Pope Francis has discussed prostitution, sport and the search for God in a wide-ranging encounter with young Catholics.
Three hundred 16-to-29-year-olds attended the opening of a week-long meeting, which will help the Church to prepare for October’s synod of bishops on “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment”.
Most of the young people gathered with the Pope at the Legionaries of Christ’s Maria Mater Ecclesia College in Rome were chosen as delegates by their national bishops’ conferences.
Others represented a variety of Catholic movements or ministries, including religious life. The Vatican also invited delegates from other Christian churches, other religions, including Islam, and young people who describe themselves as non-believers.
Spending the morning with the young people, Pope Francis spoke on a variety of topics, at one point lamenting the professionalisation of sport.
He also heard directly from 10 of them, who represented countries around the world. Some were concerned about the negative impact of social media, while others spoke of how technology helps connect young people and rally them in support of good causes.
The speakers also said there was a need for better catechesis and support in fighting the “culture of relativism”.
Blessing Okodion, a Nigerian rescued from forced prostitution in Italy, asked the Pope what could be done to increase awareness of human trafficking and whether the Church can help young women and men relate to each other as equals.
Noting that the vast majority of Italians are Catholic, Pope Francis said that one must assume that about 90 per cent of the men who use prostitutes in Italy are baptised.
“Prostitution is a serious problem,” the Pope told the young people. It stemmed from a widespread mentality that said, “women are to be exploited”, he added, and he asked young people to “battle against this”.
“One who goes to a prostitute is a criminal, a criminal,” Pope Francis said. “This is not making love. This is torturing a woman. Let’s not confuse the terms. This is criminal.”
Nick Lopez, a campus minister at the University of Dallas and a delegate chosen by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, also addressed the opening session. He focused on the teenage and young-adult years as a time of transition: “moving, choosing, experimenting, failing, succeeding, fearing and hoping that the next steps we make are the steps that God is calling us to make”.
A young man from France, Maxime Rassion, told the Pope he has not been baptised, but he had questions about the meaning of his life and his relationship to the world and to God, if God existed.
He said he was not sure if he wanted to approach the Church for help because it was so big and he didn’t want to give up his freedom. But he asked the Pope where he should start.
“You have already begun,” Francis told him. “The danger is not allowing the question to come up.”
Young people must have “the courage to tell themselves the naked truth” about their hopes and weaknesses, the Pope said, and then they must find a wise person with whom they can talk through their questions.
‘Dictator Pope’ author revealed
The author of The Dictator Pope, a controversial book self-published last year under the pen-name Marcantonio Colonna, has been revealed as the historian HJA Sire.
The author told the Catholic Herald in December: “My purpose was simply to show the gulf that exists between the image of the liberal, democratic Pope Francis and the true character of this pontificate.”
An updated version of the book will be released next month.