Malaysians at the Youth Congress

The International Youth Ministry Congress, organised by the Dicastery of Laity and Family Life (DLFL), was held in Rome from May 22-26. Each country was asked to send two representatives: one from the national youth office and a young layperson aged 18-28 with experience in youth ministry.

Jun 15, 2024

Karen Chang and Roney Alfred with the Malaysian flag before heading to the Apostolic Palace for an audience with Pope Francis.

The International Youth Ministry Congress, organised by the Dicastery of Laity and Family Life (DLFL), was held in Rome from May 22-26. Each country was asked to send two representatives: one from the national youth office and a young layperson aged 18-28 with experience in youth ministry.

Malaysia was represented by Roney Alfred from Keningau for the national coordinating team of the Malaysian Catholic Youth Ministers’ Committee (MCYMC), and Karen Chan was nominated by MCYMC to represent the young lay.

The congress featured reports on World Youth Day 2023 and information about the upcoming Jubilee of the Youth in 2025 and World Youth Day 2027. Each country received questionnaires to assess WYD2023 and discuss the changes and challenges of the past five years, considering the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christus Vivit and the Final Document of the 2018 Synod. MCYMC’s responses were compiled and submitted before the congress (more in our next issue). A summary of the data received by DLFL were presented to share generally about the current realities of the young and the youth offices.

Here are the sharings from Karen and Roney.

Karen Chan At the end of Day 1, the delegates enjoyed a cultural experience shared by the WYD2027 organising team from the Archdiocese of Seoul and Korean representatives in Rome, who shared their food, music, dances, and songs.

There were several formation and sharing sessions on new leadership styles and strategies for a synodal youth ministry. Delegates were divided into groups to discuss insights from the talks. My group included delegates from Bangladesh, Rwanda, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and Christian Life Community (CLC). Despite our diverse backgrounds, we found common ground in our youth ministry experiences and the challenges faced by local youths. I also served as our group's reporter, noting key points from our discussions and presenting them to the entire assembly and the dicastery.

A highlight of the congress was meeting Pope Francis at the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. Upon entering the meeting hall, we were thrilled to learn we would shake hands with the Pope. Pope Francis gave an address to the participants of the congress, and one part that s t r u c k me the most was this: “Young people should not be pushed into promoting ideas and activities already decided by others, or that do not really meet their needs. No. Young people should be empowered, involved in dialogue, in planning activities, in decisions. They should be made to feel that they are an active and full part of the life of the Church; and above all that they are called to be the first to bring the Gospel message to their peers.” I also felt truly blessed to shake hands with the Pope while showcasing the Malaysian culture in my nyonya kebaya. Following the audience, we had a Eucharistic celebration at St Peter’s Basilica, which was another unforgettable experience.

From the congress, my understanding towards synodality and spiritual conversations have deepened, thanks to the formation sessions given and group sharings. With all the delegates I met, friendships were made, ideas were exchanged, and our lives were shared in that one week. On our last day, we sang in our respective languages and danced together, united by our common faith in Christ. With the new knowledge and experiences gained from the congress, I pray I will be able to work towards being a synodal pastoral worker for the young people, one who listens earnestly and care for them with a motherly love, bringing the hope and love of Christ into their lives.

I would like to thank the Dicastery of Laity and Family Life for organising the International Youth Ministry Congress 2024 and for their hospitality, formation, and the opportunity to gather with delegates from around the world.

I also thank Archbishop Simon Poh, the bishop-incharge for youths in Malaysia, and MCYMC for enabling me to attend the congress. My thanks extend to Bishop Bernard Paul of the Malacca Johore Diocese and the MJD Young People Network (MJDYPN) for supporting my nomination and journey to Rome. Finally, I am deeply grateful to my family, friends, and all the saints in heaven who have prayed for me. May God bless us all.

Roney Alfred
During the congress, I attended many enlightening sessions, faith formation workshops, informative talks, group discussions, dialogues, and conversations that greatly inspired me, especially in my service to the youth.

One of the sessions that touched me was New Methods for New Times, where the presenter emphasised the importance of silence and listening through the method of ‘Spiritual Conversation.’ It was stressed that it is important to pray and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance before and during the implementation of ‘Spiritual Conversation.’

Additionally, the session on The Reality of Today’s Youth made me more aware of the current situation of youth, especially after the pandemic.

The Youth Leadership - Synodal and Missionary session prompted me to reflect on the Kerygma, which is “God loves us,” “Christ saves us,” and “Jesus lives” (CV112-130). As youth leaders, we must be led by the Holy Spirit, be faithful in personal prayer, practice reflection, and encourage the charisms of others.

The opportunity to hear Archbishop Peter Soon’s experiences from South Korea, sharing strategies, resources, challenges, and preparations for the implementation of WYD Seoul 2027, inspired and strengthened me in organising the 6th Sabah Youth Day (SYD6) in September in the Diocese of Keningau. As the coordinator of SYD6, many things need to be prepared and given attention to ensure everything goes well according to God's will.

On the fourth day, an audience was held with Pope Francis where he delivered his message to all delegates in a formal setting. Previously, I had only seen Pope Francis from afar during World Youth Day 2016 in Poland and World Youth Day 2023 in Portugal, and it never crossed my mind that I would get to greet him. However, it felt like a miracle when after his speech, we were invited to line up to meet Pope Francis. While waiting in line, I was worried that Pope Francis might feel tired and leave the room before it was my turn. But, thank God, when my turn came, Pope Francis welcomed me with his sweet smile, and I shook hands with him, introduced myself, and asked for his prayers. Then, I hugged Pope Francis, and at that moment, I felt peace, tranquillity, and happiness in my heart. How fortunate I am as an ordinary person to be able to greet, converse, and hug Pope Francis. This is truly a memory that I will never forget for the rest of my life.

Attending the International Youth Ministry Congress was a priceless experience that brought joy and strengthened my faith, giving me renewed enthusiasm in youth ministry. What I gained from this congress will be shared with the youth I encounter, whether in sharing sessions or daily conversations. God bless.

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