Pope Francis’ openness and willingness to listen to young people at the pre-synod meeting in Rome was deeply valued by all those who participated in the gathering.
New Zealand representative at the pre-synod meeting Isabella McCafferty from Wellington said she was struck by “the uniqueness of the opportunity”.
“For the first time, the Pope had called a meeting of young people from all over the world in Rome to talk about what really matters to us and how the Church can accompany us. Pope Francis also spent three hours with us, listening and answering questions,” she told NZ Catholic.
“No matter where someone had come from or the experience they had, it seemed that all present were greatly impacted by the opportunity to speak and be heard.”
Some 300 young people from different cultural and religious backgrounds gathered in Rome on March 19-24 for the pre-synod meeting. The meeting was a precursor to the October synod of bishops on “Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation.”
She said the Pope encouraged them to speak with courage and without holding back with any questions and concerns.
“[Pope Francis] also told us that our contribution was ‘indispensable’ and a statement like that means a lot. Throughout society, young people are rarely listened to and taken seriously, so it’s a big deal to feel like we are truly valued in the Church,” she said.
The meeting resulted in a 16-page document divided into three sections: the challenges and opportunities of young people; faith, vocation, discernment and accompaniment and the Church’s formative and pastoral activities. In the document (which will be used in to help draft the synod’s working document), young people had indicated that they wanted to be involved and included in decision-making processes at every level (parish, diocesan, national and international) in the Church, Ms McCafferty said.
“Also communicated . . . was a desire to be a ‘joyful, enthusiastic and missionary presence within the Church’ and to offer a creative approach to the different parts of the Church’,” she said.
Ms McCafferty said they had to work through the diversity of the participants by being respectful of where each is coming from. She said the working group she was in included representatives from every continent.
“Although our discussions were at times tense, there was a deep underlying respect for the diversity that existed amongst us and a tangible sense of the Spirit moving among us,” she said.
Ms McCafferty thought the diversity of the participants challenged those who drafted the final document, necessitating them [drafters of the final document] to write in general terms.
“However, there were also opinions shared by many young people throughout the meeting and this is reflected in the final document. One of the strongest unifying points was the appreciation of young people to be given a space
to be listened to by the Church.”
Ms McCafferty said she came back from the trip with “an immense feeling
of gratitude for being able to participate and contribute in this meeting” and a renewed sense of her vocation in the pastoral ministry for young people.
“I have been greatly enriched by the time spent discussing with such a vast group of young people from across the world and to talk about the things that really matter to us,” she said. “I have a new appreciation for the ability for there to be unity amidst great diversity and that we share a commonality across humanity that doesn’t shift between geographical boundaries.”