Vatican City, 29 November 2015 (VIS) – Yesterday afternoon the Pope met with the young people of Uganda at the Kololo airstrip, a former airport near Kampala which is currently used for major events, and which is able to hold around a hundred thousand people. The young people had followed the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis a few hours previously at the Catholic Namugongo shrine via the maxi screens installed in the area. The civil authorities responsible for education and sport were also present in Kololo along with, in a special area, 200 young deaf people, refugees, and chaplains for youth pastoral ministry. On the stage there were another fifty young people, a couple from each diocese in the country and a group of orphans.
The Pope set aside his prepared discourse, which we reproduce below, preferring instead to converse informally with those present after listening to the testimony of two young people, Emmanuel Odokonyero and Winnie Nansumba, who told of their difficult experiences, from sickness and depression to recruitment and witnessing the torture and murder of their friends.
“As I listened to Winnie and Emmanuel's testimonies, I asked myself a question: can a negative experience have a purpose in life? Yes! … Many of us here today have had negative experiences. There is always the possibility of opening up a horizon, of opening it up with the strength of Jesus. … Because Jesus is the Lord. Jesus can do anything. And Jesus suffered the most negative experience in history: He was insulted, denied and murdered. And Jesus, through the power of God, rose again. He can do the same for each one of us, with every negative experience. This is why Jesus is the Lord.
“I imagine, and together we can all imagine Emmanuel's suffering, when he saw his companions tortured, when he saw his companions murdered. But Emmanuel was brave. … He risked everything, he had faith in Jesus and he escaped. And here he is today, fourteen years later, qualified in management. There is always a way! Our life is like a seed, that must die in order to live again; and at times this means dying physically, like Emmanuel's companions. To die as Charles Lwanga and the martyrs of Uganda died. But through this death there is a life, there is life for all. If I transform a negative into a positive, I am triumphant. But this can be done only with the grace of Jesus. … Are you willing to transform in life all those negative things into positive things? Are you willing to transform war into peace? Be conscious that you are a people of martyrs. The blood of the martyrs flows in your veins! This is why you have your faith and life. And this faith and life is so beautiful, that it is called the 'pearl of Africa'”.
“If you believe that Jesus can change your life, ask Him for His help. This is prayer. … Pray to Jesus, because He is the Saviour. Never cease praying. Prayer is the most powerful weapon a young person has. Jesus loves you. … So, open the door to your heart and let Him enter. Let Jesus enter into your life. And when Jesus enters your life, He will help you fight, to fight against all problems. … To fight against depression, to fight against AIDS. Ask for help to overcome these situations, and always to fight. Fight with desire and with prayer”.
“The third thing I would like to say … We are all in the Church, we all belong to the Church. … And the Church has a mother. Mary! … Pray to Mary! … When a child falls and hurts himself, he cries and looks for his mother. When we have a problem, the best thing we can do is to go to where our Mother is. To pray to Mary, to pray to our Mother”.
“Three things”, he concluded: “The first: overcome difficulties. The second: transform the negative into positive. And the third: prayer. Pray to Jesus, Who is capable of everything. Jesus, Who enters into our heart and changes our life. Jesus, Who came to save me and who gave His life for me. Let us pray to Jesus, because He is the only Lord. And since in the Church we are not orphans, we have a Mother, let us pray to our Mother”.
The following is the Holy Father's prepared discourse:
“Dear Young Friends,
I am happy to be here and to share these moments with you. I greet my brother bishops and the civil authorities present, and I thank Bishop Paul Ssemogerere for his words of welcome. The testimonies of Winnie and Emmanuel confirm my impression that the Church in Uganda is alive with young people who want a better future. Today, if you will allow me, I want to confirm you in your faith, encourage you in your love, and in a special way, strengthen you in your hope.
Christian hope is not simply optimism; it is much more. It is rooted in the new life we have received in Jesus Christ. St. Paul tells us that hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love was poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit at our baptism. This hope enables us to trust in Christ’s promises, to trust in the power of His love, His forgiveness, His friendship. That love opens the door to new life. Whenever you experience a problem, a setback, a failure, you must anchor your heart in that love, for it has the power to turn death into life and to banish every evil.
So this afternoon I would invite you, first of all, to pray for this gift to grow within you, and for the grace to become messengers of hope. There are so many people around us who experience deep anxiety and even despair. Jesus lifts these clouds, if we allow Him to.
I would also like to share with you a few thoughts about some of the obstacles which you may encounter on our journey of hope. All of you want a better future, employment, health and prosperity. This is good. You want to share your gifts, your aspirations and your enthusiasm with others, for the good of the nation and of the Church. This too is very good. But when you see poverty, when you experience lack of opportunity, when you experience failure in your lives, sometimes a feeling of despair can grow. You can be tempted to lose hope.
Have you ever seen a little child who stops in front of a dirty puddle on the path ahead of him? A puddle he cannot leap over or go around? He may try but then he stumbles and gets soaked. Then, after many attempts, he calls out to his father, who takes his hand and swings him over to the other side. We are like that child. Life presents us with many dirty puddles. But we don’t have to overcome all those problems and hurdles on our own. God is there to take our hand, if only we call on him.
What I am saying is that all of us have to be like that little child, even the Pope! For it is only when we are small and humble that we are not afraid to call out to our Father. If you have experienced his help, you know what I am speaking about. We need to learn to put our hope in him, knowing that he is always there for us. He gives us confidence and courage. But – and this is important – it would be wrong not to share this beautiful experience with others. It would be wrong for us not to become messengers of hope for others.
There is one particular puddle which can be frightening to young people who want to grow in their friendship with Christ. It is the fear of failing in our commitment to love, and above all, failing in that great and lofty ideal which is Christian marriage. You may be afraid of failing to be a good wife and mother, failing to be a good husband and father. If you are looking at that puddle, you may even see your weaknesses and fears reflected back to you. Please, don’t give in to them! Sometimes these fears come from the devil who does not want you to be happy. No! Call out to God, extend your hearts to him and he will lift you in his arms and show you how to love. I ask young couples in particular to trust that God wants to bless their love and their lives with his grace in the sacrament of marriage. God’s gift of love is at the heart of Christian marriage, not the costly parties which often obscure the deep spiritual meaning of this day of joyful celebration with family and friends.
Finally, one puddle that we all have to face is the fear of being different, of going against the grain in a society which puts increasing pressure on us to embrace models of gratification and consumption alien to the deepest values of African culture. Think about it! What would the Uganda martyrs say about the misuse of our modern means of communication, where young people are exposed to images and distorted views of sexuality that degrade human dignity, leading to sadness and emptiness? What would be the Uganda martyrs’ reaction to the growth of greed and corruption in our midst? Surely they would appeal to you to be model Christians, confident that your love of Christ, your fidelity to the Gospel, and your wise use of your God-given gifts can only enrich, purify and elevate the life of this country. They continue to show you the way. Do not be afraid to let the light of your faith shine in your families, your schools and your places of work. Do not be afraid to enter into dialogue humbly with others who may see things differently.
Dear young friends, when I look at your faces I am filled with hope: hope for you, hope for your country, and hope for the Church. I ask you to pray that the hope which you have received from the Holy Spirit will continue to inspire your efforts to grow in wisdom, generosity and goodness. Don’t forget to be messengers of that hope! And don’t forget that God will help you to cross whatever puddles you meet along the way!
Hope in Christ and he will enable you to find true happiness. And if you find it hard to pray, if you find it hard to hope, do not be afraid to turn to Mary, for she is our Mother, the Mother of Hope. Finally, please, do not forget to pray for me! God bless you all!”.