We Want God
Why the young so passionately embrace the Gospel of life
When Pope St. John Paul II visited Poland as pope for the first time in 1979, the people welcomed him enthusiastically — at one point they broke into spontaneous cries of, “We want God!” over and over again. This was a direct response to the godless oppression they were experiencing under the Communist regime. Here was a man giving hope to the hopeless and offering a way to channel their innate desire for transcendence.
While not as dramatic, I think this is what many young people have experienced for a long time when they come close to the beautiful message of the Gospel of life. Many of us in the 1980s and ’90s grew up in a sort of vacuum of the Faith, where very few things were taught to be certain. Sure, we all knew “Jesus loves me, this I know …” or that we were meant to develop a personal relationship with God; but we did not know the concrete implications of this for our lives. We were told that it meant we should get together, sing songs, hold hands at the Our Father and be happy. When hard questions arose about the Faith or our moral lives, we usually were offered ambiguity and vagueness with the seeming hope not to exclude anyone or not to make anyone feel uncomfortable.
For many of us, this approach to the Faith had some impact — we stuck around. Nevertheless, after a while, we began to struggle to sustain our faith. We were immersed in an aggressive culture of death and relativism, which sooner or later took a toll on us. After many failures in our lives and our friends’ lives, many of us began to cry out, “We want God!” This sense of urgency is what led many of us to seek honest answers to the hard questions we could not avoid — and then to strive to live according to the demands of truth. This is how we discovered the powerful message of the Gospel of life and why many of us embraced so passionately the pro-life movement.
In an era characterized by relativism and ambiguity, the figure of Pope St. John Paul II emerged as that of a man who was willing to give authentic answers to the fundamental questions we all had. He would rally hundreds of thousands of young people and give a convicting message: “Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity.” The appeal of this to us young people was immediate. At every step of the way he exhorted us to become saints, while, at the same time, giving us sound reasons for our faith and the assurance that we could become more courageous in following even the more demanding aspects of the Gospel.
I remember coming back from World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002 thinking that I could do anything that God asked me, no matter how hard it was. I read Fides et Ratio, Veritatis Splendor, and Evangelium Vitae. Not only did I find the Faith beautifully explained in these documents, but they stirred in me a great desire to live by that faith. I believe that this is the case with many of us young clergy. Most of us entered seminary with a great desire to give everything up for the Lord and to go deeper into what this meant for our lives. We found consolation in the authentic teachings of the Faith and looked up to the modern saints — such as St. Mother Teresa and St. Gianna Molla, both of whom lived by these same teachings.
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Inevitably, for us, living and teaching the Faith is not only a possibility but a duty. This is why we have more and more priests, seminarians and young people getting involved and wanting to teach about the deception of abortion, the beauty of chastity, natural family planning and proper sexuality. We feel a responsibility to speak about these things that we did not hear often enough ourselves when we were growing up.
Most of us did not live in a Communist dictatorship, but we did live in what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger called the “dictatorship of relativism.” Embracing the challenge to proclaim the fullness of the Gospel, we want to work tirelessly to free the hearts of men from the grip of this dictatorship. We want God!
FATHER DERLIS R. GARCIA is the director of the Pro-Life Office in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas.