“Do not let the spark of youth to be extinguished in the darkness of a closed room in which the only window to the outside world is a computer and smartphone," the Pope told youths in his annual message for local celebrations of World Youth Day.
"Open wide the doors of your life! May your time and space be filled with meaningful relationships, real people with whom to share your authentic and concrete experiences of daily life," he said.
This in preparation of the next international celebration of World Youth Day – which will be held in Panama from 22-27 January 2019 with many dioceses holding their own celebrations on Palm Sunday.
The Panama gathering will focus on Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel’s telling her that God had chosen her to bear the child Jesus: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
The 2018 theme, chosen by Pope Francis, is the angel's reassurance contained in the words: "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God."
Many young people today are afraid — afraid of never being accepted, of finding a good job and even of their real selves, the Pontiff said in his message.
"Today, there are many young people who feel the need to be different from who they really are, in an attempt to adapt to an often artificial and unattainable standard," he wrote. "They continuously 'photoshop' their images, hiding behind masks and false identities, almost becoming fake selves."
This sense of inadequacy is the root of many uncertainties and even obsessions, such as "receiving as many 'likes' as possible" on social media, he added.
No one is exempt from doubt or fear, which can be seen in the Bible in the lives of Mary, Moses, Abraham, the apostles and many others, Pope Francis said. In fact, he added, the biggest obstacle to faith in God is often fear, not scepticism.
The only way forward is to face one's fears head on, identify them clearly and come to terms with them, he said, "so as not to find yourself wasting time and energy by being gripped by empty and faceless ghosts."
The Pope told young people to look for God in prayerful silence and the sacraments so they could draw on the needed courage, wisdom and grace, and to turn to members of the church for encouragement and support.
God is always there to help everybody, he said. He does not ask people to present a stellar resume of their lives, "full of merits and successes."
Receiving God's grace will not mean life's problems will disappear, he said, "but it does have the power to transform our life deeply."
"The unknown that tomorrow holds for us is not a dark threat we need to overcome, but a favourable time given to us for living out the uniqueness of our personal vocation, and for sharing it with our brothers and sisters in the church and in the world," he said.
To read more about Pope Francis and World Youth Day 2019, click here.