The Pope meets the young people of the Shalom community in Rome

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“Young boys and girls, break the mirror! But if you do look at yourself in the mirror, I’ll give you a piece of advice: Let’s laugh about ourselves, it will give us joy and free us from the temptation of narcissism.” Pope Francis said while addressing the young people of the Shalom Catholic community in Rome for the 35th anniversary of its foundation. He urged them not to give into today’s “narcissistic and consumerist culture” and recommended to start a dialogue with the elderly. Responding to a young Brazilian, who used to be a drug addict, Francis, who started off with a football-joke (”Better Pelé or Maradona?”), said that drug addiction “cuts the roots of the heart.”

The Shalom Catholic community, born in Brazil in the early 1980s with a pizza restaurant and a library next to the main building for the reception and evangelization of young people, received in 2007 the recognition of the Pontifical Council for the Laity as an international congregation of faithful.

“One thing that characterizes youth and God’s eternal youth” the Pope said in response to the question of a French girl who was baptized during the recent Jubilee of Mercy, “both for young people and for those who are living a second youth , is cheerfulness and joy. Cheerfulness against sadness, a sadness from which you have to come out. A young person who remains (closed in) on themselves, who lives for themselves only, ends up – I will use an Argentine verb – empachado (constipated, e.d.) of self-referentiality. There is an image that comes to my mind when I think of someone selfish, a person who has a great deal of narcissism, who contemplates themselves and ignores others, who puts make up on their soul, worried only to look better than what he or she is: it is a “soul illness”.

Young people – the Pope said – break that mirror! Do not look in the mirror because the mirror deceives. We live in a culture of self-referentialism, a consumerist and narcissistic culture. And if you do look at yourself in the mirror, I’ll give you a piece of advice: Let’s laugh about ourselves, it will give us joy and free us from the temptation of narcissism.”

Jorge Mario Bergoglio then replied in Spanish to three questions from a Frenchwoman and a Brazilian and a Chilean man, ironically saying that he would be mixing some Italian and Portuguese together talking then “a little bit of Portagnol.” The Argentinean Pope turned to the young Brazilian man, who had told about his drug addiction, first making a football joke that made everyone laugh: “Who is the best, Pelé or Maradona?” then continuing: “You’ve been through the “tunnel of drugs” for a long time. It’s one of the instruments that the culture, in which we are living, holds to ruin us. It makes us invisible to ourselves, as if we were in made of air. Drugs lead us to deny all that we have, drugs cut the roots of our heart off, the carnal roots, historical roots, and problematic roots, and lets you live in a root-free world, uprooted from everything, from the project, from the present, your personal story, your homeland, your family, your love, from everything. To live in a world with no roots: this is the tragedy of drugs. Young people who are totally uprooted. Without real commitments, no flesh commitments.”

“Having been through the experience of “being invisible” and then having become aware of it – Francis said to the Brazilian boy – tells you how many roots you have in your heart. Ask yourselves: are you aware of your projects, your love, your creative ability? Because you are like poets called to create new things in the world.” The Pope continued “To match God’s plan”, who wants to “comfort the pains of humanity,” it is necessary to give free of charge. We give free of charge what we have received. This helps you to “dis-commercialize yourself”, it teaches you to embrace, it makes you find your roots, it shelters you from all selfish interests. Give for free what you have received for free.”

The Pope then replied to a Chilean boy who spoke of a “world marked by despair and indifference,” citing the parable of the prodigal Son and his merciful father: “His father saw him coming from afar. He had left many years before. It makes me think that this father would watch every day from the terrace to see if his son was coming back, and so is God, waiting for us in every difficult, sinful time. Whatever worst situation, the Father is always waiting for us with mercy and tenderness: do not ever despair.” “Agreed?” Said the Pontiff, who before the faint answer coming from the young crowd, remarked: “My God, how are you? It seems that instead of giving you a pep talk, I’m giving you a chill pill to sleep!”

Pope Francis finally addressed the adult members of the Shalom community, wondering “what service the world is asking to this charism today”: “Dialogue: one of the challenges of today’s world is dialogue between young people and the elderly. Young people need to listen to the elderly, who have wisdom, and the elderly need to listen to the young, to dream and encourage them to go forward. The elder should not be kept hidden. This dialogue is a promise for the future.”

The Shalom community in these days celebrates with 35,000 pilgrims in Rome its 35th anniversary: “I had no idea where God was taking us,” the founder of the Moysés Azevedo community recalled, “but we were surrounded by blessings much larger than ourselves. Young people have arrived. And along with them, the people.” The community renewed its mission with the Pope.

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