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Pope to youth: The Church needs to hear your voice

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Pope Francis speaks to young people at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome. Credit: Lucia Ballester/CNA.

Rome, Italy, Apr 8, 2017 / 01:15 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Saturday Pope Francis held a special prayer vigil in anticipation of World Youth Day and the 2018 Synod of Bishops, telling youth that they are the voice of the future, and as such, have something to say to the entire Church, including to himself and the bishops.

In his April 8 speech, the Pope noted how the prayer vigil marked the “double-beginning” of the 2018 Synod of Bishops on “Faith, Young People and the Discernment of Vocation,” as well as the upcoming 2019 global World Youth Day encounter in Panama. The journey of WYD is being taken from “Krakow to Panama, and in the middle the synod,” he said, explaining that the synod is an event “from which no young person should feel excluded.”

“We are holding this synod for Catholic youth, but also youth who come from Catholic associations, so then it’s stronger? No. This synod is a synod for all youth!” “Young people are the protagonists,” he said, explaining that this includes agnostics, those who are far from the Church or struggle with their faith, and even those who consider themselves to be atheists.

The synod, he stressed, “is a synod for youth, and we all want to hear you. Every young person has something to say to others, has something to say to adults, to priests, to sisters, to bishops and to the Pope! We all need to listen to you.”

Coming on the heels of the 2014-2015 Synod on the Family, the next Synod of Bishops will be held in 2018 and is dedicated primarily to themes surrounding the youth and the struggles they face in contemporary society. Held at the Roman basilica of Saint Mary Major, the Pope’s prayer vigil takes place ahead of tomorrow’s World Youth Day, titled “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name,” and which is the first step in preparing for the global 2019 encounter in Panama.

Hosted by the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops and the Vatican office for Laity, Family and Life, the vigil included songs and scripture readings, as well as the testimonies of some youth from the Rome and Lazio regions. After hearing the testimonies of Alcantarine Franciscan nun Sr Marialisa, 30, who shared the story of finding her vocation, and of 23-year-old Pompeo Barbieri, who was paralyzed at the age of 8 after surviving an earthquake in Puglia in 2002, the Pope stressed the need for youth to be active players in the process.

Recalling what he told youth during the 2016 International WYD in Krakow, Francis said that “it’s terrible to see a young person ready to go into retirement at the age of 20. It’s terrible. And it’s terrible to see young people who spend their lives on their couch.” What is needed instead are young people who walk, who go out on the street and “move forward beside others, but looking toward the future.”

He pointed to the Gospel ready read during the encounter, which recounted how Mary “went in haste” to her cousin Elizabeth after learning that she was pregnant in her old age. Like Mary, “the world today needs young people that go with haste, who don’t get tired of going with haste. Of young people who have that vocation of feeling that for them, life offers a mission,” he said.

As he frequently has in the past, the Pope emphasized the importance of experiencing life as a journey, saying that the world and the Church need youth who participate in this journey and who are engaged in the process. “But what drama there is in the world today,” he said, noting that unfortunately, today “young people are often discarded; they don’t have work, they aren’t given an ideal for their lives, they don’t have education, they lack integration. Many are forced to flee and live as refugees in in other lands.”

“It’s hard to say this, but often times young people are treated as garbage,” he said, explaining that the goal of the synod is to show the world that “young people are here. We are going to Panama to say that we are here, on a journey, we don’t want to be garbage, we have value to give. However, participating in the journey involves risks and the possibility of making mistakes, he said, but cautioned that if a young person doesn’t take risks, “they have grown old. We must take risks.”

Pointing to how Sr. Marialisa in her testimony said that she had quit going to church after receiving the sacrament of Confirmation, Pope Francis noted that in Italy the sacrament is frequently called the sacrament of “Arrivederci,” meaning “goodbye,” since youth typically stop attending church after.

Part of the reason for this, Francis said, is because many youth don’t know what to do after Confirmation. However, he noted that in her testimony, Sr. Marialista during journey to discovering her vocation, never stopped, even when she went astray, and wasn’t afraid to take risks in trying new things.

“You must prepare the future, the future is in your hands,” he told the youth, explaining that not only those who are organizing the synod, but “the entire Church wants to hear from youth want they think, what they want, what they feel, what they criticize and what they are most drawn to. Everything.” “The Church needs still needs a spring, and spring is the season of youth,” he said, and invited the youth to begin the journey without fear or shame, but with courage.

Francis noted that many times in life we spend a lot of time asking the question “who am I?” and in the end, we can “spend a lifetime” contemplating the answer. However, the real question we have to ask ourselves, he said, is “for whom am I?” Just as Mary was able to ask that question, discern that in that moment she was asked to go to her cousin and went, youth today must also ask this question, the Pope said, explaining that this is a task that will give them work for their entire lives. It’s a task “that makes you think, makes you feel, makes you work,” he said, and stressed the importance of knowing how to speak the “three languages: the language of the head, of the heart and of the hands. And to go forward.”

The synod, he said, is not just a “parlor” to hang out at, and it’s not “just a circus or party for people to come together to speak,” but is rather a place to find “concreteness,” because “in this liquid society, concreteness is needed. And concreteness is your vocation.”

Pope Francis closed his speech by emphasizing to youth, as he often has, the importance of speaking with the grandparents, saying this “bridge of dialogue” between elderly and youth is needed today “more than ever,” because even the elderly still have dreams. He closed saying that while he doesn’t know if he will be the Pope to meet them in Panama in 2019, “there will be a Pope there and he will ask you if you took time to speak to the elderly, to listen to their dreams, so you can concretely act as prophets in the world today!”

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