In Rocca di Papa from 24 to 28 March, the 10th International Youth Forum took place with the theme " Learning to Love ": four days; two gatherings with the Holy Father; a message from the Pope to the delegates; 250 participants between the ages of 20 and 30, young people engaged in the Church from around 90 countries and 30 international movements, associations and communities. A challenging event organised by the Pontifical Council for the Laity: a reflection on human love that touched on the dimensions of vocation, marriage, sexuality, family, consecrated life and priesthood.
"‘Learning to Love’: this theme is central to the faith and to Christian life and I am delighted that you have the opportunity to examine it together. As you know, the starting point of any reflection on love is the very mystery of God, for the heart of the Christian revelation is this: Deus caritas est. Christ in his Passion, in the total gift of himself, has revealed to us the Face of the God who is Love. […] I urge the young people present at this Forum to put their whole heart into seeking their vocation to love, as people and as baptized people. This is the key to their entire existence " (Benedict XVI, Message to the 10th International Youth Forum). With this message, the Holy Father introduced the subject matter of the International Youth Forum and stated its objectives. The theme chosen for the event is in fact the key to existence, for " love " is an essential word in God’s language, and Benedict XVI has placed it at the centre of his reflections. The Forum began on Wednesday 24 March at the Mondo Migliore Conference Centre in Rocca di Papa in Rome, and the first session was on the " vocation to love ". It was introduced by Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. He spoke of learning to love by " rediscovering chastity " and of how "marriage and family that are founded on love " are not things of the past that have no future. Marriage and family suffered from the devastating effects of the sexual revolution of the nineteen sixties and seventies that reduced love to sex and sex to an object of pleasure and consumption. It led to the massive spread of contraceptives that has cut the link between sexuality, sentiments and procreation; and to the gender ideology that attacks human sexuality and considers it to be more a product of social and cultural conditioning than the result of a person’s biological make up. It is love that reveals our deepest identity – who we are today and who we shall be tomorrow. That is why John Paul II was very concerned that young people should know how to follow a "mature inner programme of love ". To decide to learn how to love in our times requires the courage to go against the tide and the strength to accept a challenge. The cardinal concluded by saying that "This Forum, then, has some difficult goals ahead, but there is the great desire to communicate hope and joy to all young people like you. The love that Christ teaches us is beautiful and it is possible. It is worth staking our lives on it ". Bishop Josef Clemens, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, read the Holy Father’s message to the young delegates, and then Rev. Eric Jacquinet, explained how the forum would unfold. Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, archbishop of Bologna, gave the first lecture entitled: "Made to love: the truth and beauty of love ". His talk centred on God’s plan that includes the vocation of human beings to love and on the principles of the vocation to love: God’s nuptial and trinitarian love as a source and model of this vocation, the sacrifice of Christ as salvation and the measure of human love, and self- giving as an anthropological key to understanding true freedom. He pointed out the difficulties encountered in the world today: " I was asked: what is it that hampers the ability of young people today to listen to the Christian message of love? I replied: it is because the self has been submitted to a process of being discarded and scrapped. This process of elimination has deformed relations with others and reduced them to being spontaneous rather than free relationships. It is a case of ‘I feel like relating with so-and-so’ rather than ‘I want to relate with so-and-so’. Love can only be free. Only people who are free are capable of loving ". " The Christian message is addressed to human beings so that they will return to the truth of their primary origins. It is a gift of grace that gives new life so that human beings in Christ may no longer ‘live for themselves’ (cf. Rm 14: 8), but become able to love. In the end, the message of love is the message inviting us to be converted to Christ and to live in Him. It is only in this way that we can find ourselves because we have regained our capacity for love ". Cardinal Caffarra’s talk was followed by several testimonies by delegates. The lecture in the afternoon gave rise to much interest and many questions from the delegates. It was given by the French psychoanalyst Mgr Tony Anatrella, consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Family. The theme was: "To live and grow in true love: challenges and difficulties for young people in our times - An overview of the situation of youth today ". He spoke of the causes of the fragmentation of the self in today’s society, the risks involved in a life lived superficially, like a shop window: "Exposing your life on the internet in the hope of starting friendship relationships, is not a concrete effort to try to get to know people and to find God […] To desire love in isolation from your body is an illusion. God’s word was made incarnate in the person