By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Christianity is not a set of rules and prohibitions designed to control people; it is a “life project capable of bringing fulfillment to every human heart,” Pope Francis told 70 young leaders of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.

The young leaders from communities outside India, the home of the Syro-Malabar Church, made a pilgrimage to Rome and met Pope Francis June 18.

Pope Francis asked the young people to build their lives on the firm foundation of Christ’s love and to witness to him with their peers, whether or not they are Catholic.

“There is a common ground on which all young people can meet, and that is the desire for an authentic, beautiful and profound love,” the pope told them.

“Please, do not be afraid of that kind of love,” he said. “It is the love that Jesus reveals to us, and that St. Paul describes as ‘patient and kind,’ that does not insist on its own way but rejoices in the truth.”

Such a love is seen in the lives of the saints and is present today, as well, if people know where to look, Pope Francis told them.

True love, he said, “shows — more than any words — that Christianity consists not in a series of prohibitions that stifle the desire for happiness, but in a life project capable of bringing fulfillment to every human heart.”

Pope Francis encouraged the young leaders “to rebel against the growing tendency to reduce love to something banal, without beauty or genuine sharing, lacking in fidelity and responsibility.”

“Whenever we use others as objects for our own selfish purposes, hearts end up being broken and leave only sadness and emptiness in their wake,” the pope said.

Pointing to Mary, her openness to God’s will, Pope Francis reminded the young leaders of Mary’s visitation to her cousin Elizabeth.

“Mary did not stay home and think about the great privilege she had received or the many problems it would bring,” he said. “Mary did not allow herself to be paralyzed by pride or fear. She was not one of those people for whom all it takes to be comfortable and secure is a good sofa: ‘couch potatoes.'”

Pope Francis also urged the young people to treasure their church’s liturgical and spiritual traditions and the prayers passed down by their grandparents.

“If you young people want to make your own lives a canticle of praise, a gift for all humanity, it is essential to be grounded in the tradition and prayer of past generations,” the pope said.