Young people are looking for a Church that “sounds and acts like Jesus”, a young representative from New Zealand and Samoa told the synod of bishops in Rome.

Joseph Moeono-Kolio, 31, who was representing Caritas International Youth Forum, said many young people are hoping for a Church that will take the lead in implementing social justice and be able to confront injustices within its own walls.

“A Church that can confront injustices within its own walls is a Church that can stand up to any injustice far beyond any walls and that is where many young people wish to be — at
the front lines of a missionary Church in action, with our pastors and elders guiding us,” he said.

In his four-minute intervention, Mr Moeono-Kolio called attention to the problem of climate change that is threatening the Pacific.

“We live at the mercy of a quiet persecution, on the very front lines of climate change, where every day sees the erosion of our islands and, with it, the very source of our identity as Pacific people,” he said.

“The memories of our ancestors slip away when their graves succumb to the sea and the very future of our young people comes under threat each time we are forced to migrate.”

He told the bishops that during intense cyclones, people gather at the village church where they find refuge.

“This is how the Church must operate, a haven of safety from life’s storms, and protector of the most vulnerable,” he said.

“Both globally and at the local level, the Church must initiate an awakening of conscience, bringing the faithful to a deeper understanding of what it means to follow Jesus — positioning ourselves as he did to call out injustice, to uphold the dignity of all and to make a prophetic impact on our society.”

He added that young people are “tired of Pharisees, we need Fathers”.

“Dear bishops, in order to teach justice and mercy to our young people, the Church must first be a place of justice and mercy for our young people. I say this as someone who, like many of my peers, strive[s] to carry out the Church’s mission to the peripheries yet [we] also find ourselves having to defend the Church’s great capacity for good — especially
when we keep relapsing into sin,” Mr Moeono-Kolio said.

In Samoa, he said reporting on “clerical abuse and widespread corruption” amounts to “professional and cultural suicide”.

Mr Moeono-Kolio spoke of what he thinks the relationship of the Church with young people should be, referencing the journey of his ancestors to this part of the world.

“For thousands of years, my ancestors would sail from island to island across the great vastness of the Pacific Ocean. We relied on our elders, who read the stars and currents, steering us in the right direction,” he explained.

“But to get the canoe moving required strong paddlers — our young people — who would power the canoe and eventually get us to our destination.”

He said if the bishops set the right course, the young people are ready to power the Church through the challenges it faces today.

“Whether it is sailing across the Pacific Ocean or navigating the great sea of challenges we are confronted with today — until we start paddling together by way of listening and equipping our young people with the tools to navigate the inevitable storms, our canoe
will only float into irrelevance, floating through a modern ocean it is unfamiliar with,” he said.

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