As the Catholic Church prepares to welcome youths from around the world to a preparatory meeting for the Synod of Bishops on youth, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri said the church is using every means of communication available to listen to young people from all walks of life.
Speaking to journalists on February 16, Cardinal Baldisseri, the general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, said social networks such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will allow young people to follow and interact “with their peers in Rome” attending the March 19-24 pre-synod meeting.
“In short, even through the new technologies of communication, the pre-synod meeting wants to broaden as much as possible the audience of young people involved so that no one should feel excluded,” Cardinal Baldisseri said.
Announcing the pre-synod meeting last October, Pope Francis said he hoped Christian and non-Christian young people from around the world would attend so the church could listen to the hopes and concerns of all young men and women.
“Through this journey, the church wants to listen to the voices, the sensibilities, the faith as well as the doubts and criticisms of young people. We must listen to young people,” Pope Francis had said.
The theme chosen by the Pope for the Synod of Bishops, which will be in October, is: “Young people, faith and vocational discernment.”
The 300 young people invited to the pre-synod meeting in March were chosen to represent national bishops’ conferences, the Eastern Catholic churches, men and women in consecrated life and seminarians preparing for the priesthood.
The gathering also will include representatives from other Christian communities and other religions and experts in the fields of education, culture, sports and arts, who “are involved in helping young people discern their choices in life,” according to the synod office.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops announced in January that their two-person delegation would include a French Catholic woman and a member of one of Canada’s indigenous communities, who participates in a variety of Christian activities but told The Catholic Register he identifies more with his Cree spirituality. The bishops of India said February 14 that they had chosen three Catholics involved in youth ministry as well as a young Hindu and a young Sikh.
“In this pre-synod meeting, we will listen to youths ‘live’ to better understand their situation: what they think of themselves and of adults; how they live their faith and what difficulties they find being Christian; how they plan their lives and what problems they face in discerning their vocation; how they see the church today and how they would like to see it,” Cardinal Baldisseri said.
The pre-synod meeting, he added, also will include young men and women from what many consider the margins of society, particularly young victims of human trafficking and prostitution.
During an October 12 meeting at the Vatican with adults and teenagers who had taken part in a reflection on human trafficking, Pope Francis said he hoped some survivors of trafficking would address the Synod of Bishops to share their stories and “call the church to action.”
“It is my great desire,” he said, “that young people representing the ‘peripheries’ would be the protagonists of this synod.”
Cardinal Baldisseri said the Pope’s suggestion was taken to heart, and he confirmed three young survivors would be present at the pre-synod meeting.
Filippo Passantino, a young Italian who will attend the pre-synod meeting, said a group of young people are helping develop the meeting’s social media and use it as an “open forum for all.”
They plan to open a WhatsApp messaging group so that young people from around the world can send messages, questions and concerns during the pre-synod meeting, he said.
“We are trying to open various doors so that many more than the 300 people invited can enter the pre-synod meeting hall,” Passantino said.
Stella Marillene Nishimwe, a young woman from Burundi also attending the gathering, told journalists she hoped the synod will be a new era in the church’s dialogue with “all young people, not just Catholics.”
“Who knows what fruit this synod will bring? What I am sure of is that everything will depend on our participation,” she said. “The ball is in our court.”