Day 1: International Seminar on Young People in Rome

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Ashleigh Green, Australian Representative
Preparing for the Synod of Bishops on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment
Reflection on Day 1 

‘It is you who are to receive the torch from your elders,’ Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri announced as he opened the seminar, ‘and you are to deliver it to the world that is in the midst of the greatest transformation in history.’

Today I attended day one of the International Seminar of Young People in Rome, in preparation for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment. Cardinal Baldisseri explained that this week’s seminar is not only international in nature, but also multidisciplinary. I am one of 20 young people from around the world who were invited to attend this seminar along with specialists in the field of sociology, psychology, economics, computer science, pastoral care and the environment. Over the week Untitled design (3)we will engage with specialists from the various fields, but Cardinal Baldisseri explained that the key word for today was ‘listening.’

In my presentation I was honest about the reality of the Church in Australia today, which I described as being in the midst of crisis and transition. I drew on the results of the National Youth Synod Survey and I used personal experiences to illustrate this reality. As the theme of today’s seminar was ‘listening’, it was fitting that I shared some data from our National Survey where young people in Australia scored the Church’s listening ability to be a 6 out of 10. I shared my experience that many young people give up on the Church before even giving it a go, out of fear that they cannot engage in open, honest discussion about the issues that matter to them. I spoke about my involvement in the ‘Synod video booth’ in my Diocese. The booth travelled around to various youth events in the Diocese, and young people were invited to answer the question, ‘If you had one minute to say anything to Pope Francis, what would you say?’ As a facilitator of this booth, I remember one young person who, upon being asked this question hesitated and told me, ‘I’d better not say what I really think. My views are too radical to share at Church.’ After five minutes of encouraging this girl to openly share her thoughts, she went ahead and shared her experience of topics such as homosexuality and transgender issues being shut down at her Catholic School. I was really struck by this young person’s experience of the disconnect between Church and the rest of the world. It was as if there were some matters that were out of bounds in Church settings, yet these were the issues that she was most passionate about and which gave her life. I stated that as a Church, if we are to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, we need to be a Church that engages with those on the margins, and which includes young people who may feel ostracised for their views and identity.

One of the other youth respondents was a 25-year-old young man from Milan, Italy. He stated that his upbringing in a culture focused on image and power meant that he turned to crime. ‘I turned 18 in a jail cell,’ he said. ‘I was not used to trusting adults but I got to know a chaplain whilst in jail.’ After being released from prison the young man started living with the chaplain in his community. He spokeUntitled design (2) about how in previous communities, before anyone even asked his name, the leaders would read him the rules. In the Kairos Community, ‘my freedom was taken seriously,’ he said. ‘If I wanted to go out late, the priest would say, ‘You know the answer. You know what to do.’ This was someone who believed in my capacity to choose and who had faith in me.’ The young man shared his belief that if we want to educate young people in the faith we have to let them ask the questions… ‘I feel like I am one of the people who Jesus meets in Mark’s Gospel. I ask the Church not to forget those who like me were abandoned and suffered in jail. We, too, can be a gift to others. Give us a Gospel that is alive and comes to us through the faces that are happy and real.’

Another highlight of today was hearing from Fr Giulio Michelini who is the author of many New Testament studies and was chosen by Pope Francis to lead spiritual exercises for Roman Curia. He broke open 1 John 2:12-14, where young people are described as strong, as bearers of the Word and able to overcome evil.

We were encouraged, this week, to become a ‘thinking community’ and to view our community as an orchestra with each of us playing a unique instrument.

My hope is that our discussions this week will break new ground. Now is the time to be creative, to dream and to listen to the voice of the Spirit. I wait in eager anticipation for the discussions that lay ahead, and for the gelato along the way!
More about the General Synod and its connection to our Year of Youth in Australia here:
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