people’s violence and crime is largely because they have been orphaned and abandoned by others,” he pointed out. “By families, by societies, by their communities, by the world. There are many young people around the world who are very much alone. Very much abandoned. There are young people who are imprisoned, incarcerated, and struggle to find that hope and that joy that every Christian is called to have. So let’s continue in prayer for all young people around the world.”
Listen to the full reflection below: