The Church needs a “preferential option for young people”

Concern for migrants and refugees took centre stage at the Synod of Bishops on young people that is being held on Oct 3 to 28, according to several participants.

Oct 14, 2018

VATICAN: Concern for migrants and refugees took centre stage at the Synod of Bishops on young people that is being held on Oct 3 to 28, according to several participants.

Three distinct concerns were expressed in the first two days of the synod on “young people, the faith and vocational discernment” by synod fathers coming from three very different situations. All were related to the plight of the movement of millions of migrants and refugees, the vast majority of whom are young people, which Pope Francis has called “the greatest humanitarian crisis of our day.”

The first concern was expressed by synod fathers from those countries where the young migrants originate in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia, setting off for foreign lands and leaving their home countries depleted of young people. Paolo Ruffini, the head of Vatican communications, reminded journalists that “two-thirds of the world’s young people live in Africa, Asia, Oceania and Latin America.”

He said “many speakers” identified the dramatic reasons for this massive migration: extreme poverty, war, terrorism and a lack of education and work opportunities. They are often attracted by “lies” about the life that awaits them at the end of their journey, and some end up victims of human trafficking, prostitution or drug trafficking.

The second concern was voiced by synod fathers from the countries of transit, such as Greece and Italy, where the migrants and refugees first arrive, stay for a while and need to be cared for in their basic needs, before many of them move on to other countries in Europe.

A third concern came from synod fathers from the countries where the migrants and refugees settle down and where there is not only the great challenge of integrating them and enabling them to find a new life in a new land but also the challenge for assisting the sons and daughters of the first generation of migrants.

Ruffini said there was general consensus among those who have spoken that “the Church must be close to young immigrants in all these situations, including to those of the second generation who sometimes may have less opportunities than those of the first wave of migrants. It must accompany and help them in their different situations.”

Several speakers, Ruffini said without giving names, emphasised the importance of the liturgy for these young people and helping them to “rediscover prayer.” He said other speakers emphasised the importance of developing liturgies that are suited to young people, in general, and not only to the migrants and refugees — liturgies in which young people can participate fully, liturgies with music that enriches the prayer and homilies that are meaningful based on the Scriptures.

Bishop Manuel Ochogavia’ Barahona, an Augustinian from the Diocese of Colon-Kuna Yala in Panama, emphasised that the young people are part of the Church, but the entire Church must help them not to be manipulated by forces that do not seek their good. He expressed joy that his country would welcome hundreds of thousands of young people from Latin America and other countries across the world next January and said they were working hard to prepare for the event. He spoke about the need to give full participation to young women in the life of the Church and society and noted that, today, women do not receive the same salaries as men, many young women do not have the opportunity to be educated and many are exploited.

“The Church has much to do to ensure the full participation of women in society and in the Church,” Bishop Barahona said. He recalled that the bishops of Latin America have made “a preferential option for young people also” alongside the preferential option for the poor — of whom so many are young.

He acknowledged that the big concern of synod fathers from other parts of the world is that of “migration” as mentioned above and “the denuding of their societies” of young people. He expressed his appreciation of “the realism” with which the synod is addressing these and other questions and “the way people spoke very frankly” and “examined the possibilities” for accompanying and meeting the young. He hoped the synod would help young people realise that the Church is bringing them “the great gift of Jesus Christ, the God who became a young man for us.” He had words of great praise for Pope Francis who “is an old man, and yet he is there at the beginning of every day to greet each one of us, he is present and listens to all the interventions and joins us at coffee breaks.” He is “clearly engaged with this topic” and shows in many ways that young people are very close to his heart. He meets them each day and is “concerned that the Church listens to them.”

Evangelise other young people
A young woman from Madagascar, Tahiry Malala Marion Sophie Rakotoroalahy (pic), spoke about the political crisis in her island home that is causing many problems for students and the whole population.

She emphasised that Catholic students have to work hard to ensure a better education for young people who feel “disoriented” in the present crisis situation.

She highlighted the importance of young people evangelising other young people and said that “the young should be apostles for other young people so that we can all move forward.”

She viewed the synod as “a starting point” for the Church’s mission to young people. She warmly thanked Pope Francis for calling the synod which, she said, “is a special blessing for the young.”

Tahiry Malala is one of the 49 auditors at the synod and president of the national Catholic student group in her country, which Francis might visit in 2019 when he also visits Mozambique.

Hear the ‘silent cries’
A bishop from Argentina, Carlos Tissera, 67, cited the situation in Buenos Aires, where so many young people live in “situations where poverty, violence and drugs are everywhere” and whose destiny is often “the prison or the cemetery.” It is necessary to hear “the silent cries” of these young people, he insisted. He said pastors would do well to follow the example of the Argentinian bishop Enrique Angelelli, of the Diocese of La Rioja, who was killed in August 1976 for his work among the poor and oppressed during the military dictatorship. He said the bishop, whose cause for canonisation is underway, had always insisted that one should carry out one’s pastoral ministry “with one ear to the people and the other ear to the Gospel.”

“One should not be afraid of young people, they are a blessing to humanity and to the Church,” Bishop Tissera said.

Spoke with emotion
Chiara Giaccardi, a sociologist and one of the experts working with the secretariat of the synod, was the only woman on the panel facing the press briefing on the first day. She admitted to being “most surprised” by “the frankness” — what Pope Francis calls “parrhesia” — with which the synod fathers spoke

“They didn’t use rhetoric or sweet language,” Dr Giaccardis said, and several “spoke with emotion.” She noted “a climate of very frank and authentic communication” and said many of the 34 young people present, who are seated together at the synod, expressed their appreciation for different speeches with applause or vocally. This “is a good signal,” she said. She described what she had seen this morning as “a Copernican revolution” because the Church is in an attitude of listening, not just speaking, as Pope Francis has asked.

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