Pope encourages youngsters to tell everyone Jesus loves them

A couple of children rush to hug Pope Francis during a meeting with more than 7,000 people -- including 4,000 youngsters preparing for confirmation -- from the Italian Archdiocese of Bari-Bitonto in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican Jan. 27, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis asked thousands of Italian children preparing for confirmation to be witnesses of God's love.

"Go to Jesus, meet him, and then tell everyone how good it is to be with Jesus, because he loves us and is always waiting for us," the pope told 4,000 young people from the Archdiocese of Bari-Bitonto and some 3,000 catechists, parents and family members who accompanied them.

The group set off in 150 buses from southern Italy before midnight and drove about five hours to get to the Vatican for their meeting with the pope and to pray in St. Peter's Basilica, Archbishop Giuseppe Satriano told Vatican News.

Meeting the boisterous group Jan. 27 in the Vatican audience hall, the pope began by asking for a show of hands of how many of the children knew the date of their baptism.

Not many of the 11- to 13-year-olds raised their hands, so the pope told them to ask their parents when they got home.

"The date of baptism must be celebrated every year like a second birthday," he told them. "Have a cake with candles, too! An extra cake – not bad!"

Pope Francis told the children he was not joking because with baptism "we were born into Christian life, to life in Jesus, which lasts forever, which is eternal life, forever! Then we entered the great family of the church, and the Holy Spirit came to dwell in us and will never abandon us; and finally, we have received the greatest inheritance there is – Heaven!"

With confirmation, he said, the Holy Spirit and the church will confirm them in that faith and help them grow stronger.

But, he added, confirmation also involves a personal commitment to be "protagonists" and not just "spectators" of Christian life.

Pope Francis urged the young people to learn about Italian Blessed Carlo Acutis, who died of leukemia in 2006 at the age of 15.

In Blessed Acutis' short life, "he did a great deal of good things," the pope said. "Above all, he was impassioned by Jesus; and since he was very good at getting around on the internet, he used it in the service of the Gospel, spreading love for prayer, the witness of faith and charity toward others."

"Prayer, witness and charity" were the hallmarks of Blessed Acutis' life and should be a key part of the life of every Christian, the pope said. "He spent a lot of time with Jesus, especially at Mass, which he attended every day, and he prayed before the tabernacle, so he could announce to everyone, with words and gestures of love, that God loves us and is always waiting for us."

"Listen to this," the pope told the children: "God loves us and is always waiting for us."

"Let's say it together: 'God loves us and is always waiting for us.'"



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