Archbishop John has written to the young adults from the Archdiocese of Southwark who took part in World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon.
Above: Archbishop Wilson with Southwark World Youth Day pilgrims in Fatima
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus,
I am so pleased to be in touch with you again and to wish you joy and peace in the Lord Jesus Christ.
What an incredible time we shared together in Lisbon during WYD 2023. It was a remarkable experience of real and living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is alive in His Church and in the world; and He lives in you through the Holy Spirit. It was such a delight to meet you and to spend time together in faith-filled friendship. How wonderful it was to be able to give witness to our Catholic faith, and to enjoy the rich diversity of the Universal Church gathered from the four corners of the earth. Like Our Lady, we certainly did ‘arise.’ We rose to the call and the challenge of Christ to find and encounter Him in a new way and in our companionship with each other.
Perhaps, like me, since you returned home, you have been replaying so many of the beautiful experiences we shared – and trying to forget the lack of sleep, the queuing, pushing, and shoving, and the scorching heat. For me, there were so many highlights – the times of prayer together; the beautiful conversations; the big and small liturgies; seeing our Holy Father, Pope Francis. I think our trip to Our Lady’s shrine at Fatima stands out. To have walked with each other the Way of the Cross; to have seen the humble homes of Jacinta, Francisco, and Lucia; to have celebrated Mass at the site where Our Lady appeared with a message of peace and reconciliation. I hope you have shared your testimony with others and looked again at the fabulous photos. The stories and images capture so much joy: the joy of our faith, the joy which is the echo of God’s life within us. As I said while we were in Lisbon, I am very proud of you; and it’s still true!
Perhaps coming back to life at home has brought some challenges. Some of you will be back at study, or getting ready for a new term; others will be back at work; or back at home; or even facing some uncertainty. Remember that the Lord is with you always. Never forget that the Lord loves you, personally and uniquely. When St Paul wrote to the first Christian Community in Rome he wanted to encourage them. His words are good to hear again: ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8: 38-39) Nothing, nothing, nothing, can separate you from the love of God made real in the Lord Jesus, His Son and our Saviour.
So, I too want to encourage you. First, to know, deep in your heart, that you are precious to God; that you have a hope in Christ; that the Holy Spirit is your strength and protection; that you matter to the Church. Believe these things. If you doubt or struggle, make an act of faith: ‘Lord, I do believe. Lord, I do want to believe. Lord, help me to trust in you.’
It’s so important to shape your life as a disciple of the Lord Jesus according to your faith and membership of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis is the 266th successor of St Peter. Our Church’s roots reach back through history in an unbroken chain down the centuries. We are connected across 2000 years to the Apostles and St Peter, and to Christ the Lord Himself. ‘You are Peter,’ said the Lord Jesus, ‘and on this rock I will build my Church.’ (Mt 16:18) The Church is your home. No matter what, never let anyone ever tell you otherwise.
While I’m thinking, there are a few more things to encourage you to keep in mind:
- Remember that you have the privilege of meeting the Lord Jesus in Word and Sacrament every time you go to Holy Mass. Christ is really and truly present in the Eucharist. Make Mass on Sunday a priority, and during the week too if you can. Find out when there is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament near you and make time to pray before your Eucharistic Lord. Find in Him your strength and peace. He waits for you.
- Continue to grow as a person of prayer, using all the opportunities and possibilities available in the rich treasury of Catholic spirituality. Pray when you wake up in the morning and before you go to sleep at night. Even if you just say the Our Father and the Hail Mary, morning and evening, it will change your day. Try to pray the rosary as often as possible, even just a decade. Prayer is raising up your heart and mind to God. Prayer is speaking and listening to someone who loves you.
- We spoke about the importance of the Scriptures, the Bible, as the gift of the Catholic Church to the world and to each disciple. Read, pray, and ponder God’s Word, the Gospels in particular. They will bring you into direct contact with the person, words, and actions of the Lord Jesus.
- So many of us approached the Sacrament of Reconciliation during WYD and encountered the healing mercy of God’s forgiveness. Make this a regular part of your Christian life. Never be afraid to seek reconciliation with God by confessing your sins. It will help you grow in holiness.
- Be a player in your parish or chaplaincy, and in your local community. Choose to stand up and be counted for your faith. Live honourably and justly. Do your best to see Christ in everyone. Find a way to put your faith into action by serving others, not least those most in need. Remember the powerful words of the Lord Jesus: ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do it to me.’ (Mt 25:40)
My dear friends, I know many of you want to learn more about your faith. This is truly magnificent. You want to understand it better yourself, but also to be able to share it with others. You are called to evangelise as a witness to Christ by your words and actions. There are many resources to choose from to deepen your knowledge of your faith. Allow me just to highlight one: YouCat, the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, which presents a good summary of our Catholic faith. It has additional volumes on prayer, confession, and social teaching, all available from Amazon. Of course, you were able to listen to my friend Bishop Robert Barron at WYD, so check out too all that he and Word on Fire have to offer.
I am so very much looking forward to meeting you again at our reunion in the autumn. There will be much to catch up about. Also look out for other events we will be hosting in the Archdiocese of Southwark to support the faith of young adult Catholics. I am sure that Fr Dermot will be in touch about these.
You can be sure of my prayers for you and for your families and loved ones. Please also pray for me. Until we meet again, I wish you every blessing. May Our Lady and all the saints intercede for you.
Yours sincerely in the love of Christ
The Most Reverend John Wilson
Archbishop of Southwark