Pope Francis made time to meet with a group of young people in Havana on Sunday, his first full day in Cuba. True to form, he made it clear that he's there to listen and surprise.
Francis appeared to set his prepared remarks for the event aside, choosing instead to speak freely and off-script with the several thousands gathered at "Centro Cultural Padre Félix Varela," a Catholic cultural center.
The pontiff took notes while Leonardo Fernandez, a 21-year-old Cuban, spoke about what he hopes for the future of his country. Building on that, Francis encouraged young people to dream for the best.
"A young person who is not capable of dreaming is cloistered in himself, he’s closed in on himself," Francis said. "Sure, a person sometimes dreams of things that are never going to happen. But dream them. Desire them. Seek the horizon. Open yourselves to great things."
He also addressed the problem of youth unemployment, which he believes helps create an "existential sadness" and spirit of defeatism amongst young people.
"When a people is not concerned with giving work to youth -- and when I say "people," I don’t mean government, I mean the entire people -- it doesn’t have a future," Francis said.
In a statement sent to journalists, the Holy See's English language press representative Rev. Thomas Rosica said that both the original and spoken versions of the pope's speeches were prepared by the pontiff. But Francis "often takes into consideration the audience, the setting, the moment and supplements the prepared text with some very moving reflections," Rosica wrote.
Here's a translated version of Francis's speech to young Cubans in Havana, which was provided by Rosica.
You are standing up and I am sitting. How unmannerly. But you know why I sit down? It’s because I took some notes of some things that our companion here said, and what I want to say is based on these. One word that struck a chord is "dream." A Latin American writer has said that people have two eyes: one of flesh and another of glass. With the eye of flesh, we see what is before us and with the eye of glass, we see what we dream of. It’s nice, no? In the objectivity of life, the capacity of dreaming has to enter in. A young person who is not capable of dreaming is cloistered in himself, he’s closed in on himself. Sure, a person sometimes dreams of things that are never going to happen. But dream them. Desire them. Seek the horizon. Open yourselves to great things.
I’m not sure if in Cuba they use this word, but in Argentina, we say, Don’t be wimpy. Open yourselves and dream. Dream that the world with you can be different. Dream that if you give the best of yourself, you are going to help this world be different. Don’t forget. Dream. If you get carried away and dream too much and life cuts you off, don't worry. Dream and share your dreams. Speak about the great things that you want, because inasmuch as your capacity to dream is greater, when life leaves you only half way, you will have gone farther. So, first dream.
You said a phrase that I underlined and took note of: "that we might know how to welcome and accept the one who thinks differently than us." Truly, sometimes we are closed in. We shut ourselves in our little world: "This is either the way that I want it or we’re not doing it." And you went even further, "that we don’t close ourselves into the 'little convents' of ideologies or in the 'little convents' of religions. That we might grow in the face of individualism."
When a religion becomes a "little convent" it loses the best that it has, it loses its reality of adoring God, of believing in God. It’s a little convent of words, of prayers, of "I’m good and you’re bad,’ of moral regulations. I have my ideology, my way of thinking and you have yours; I close myself in this "little convent" of ideology.
Open hearts. Open minds. If you are different than me, why don’t we talk? Why do we always throw rocks at that which separates us? At that in which we are differing? Why don’t we hold hands in that which we have in common? Motivate ourselves to speak about what we have in common, and then we can talk about the differences we have. But I said, talk, I didn’t say fight. I didn’t say close ourselves in. I don’t say "shut ourselves into our little convent," to use the word youused. But this is possible only when I have the capacity to speak of that which I have in common with the other, of that by which we are able to work together.
In Buenos Aires, in a new parish, in a very, very poor region, a group of university students was building some rooms for the parish. And the parish priest told me, "Why don’t you come some Sunday and I’ll introduce them to you." They worked on Saturdays and Sundays on this construction. They were young men and women of the university. So I arrived, I saw them and they were introduced to me. "This is the architect. He’s Jewish. This one is Communist. This one is a practicing Catholic." All of them were different, but they were all working together for the common good.