of Christ, who came to save us from this illusion. By means of his resurrection we discover the significance of the body and our dignity is revealed ". The day concluded with working groups according to language who discussed the theme of the day, and Mass presided by Cardinal Ryłko. On Thursday 25 March the morning was devoted to the theme: " Love as a life choice ". After Mass of the solemnity of the Annunciation, presided by Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, the sessions began with Moysés Louro de Azevedo Filho from Brazil, founder of the Shalom Catholic Community, who spoke on how "Life is a vocation ". He gave testimony of how " through a personal encounter with Jesus Christ I could experience and accept the infinite love of God who loves me to the point of giving his life so that I may have life, and life to the full. For the first time I understood that happiness is not only a word or idea, but it is a person. Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose again. He is the living God who has come to meet me, and through the sorrows and joys of my life he can personally reach me and call me to follow him. It is in following him that I found peace. I found the sure way of true happiness that will never end. I finally understood the fullness and meaning of life and the absolute meaning of the word ‘eternity’". How can love become our choice in life? Marriage, consecrated life and priesthood are the states of life through which human beings are called by God to respond to his love by loving as He does. Martin Bergeron and Ginette L’Heureux, leaders of the Équipes Notre Dame in Canada, spoke of the beauty and splendour of marriage, the sacrament of the Covenant of love, a way to holiness and prophetic mission. Between the two talks, the young delegates had an opportunity to present a summary of the ideas and issues that arose in the previous day’s working groups and to have open discussion. The Western world might view marriage as a limitation, and in Africa there is a common mentality that a wife is a possession. Nonetheless, young people long for the ideal of a life as a couple that is constructive, faithful and remains strong. The task given by this Forum should be to give witness to the Christian idea of marriage, and to tell young people all over the world that it is the principle of personal happiness and stable society. We can be certain that, whatever problems are encountered, Love will always have the last word. In the afternoon, the participants had the opportunity to see the Holy Father together with the youth of the dioceses of Rome and Lazio. They were in Saint Peter’s Square to celebrate the 25th anniversary of World Youth Day. In a festive setting, Pope Benedict XVI spoke with the young people, responding to their questions and concerns and encouraging them to make courageous choices in tune with the Gospel. Friday 26 March was a particularly full day, both because of the topics discussed and the number of talks. Proceeding on from the points that had emerged during the previous days on love and Christian marriage, the Christian view of sexuality was presented. Attilio Danese and Giulia Paola Di Nicola from the University of Chieti, authors of numerous publications and members of the International Academy of Matrimonial Spirituality in Brussels, spoke alternately on the topic of: " Sexuality, God’s gift, a personal treasure, language of communion ". They began by saying that " the deciding factor in what brings about satisfactory sexuality is the quality of the interpersonal relationship. We learn to love someone, not by seeking pleasure, but by desiring the good of that person, and the consequence of that is spontaneous joy. On the contrary, when pleasure is sought for its own sake, it stands in the way of true intimate union. Nobody wants to be simply an instrument in satisfying another’s passion ". They concluded with the topic of chastity: "Can you love your spouse intimately and preserve your chastity? The path of love may wind along tortuous ways, but it always aims for the heights that are connected to God. There is a link between love and chastity that makes beauty sacred, that does not allow it to be violated but that protects it, like a precious object that we do not want to see damaged by dust, consumed by intrusive prying or desecrated by possessive hands ". "Cultural shifts in sexuality today " was the topic of a panel discussion with Bishop Jean Laffitte, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family who spoke on "Consequences of the sexual revolution ", and Lola Velarde, of the Instituto Europeo de Política Familiar who spoke on " Gender ideology ". They analysed the main difficulties in living fully the gift of sexuality as men and women: the dissociation of sexuality from the transmission of life, the liberalisation of sexual relations, precociousness and promiscuity in sexual relations, ideological feminism, the rejection of motherhood, the trivialisation and commercialisation of sexuality as well as subjectivism as the root of the gender outlook, the ideological change in relations between the sexes and the serious consequences of the gender ideology, the rejection of sexual difference, and the promotion of the gay culture. We must therefore " live our sexuality according to God’s plan ", the subject of the testimonies that followed. Sister Mariana Martin o.p., from Argentina, a religious sister of the Community of the Lamb, spoke of her journey from a degree in chemical engineering to her mission in various countries of the world; Chiara Amirante founder of Comunità Nuovi Orizzonti, involved in evangelisation, hospitality