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Pope Francis encourages young Russian Catholics to be ‘bridge builders’

Young Catholics participating in the 10th edition of the Russian Youth Gathering in St. Petersburg, Russia, watch a livestream of Pope Francis at the Basilica of St. Catherine of Alexandria on Aug. 25, 2023. / Credit: Basilica of St. Catherine of Alexandria

Rome Newsroom, Aug 26, 2023 / 13:45 pm (CNA).

Young Russian Catholics attending a faith-sharing event in St. Petersburg had a special experience Friday: an interactive video exchange with Pope Francis, who urged them to be peacemakers and “bridge builders” with the courage to “replace fears with dreams.”

The hourlong, livestreamed conversation took place Aug. 25 during the 10th edition of the All-Russian Meeting of Catholic Youth in St. Petersburg’s Basilica of St. Catherine of Alexandria. The five-day event concludes Sunday.

Without referring directly to Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Holy Father called on the youth to pursue peace “in the midst of so many conflicts” happening around the world.

“Dear young people, I do not want to preach a long sermon. I invite you to be bridge builders. Builders of bridges between generations, recognizing the dreams of those who have gone before you on the journey,” Pope Francis said, speaking in Spanish with the aid of a Russian translator.

“The alliance between generations keeps the history and culture of a people alive. I wish you, young Russians, the vocation to be artisans of peace in the midst of so many conflicts, in the midst of so many polarizations on all sides, which plague our world,” he continued.

“I invite you to be sowers, to sow seeds of reconciliation,” he said, “little seeds that in this winter of war will not sprout for the moment in the frozen ground, but which in a future spring will blossom.”

Young Catholics participating in the 10th edition of the All-Russian Meeting of Catholic Youth on Aug. 25, 2023, at the Basilica of St. Catherine of Alexandria in St. Petersburg, Russia. Credit: Basilica of St. Catherine of Alexandria

While only 18 youths from Russia participated in World Youth Day in Lisbon, around 400 young people from Russia and neighboring countries are attending the event in St. Petersburg. Some participants traveled over 5,000 miles to participate.

“As I said in Lisbon: have the courage to replace fears with dreams,” Pope Francis told the youth. “Replace fears with dreams. Replace fears with dreams. Be not stewards of fears but entrepreneurs of dreams. Allow yourself the luxury of dreaming big!”

The gathering extended the spirit of World Youth Day, preserving its legacy with youth testimonials, the pope’s message, and an interactive question-and-answer session. The Vatican later released the text of the pope’s address but not the Q&A exchange, which can be viewed through a livestream link posted by the event organizers.

Alexander Baranov, young Russian seminarian, shared his personal journey from involvement in Satanism and occult rituals to finding faith within the Church and a path to the seminary. Another participant, Varvara Molotilova, shared a testimony of her family’s faith journey. Influenced by her mother’s Catholic friend, Varvara’s parents embarked on a journey that included celibacy before marriage. Despite challenges, they persevered and eventually had eight children.

Questioned on Interfaith marriage

The Q&A segment featured a range of questions, with the Holy Father responding in Italian.

A young Catholic woman who asked if she and her boyfriend who is Orthodox could get married in the Orthodox Church to form a family, because each is convinced that their Church is true.

Pope Francis answered: “Orthodox and Catholics, both are Christians. You are both Christians. Go ahead, go ahead respecting each other’s tradition. Do not force the story and then the Lord perhaps will show you or not along the way, but it is important to underline what is in common: We are both Christians. And this gives you a way to live a beautiful Christian family with a Catholic mother and an Orthodox father.”

When asked about his aspirations for the Catholic Church in Russia, Pope Francis said, “I see a Church united with other Christians,” emphasizing that “It is us who divides Christ, but he is one.”

Regarding the kind of diplomacy needed to bridge the gap in relations with Ukraine, Pope Francis said that “real diplomacy is unafraid of conflicts but does not exacerbate them.” True diplomacy is constructive.

CNA Rome Correspondent Courtney Mares contributed to this story.

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