This is called social friendship: to seek the common good. Social enmity destroys. A family is destroyed by enmity. A country is destroyed by enmity. The world is destroyed by enmity. And the biggest enmity is war. And today we see that the world is destroying itself with war because people are incapable of sitting down and talking. OK, let’s negotiate. Whatcan we do in common? In what things are we not going to give in? But let’s not kill more people. When there is division, there is death, death in the soul because we are killing the capacity to unite. We are killing social friendship. And that’s what I ask of you today: be capable of creating social friendship.
There was another word that you said, the word hope. Youth are the hope of a people; we hear this everywhere. But what is hope? Is it to be optimistic? No. Optimism is a mood. Tomorrow, you wake up with an upset stomach and you’re not optimistic, you see everything in a negative light. Hope is something more. Hope is something that endures through suffering. Hope knows how to suffer to bring forward a project. It knows how to make sacrifices. Are you capable of making sacrifices for a future or do you only want to live today and leave what comes to those who come after? Hope is fruitful. Hope gives life. Are you capable of giving life? Or are you going to be a spiritually sterile young man or young woman, without the capacity to create life in others, without the capacity to create social friendship, without the capacity to create a homeland, without the capacity to create greatness?
Hope is fruitful. Hope is given in work, and here I want to mention a very grave problem that is being experienced in Europe: the number of youth who don’t have work. There are countries in Europe where as many as 40% of youth 25 years old and younger live unemployed. I am thinking of one country. In another country, it’s 47% and in another 50%.
Evidently, when a people is not concerned with giving work to youth — and when I say "people," I don’t mean government, I mean the entire people — it doesn’t have a future.
The youth become part of the throwaway culture and all of us know that today, in this empire of the god money, things are thrown away and people are thrown away, children are thrown away, because they are unwanted, because they kill them before they are born, the elderly are thrown away — I’m speaking of the world in general — because they don’t produce anymore. In some countries, there is legal euthanasia, but in so many others there is a hidden, covered up euthanasia. Youth are thrown away because they are not given work. So then? What is left for a young person who doesn't have work? A country that doesn’t invent, a people that doesn’t invent employment opportunities for its youth, what’s left for this youth are addictions, or suicide, or to go around looking for armies of destruction to create wars.
This throwaway culture is doing damage to all of us; it takes away hope, and this is what you asked for the youth: "We want hope." Hope endures suffering, it’s hardworking, it’s fruitful, it gives us work and it saves us from the throwaway culture. Hope that brings together, brings everyone together, because a people that knows how to bring itself together to look toward the future and build social friendship, as I said, despite thinking differently, this people has hope.
And if I find a young person without hope, I've said this before, "a young retired person." There are young people who seem to have retired at 22 years old. They are young people with existential sadness, they are young people who have committed their lives to a basic defeatism. They are young people who lament. They are young people who flee from life. The journey of hope is not easy. And it can’t be made alone. There is an African proverb that says, "If you want to go quickly, walk alone, but if you want to go far, walk together."
And I, Cuban young people, though you think differently from each other, though you have your own points of view, I want you to go along accompanying each other, together, seeking hope, seeking the future and the nobility of your homeland. We began with the word hope and I want to conclude with another word that you said and that I tend to use a lot: the culture of encounter. Please, let us not have "un-encounter" among us. Let us go accompanying each other, in encounter, even though we think differently, even though we feel differently, but there is something bigger than us, which is the greatness of our people, which is the greatness of our homeland, which is this beauty, this sweet hope for the homeland to which we have to arrive.
I take leave wishing you the best, wishing you all of this that I have said, this I wish for you. I am going to pray for you. And I ask you to pray for me. And if one of you is a non-believer and cannot pray because he doesn’t believe, may he at least wish the best for me. May God bless you and bring you to walk along this path of hope, toward the culture of encounter, avoiding these "little convents" that our companion spoke about. May God bless all of you.
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