of the homeless, training and guidance, with many service centres in Italy and abroad, spoke of commitment as a community; Rev. José Luis Correa Lira, a priest from Chile, author of a number of books, spoke about the meaning of priestly celibacy. Then there was a panel discussion on: "Newness of Christian life experienced in marriage: fruitful love! ". The participants were François-Xavier and Solange Ngarambe from the Emmanuel Community in Rwanda, Giovanni Paolo Ramonda from the Pope John XXIII Community, and several young married couples who were delegates at the Forum. They pointed out the joys and difficulties of daily life in the light of the newness of Christian life found in the marriage experience. Through their personal experiences, they told of the fruitfulness of love, transmission of life, the gift of children, the discovery of fatherhood and motherhood, the witness given by Christian families, the mission to educate God’s children, and families open to welcoming the poor. Saturday 27 March was the final day, and it dealt with the theme " Preparing for Christian marriage ". The Pope had said in his message to the delegates that " the relationship between the man and the woman reflects divine love in a quite special way; therefore the conjugal bond acquires an immense dignity ". Taking up this idea and speaking on the subject of preparation for Christian marriage were Kari and Stephen Colella who work in pastoral ministry in the archdiocese of Boston in the United States, followed by Rev. Leopoldo Vives Soto from Spain and then Alex and Maud Lauriot- Prévost, co-founders with Fr. Daniel-Ange of Jeunesse Lumière. These talks were very clear and showed how important it is to follow a good preparation course for marriage. They help young people to look at all the aspects of their future life together and grow as a family and in faith, enriching each other and helping each other to overcome the inevitable difficulties and misunderstandings. Bishop Josef Clemens celebrated that day’s Mass. As one of the readings was taken from the prophet Ezekiel (Ez 37: 21-28), Bishop Clemens centred his homily on the painting of the prophet by Michelangelo that is in the Sistine Chapel. He said that it is a real " school of love " in which the elements are " symbolized by the colours of Ezekiel’s garments. Michelangelo used red profusely to symbolise true deep love. Blue represents contemplation, that is, the need to establish a personal relationship with God through prayer. Lastly, purple stands for penitence: the need for reciprocal forgiveness! ". In the afternoon representatives of the working groups gave a synthesis of their discussions to the assembly. The delegates liked the image of the Church as alive, young, universal, concerned about the problems of humankind and which finds answers in the word of God, prayer and the Eucharist. They were impressed with the testimonies given. It was important that all the vocations were represented. It showed how God’s plan encompasses different ways of living out the vocation to love. Cardinal Ryłko had the task of summing up the Forum. He told the young people that God had planted the seed of his Word in their hearts, and that they should not allow that seed to die. He spoke of the great discoveries the delegates made during the Forum. That God loves each one personally was the most important. Then there is the discovery that true love is difficult and challenging because it is based on gift. Then comes the beauty of marriage, the love between a man and a woman that Christ consecrates in a sacrament. There is also the love of those who decide to serve the Church through the priesthood or consecrated life for the Kingdom of God. Finally, there is the beauty of being Christians. Cardinal Ryłko drew some useful pieces of advice from the Forum to help keep the experience alive. He told the young delegates: to trust in Christ and entrust our lives to Him; to educate our own freedom to have the capacity for full commitment for the whole of our lives; to be prepared to be converted each day; to be engaged in our communities and support each other. " The real work of the Forum is about to begin, at the moment when you prepare to return to your countries. I am sure that none of you will return unchanged. Jesus’ words have stirred something within you. Jesus has planted a seed in your lives. You need to cultivate this seed if it is not to die. Take it to others and share it with others ". On Sunday 28 March, the delegates went to Saint Peter’s Square to celebrate the 25th World Youth Day with Benedict XVI. The theme this year is " Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? " (Mk 10:17). Just before the meeting with the Pope, there was time for an international " kermesse " of music and celebration with which the young people thanked the Pontifical Council for the Laity for providing this wonderful experience. They were all challenged with the mission with which the Holy Father had entrusted them in his message to the Forum: "These days of formation through encounter, listening to conferences and common prayer, must also be an encouragement to all the young delegates to make themselves witnesses among their peers of what they have seen and heard. It is a real responsibility. The Church is counting on them because they have an important role to carry out in the evangelization of their country’s young people to ensure that they respond with joy and faithfulness to Christ’s commandment: ‘that you love one another as I have loved you’ (Jn 15: 12) ". The text of the talks and testimonies can be found in various languages on the website www.laici.org.