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'Yo quiero ser feliz'

Archbishop Wenski's homily on 50th anniversary of Encuentros Juveniles

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily while celebrating a Mass to mark the 50th anniversary of the archdiocesan youth movement, Encuentros Juveniles, Jan. 31, 2023 in St. Thomas University’s St. Anthony Chapel. After the Mass, he opened an exhibit of Encuentros Juveniles memorabilia at the Archbishop John C. Favalora Archives and Museumon the second floor of the university’s library.

The movement, Encuentros Juveniles, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year here. And tied into this celebration is the inauguration of the exhibit in our Favalora Museum documenting the high points of those 50 years.

Today, by happy coincidence, we also celebrate the feast day of St. John Bosco, a priest who had in the 19th century great influence on the Church’s mission to youth. He said once: “In every young person a point of goodness is accessible.”

For 50 years, the movement, Encuentros Juveniles, has sought to bring out the best in the youth by introducing them to an encounter with the Lord, an encounter that was facilitated by what today we would call “peer ministry.” In the Encuentros, young people enthusiastically, without fear or shame, share the witness of their faith with their peers and in doing so introduce them to Jesus Christ.

"Yo quiero ser feliz”. This was the title of the song that I remember the most from my time with the Encuentros Juveniles. I did my Encuentro as a seminarian nearly 50 years ago and later, as a deacon, I attended the closing Masses in the Assumption School chapel, where the parishioners of St. Kieran's gathered before the college sold the chapel to the Melkite Church. And as a young priest I continued to help for a while until I became fully committed to the Haitian ministry.

"Yo quiero ser feliz". We all want to be happy – as human beings it is what motivates us in all our endeavors. This past Sunday’s Gospel contained that part of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus enunciated the Beatitudes. Blessed the peace makers, the meek, the sorrowing, etc. Some contemporary translations of the Scriptures translated the Beatitudes as “Happy.” Happy the poor, the meek, etc. Blessedness or beatitude is happiness but on a higher level. Happiness could be understood as a fleeting emotion; beatitude or blessedness is something we could have even when persecuted. “Blessed are you when they persecute you” rings truer than “Happy are you when they persecute you.”

But how many times, for having sought happiness where it could not be found, were we disappointed? With the problems and weaknesses that characterize young people in contemporary society, many have been lost due to false options, due to the wrong decisions they have made. But true happiness is the happiness of “beatitude” to which Jesus calls us to.

Today, just like 50 years ago, young people want to be happy. However, we should not be pessimistic. The youth of today, like the youth of yesterday, have a deep desire, despite possible ambiguities, for those authentic values that find their fulfillment in Christ.

And just as we used to sing, “Yo quiero ser feliz”, we also sang “Felicidad es vivir en tu casa”. Pues una vez que acogimos el mensaje de los Encuentros Juveniles, entendimos que ser feliz es ser santo, que querer ser feliz quiere decir querer ser santo, querer vivir en la presencia de Dios.

If we seek holiness, as Pope St. John Paul II reminded us, “sería un contrasentido contentarse con una vida mediocre, vivida según una ética minimalista y una religiosidad superficial”.

The Encuentros Juveniles reminds us that true happiness is found not in mediocrity or superficiality but in Christ. And each encuentrista is given a crucifix in which an arm of the corpus is missing to remind them that Christ counts on each of us to be his arms and hands, to reach out to those who like us “quieren ser felices.”