At a recent prayer service in Brooklyn, a group of actors from youth ministry performed a skit to portray how Jesus defeats efforts by certain forces in the world to reduce people to mere instruments.
The skit showed a young woman being pulled by temptations that first distracted her and then led her to question her worth, from money and vanity to drugs and, later, self-harm. Then, when she is about to take her own life, she reacts and runs toward Jesus. But vices and temptations grab her and hit her as she struggles to get up. Then Jesus runs to protect her. He takes the beating for her. She starts to pray. Defeating evil, Jesus lifts her up and embraces her.
Watching the drama unfold reminded me of the words Pope Francis recently offered to thousands of young people in Mexico, during his trip in February. There, he focused on three words: wealth, hope and dignity.
Responding to the testimony of young people in Michoacan — an area known for its drug-trafficking ties, violence and lack of dignified work — the pope asked the young Mexicans to remember their value. He called them “the wealth of the nation” and asked the youth to not let anybody make them believe that their existence does not matter. He also gave them a word of hope: Jesus.
“When everything seems too much, when it seems that the world is crashing down around you, embrace his cross, draw close to him and please, never let go of his hand; please, never leave him,” he said.
Another part of the skit in Brooklyn made me think of the pope’s message in Mexico about how easily we can become distracted and enter into a destructive cycle, one where numbing a pain is not enough. It’s not a situation limited to the young in Mexico.
The pope spoke about the lures of wealth and prestige, saying that the main threat to hope was to allow yourself to believe that you begin to be valuable “when” you have pricey clothes, a car or money. Hope is endangered when we believe happiness or self-worth will happen when we reach a given goal but “in the depths of your heart you do not believe that you are worthy of kindness or love.”
Pope Francis recognized the temptations of the promises of drug cartels to the Mexican youth. He also realized that the horror young people face every day can make them doubt that they are “the wealth of the nation.”
When a young woman said, “They tell us we are the hope for a better world. But who gives us hope?” The pope replied that the horrors of the world are no match for Jesus.
This message of hope can resonate with young people all over the world, where people are in situations where they are devalued, excluded or treated as a commodity. The pope’s reminder — that we, young people, are valuable even when others try to lure us with false promises — can touch people regardless of their experiences.
As a teenager from the Diocese of Brooklyn pointed out, everybody has personal struggles and hardships. It is by letting go of others’ assessment of what is valuable that they can focus on the love of God and feel proud.
Pope Francis said holding the hand of Jesus might not lead to riches, but to dignity, to “the experience of being loved, embraced and accompanied.”
He continued: “By holding his hand it is possible to believe that it is worth the effort to give your best, to be leaven, salt and light among your friends, neighborhoods and your community.”
Negro Chin writes for The Tablet, newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn.