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ROME – On his last day in Greece, Pope Francis met with young people, telling them to get off social media and invest in real relationships and to avoid the “siren calls” of passing fads, finding their worth in God’s love instead.
In his Dec. 6 remarks, the pope referred to the ancient Greek work by Homer, The Odyssey, which chronicles the main character Odysseus’s 10-year struggle to return home after the Trojan war, battling the wrath of the gods and a host of mystical creatures, including sirens, whose deceptively sweet song leads voyagers to their deaths.
“Like Odysseus on his voyage home, in the course of this life, which is an adventure-filled journey to the Father’s House, you too will come across sirens,” the pope told youth, noting that in ancient Greek mythology, “the sirens by their songs enchanted sailors and made them crash against the rocks.”
“Today’s sirens want to charm you with seductive and insistent messages that focus on easy gains, the false needs of consumerism, the cult of physical wellness, of entertainment at all costs… All these are like fireworks: They flare up for a moment, but then turn to smoke in the air,” he said.
The only way to resist these modern-day “sirens” is to return to the beauty and amazement of the faith, he said, noting that in contemporary life, “we risk forgetting who we are, becoming obsessed with appearances, bombarded with messages that make life depend on what we wear, the car we drive, how others see us.”
Pointing to the words “know thyself” engraved on the pediment of the Delphi temple, Francis told youth that those words, while ancient, “remain valid today.”
“Realize that your worth is in who you are and not what you have. Your worth is not in the brand of the dress or shoes you wear, but because you are unique,” he said, telling youth that when the stray from the path, God always “gives us a new beginning and he pours out his love in an embrace that lifts us up, dispels the evil we have done, restores the irrepressible beauty that is within us as his beloved children, and enables it to shine forth.”
Pope Francis met with young people on his last day in Greece at a school run by Ursuline nuns. During the event, he heard testimonies from several youth, including a Syrian refugee, who told him about their stories of faith, their struggles, and their hopes for the future.
In his address, he responded to the testimony of a young woman named Iaonna, who spoke of the influence other people in her life of faith, including her mother, her grandmother, and a nun who taught at her school and showed her the “joy of service.”
“That is how we come to know God. Because to know God, it is not enough to have clear ideas about him, but to bring your life before him,” he said, insisting that Jesus does not reveal himself in prepared sermons or speeches, but “through real faces and real people.”
He noted that in Greek the same word can be used for “new” and “young,” telling young people that if they want to do something new in life and maintain their youthful outlook, they can’t settle “for posting a few tweets.”
“Don’t settle for virtual encounters; look for real ones, especially with people who need you. Don’t look for visibility, but for those who are invisible in our midst,” he said, adding, “That is new, even revolutionary.”
Speaking of the risks of social media, the pope noted that many people are constantly checking their profiles, “but are not themselves very social: they are caught up in themselves, prisoners of the cell phone in their hand.”
“What appears on the screen is not the reality of other persons: their eyes, their breath and their hands. The screen can easily become a mirror, where you think you are looking at the world, but in reality you are all alone before a virtual world full of appearances, of photos dressed up to look always beautiful and acceptable,” he said.
Pope Francis urged young people to seek out genuine friendships and to resist the temptation to close in on themselves when they feel lonely.
“Training yourselves to be open to others, taking a few extra steps so as to shorten your distance from others, vaulting with your heart over obstacles; lifting one another’s burdens,” he said, adding, “This kind of training will make you happy, keep you young and help you feel the adventure of living!”
Francis also responded to the testimony of a young Syrian migrant named Aboud, who came to Greece from Syria by crossing from Turkey by boat.
Noting that Aboud said he was left clinging to a rock, waiting hours for the Greek coast guard to pass by after the boat he was traveling in crashed onto the rocky shore, Francis called this “A true modern-day odyssey.”
He noted that the first hero to appear in Homer’s Odyssey is a young man, the son of Odysseus, Telemachus, who decided not to stay at home, but went out in search of his father, and ended up having his own adventure.
“The meaning of life is not found by staying on the beach waiting for the wind to bring something new,” the pope said.
Rather, he said “Salvation lies in the open sea, in setting sail, in the quest, in the pursuit of dreams, real dreams, those we pursue with eyes open, those that involve effort, struggles, headwinds, sudden storms.”
“Don’t be paralyzed by fear: Dream big! And dream together,” he said, noting that there will always be people who try to talk them down, telling them that it is useless to go forward.
These voiced, the pope said, “are the destroyers of dreams, the slayers of hope, incurably stuck in the past.”
He urged young people to have “the courage of hope,” which he said is done through the choices and decisions that are made throughout life.
“Choosing is a challenge. It involves facing the fear of the unknown, emerging from the chaos of uniformity, deciding to take your life in hand,” he said, adding, “To make right choices, you should remember one thing: good decisions are always about others, not just about ourselves.”
“Those are the decisions that are worth making, the dreams worth striving to accomplish, those that require courage and involve others,” he said, and voiced hope that “with the help of God, the Father who loves you, you may always have the courage of hope.”