2016: Look – decide – act with Mary

A speech by Pope Francis at the conclusion of World Youth Day, Krakow, Poland on 31 July, 2016.

Before returning to Rome, I wanted to meet you and to thank each of you for your commitment, generosity and dedication in guiding, helping and serving the thousands of young pilgrims. Thank you too for your witness of faith that, together with that of so many young people from every part of the world, is a great sign of hope for the Church and the world. By giving of yourselves for love of Christ, you have experienced the beauty of commitment to a noble cause. You have also seen how enriching it is to join with so many friends of both sexes in a project that, while tiring, repays your efforts with joy and a wealth of new knowledge and openness to Jesus, to our neighbours, and to important life decisions.

As an expression of my gratitude, I would like to share with you a gift offered us by the Virgin Mary, who has today come to visit us in the miraculous image of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, so dear to the heart of Saint John Paul II. In the Gospel mystery of the Visitation (cf. Lk 1:39-45), we can see an icon of all Christian volunteer work. I would take three attitudes shown by Mary and leave them to you as an aid to interpreting the experience of these days and an inspiration for your future commitment to service. These three attitudes are listening, deciding and acting.

First, listening. Mary sets out after hearing the word of the angel: “Your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son…” (Lk 1:36). Mary knows how to listen to God. It is not simply about hearing, but about listening attentively and receptively, and being ready to help. Think of how many times we come before the Lord or other people, but fail to really listen. Mary also listens to events, to things that happen in life. She is attentive to practical realities; she does not stop at the surface, but seeks to grasp their meaning. Mary knew that Elizabeth, now elderly, was expecting a child. She saw in this the hand of God, a sign of his mercy. The same thing also happens in our own lives. The Lord stands at the door and knocks in any number of ways; he posts signs along our path and he calls us to read them in the light of the Gospel.

The second attitude we see in Mary is deciding. Mary listens and reflects, but she also knows how to take a step forward: she is decisive. This was the case with the fundamental decision of her life: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). So too, at the wedding feast of Cana, when Mary sees the problem, she decides to speak to Jesus and ask him to do something: “They have no wine” (Jn 2:3). In life, it is often hard to make decisions. We tend to postpone them, even allowing others decide in our place, or else we let ourselves be dragged along by the course of events and to follow the “trend” of the moment. At times, we know well what we have to do, but we lack the courage to do it, since we think it is too difficult to go against the grain… Mary is not afraid to go against the grain. With a steadfast heart she listens and decides, accepting the risks, never on her own, but with God!

Finally, acting. Mary set out on her journey and “went with haste…” (Lk 1:39). Despite the hardships and the criticisms she may have heard, she didn’t hesitate or delay, but “went with haste”, because she had the strength of God’s Word within her. Her way of acting was full of charity, full of love: this is the mark of God. Mary went to Elizabeth not to have other people praise her, but to be helpful, useful, in her service. And in setting out from her home, from herself, with love, she brought along the most precious thing she possessed: Jesus, the Son of God, the Lord. Elizabeth realizes this immediately: “Why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” (Lk 1:43). The Holy Spirit awakens faith and joy within her: “For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy” (Lk 1:44).

In volunteer work too, every act of service we provide, even the most simple, is important. Ultimately, it is an expression of openness to the presence of Jesus. It makes us experience the love from on high that set us on our way and fills us with joy. World Youth Day volunteers are not only a “workers”, but evangelizers, because the Church exists and serves to evangelize.

Once Mary had finished assisting Elizabeth, she went back home to Nazareth. Quietly and with no fuss, she left in the same way that she came. You too, dear volunteers, will not see all the fruits of your work here in Krakow or during the “twinnings”. Your brothers and sisters whom you served will see them in their lives and rejoice in them. That is the “gratuitousness” of love! Yet God knows your dedication, your commitment and your generosity. You can be sure that he will not fail to repay you for everything you have done for this Church of the young assembled in these days in Krakow with the Successor of Peter. I commend you to God and to the word of his grace (cf. Acts 20:32). I entrust you to Mary, our Mother, model of all Christian volunteer service. And I ask you, please, to remember to pray for me.


Pope Francis, Meeting with World Youth Day organisers, Krakow, Poland, 2016 (Vatican)