By Hannah Brockhaus
If people neglect prayer and the interior life, they are at risk of becoming spiritual zombies, who seem fine on the outside, but on the inside are lonely and lacking life, Pope Francis said Monday.
Speaking to around 900 young people in Tokyo’s Cathedral of Holy Mary, the pope reflected that “a person, a community, or even a whole society can be highly developed on the outside, but have an interior life that is impoverished and under-developed, lacking real life and vitality.”
“Everything bores them; they no longer dream, laugh or play. They have no sense of wonder or surprise,” he said Nov. 25. “They are like zombies; their hearts have stopped beating because of their inability to celebrate life with others.”
The encounter with young people, including both Catholics and non-Catholics, was part of the pope’s final full day of a six-day papal visit to Thailand and Japan. He will return to Rome Nov. 26.
In the meeting, Francis heard the testimonies of three young people living in Japan: a Catholic, a buddhist, and a Christian migrant from the Philippines.
The Catholic, Miki Kobayashi, spoke about the frenetic and competitive pace of modern-day life, asking how young people can make space for God in a society focused on productivity.
The pope responded that the ability to make time for other people, to listen to them, and to be with them are underestimated qualities. “So please make time for your family and friends, but also make time for God through meditation and prayer,” he urged.
“And if you find it hard to pray, don’t give up,” he encouraged. “A wise spiritual guide once said: Prayer is mostly just a matter of being there. Be still; make space for God; let him look at you and he will fill you with his peace.”
Pope Francis also noted the tendency to loneliness, even among those who are materially rich. “I think of the loneliness experienced by so many people, young and old, in our prosperous but often anonymous societies,” he said.
He quoted the words of St. Mother Teresa, who once said: “Loneliness and the feeling of being unloved is the most terrible form of poverty.”
“Combating this spiritual poverty is a task to which we are all called, and in which you have a special role to play, because it demands a major change in priorities and options,” he said. “It means recognizing that the most important thing is not what I have or can acquire, but with whom I can share it.”
He added: “It is not so important to focus on what I live for, but whom I live for. Things are important, but people are essential.”
Addressing the significant issue of bullying in Japan, also toward immigrants, he said everyone must unite against this tragedy, joining in standing up and saying, “no!” and “that’s wrong.”
He encouraged the young people to give witness to “social friendship,” and to build a future based on “encounter, acceptance, fraternity and respect for the dignity of each person…”
Pope Francis also met privately Nov. 25 with a group of young people who take part in the activities of the international pontifical foundation Scholas Occurentes, which Pope Francis founded in 2013.
During the encounter in the cathedral, he noted that to “stay alive physically, we have to keep breathing; it is something we do without realizing it, automatically.”
He added that to “to stay alive in the fullest sense of the word, we also need to learn how to breathe spiritually, through prayer and meditation, in an inward movement by which we can hear God speak to us in the depths of our heart.”
“Yet we also need an outward movement, by which we reach out to others in acts of love and service. This double motion is what enables us to grow, and to discover not only that we are loved by God, but that he has called each of us to a unique mission and vocation,” he said.