Several young people from across Africa have voiced their excitement at being able to participate in the Vatican's pre-synod meeting, which they say will give them a chance to be heard and will provide the courage to confront the challenges they face at home.
For Nigerian youth Vincent Paul Nneji, being able to participate in the pre-synod meeting in Rome makes him “feel more part of the Church.”
“I feel that my voice is very loud now, because we get to meet one on one with the Pope and we get to tell him how we feel about the faith that we've always believed in since we're born, so I feel very good and very, very energetic to go back and give more to society.”
The March 19-24 pre-synod meeting is in preparation for the October Synod of Bishops on “Young people, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation.”
Nneji is one of some 300 young people from around the world participating in the event, 31 of whom come from Africa.
CNA was able to speak with youth from Nigeria, South Africa, and Zimbabwe about their expectations for the meeting, the challenges they face at home, and what problems they want the Church to be aware of when it comes to young people.
There was a nearly unanimous recognition that young people in Africa tend to take on a lot of responsibility at an early age, and lack older role models who are able to help steer them in the right direction amid political and societal instability.
According to Nneji, “at a young age we tend to be adults [in Nigeria]. We don't have a choice but to be adults because we have so many challenges and less people to help us.”
“So here we want to talk about the challenges and how [the Church] can help us, feel our pain and feel empathetic with us, and try to connect with us even when we're far away,” he said, explaining that the biggest challenges youth face in the country are social injustice and unemployment.
In Nigeria, “an average youth has to feed, has to be financially secured to a large extent, has to feel a sense of security in order to profess his or her faith,” he said, “so that is a major challenge, because we have issues of bad governance and bad leadership, and we are supposed to be the leaders of tomorrow.”
“We're supposed to be the ones to take up the mantle of leadership in society and even in the Church,” he said, noting that there is often also a lack of role models in the Church itself.
Nneji said he wants to bring these challenges to the attention of the Pope and the synod committee so they can find ways to “help us to do better, even amid all the challenges; to do better and still be a youth.”
Tendai Karombo, a 26-year-old youth from Zimbabwe, said she wants the Church in her country to have greater appreciation for young people, many of whom become caregivers for their elderly parents as early as 12-15 years old.
“When we come to Church we do not get that respect … We are then sidelined to minor things, we cannot do a lot, we are viewed as weak, [so] we cannot do so many things,” she said.
“I [would] hope and appreciate if the Church can also see that strength in us, make us responsible, and we can save so many souls,” she said.
For Karombo, it's not so much about the individual countries as it is about learning what challenges youth face on a global level and confronting them together.
“I believe we can discuss and come up with a way that is universal to help everyone out,” she said.
“If I were living in Europe with all those challenges, how would I react to them? Maybe that way, in understanding each other, we will have a way forward in addressing the challenges,” she said.
Tinyiko Joan Ndaba, a woman from South Africa who works to raise awareness about human trafficking, told CNA a major problem she wants to address is human trafficking, and she feels a responsibility to share the knowledge she had gained about the phenomenon with her peers.
Ndaba said she learned about trafficking through workshops with the Combating Trafficking in Persons branch of the U.S. Department of Defense and the Talitha Kum anti-trafficking organization.
After starting a group with Talitha Kum to help raise awareness in parishes, Ndaba said “we noticed that people do not know about this,” so they made their campaign public, “because if people in our churches don't know, it means the public doesn't know about this.”
Trafficking, she said, is “so sad, it is inhumane,” and it “takes away from the communities; I imagine myself in that situation, and thinking how much I would have lost if I was a victim of slavery, so it’s better to prevent it before it happens to anyone else.”
Ndaba said she knows of at least one instance when a young woman in the process of being trafficked was able to realize what was happening and get out of the situation thanks to a workshop they led at her school.
“One group cannot do anything, but we need to community to carry this out, because this is a social issue,” she said, voicing her hope that young people at the pre-synodal meeting “can really contribute toward the growth of our different communities that we come from.”
Nneji also voiced hope that the youth in attendance would be able to address their challenges and find a clear way forward.
“We want to be part of decision-making, [and] the Church has given us an opportunity in the pre-synod, so this conference … is a wonderful opportunity to see ourselves and know where we are; know our strengths and our weaknesses, manage them together and see how we can help the Church and society.”