On 19th to 22nd June 2019 the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life hosted the 11th International Youth Forum in Sassone di Ciampino, Rome. This was in response to the Synod on Youth which took place in October 2018, and to the Apostolic Exhortation Christus Vivit, written by Pope Francis to reflect the conclusions of the Synod. The theme of the forum was Youth in action in a synodal Church, and its main goal was to “keep the flame of the Pentecost of the Synod alive and burning”.
250 delegates from over 100 countries and 40 organisations were present, and over three days they discussed the Synod and the document, shared their experiences of youth pastoral ministry and proposed ideas for a way forward for the Church, following the words of Pope Francis: “The young people are not an important part of the Church; they ARE the Church”.
To represent the Bishop’s Conference of Scotland at the forum, two delegates were appointed: Ciaràn McGonigle from the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, and Charis McCrosson from the Diocese of Dunkeld, also a representative of the Scottish Catholic Youth Service.
The first day focused on ‘The synodal journey and its impact at the local Church level’. Young auditors who were present at the Synod gave an insight into their experience, which “gave [them] a feeling of being truly a part of a Church who calls young people by name”. They outlined the three elements which they felt characterised the Synod experience: Listening, Discernment and Spirituality.
The second day took a deeper look at the Christus Vivit document, ‘The culmination of the Synod on youth’. There was a particular focus on Chapter 4: ‘A great message for all young people’. It talks about God’s love for young people and His longing for a relationship with all of us. It reminds us of three important truths: God loves you; Christ is your Saviour; He is alive. A delegate from Switzerland commented, “Christus Vivit is received as a gift from a grandfather to his grandfather to his grandchildren. It is like being spoken to directly.” This was a sentiment shared by many.
“The Synod is not an event; it’s a journey and a dialogue. We have a responsibility to do more and create the experience of synodality and dialogue around this document. Christus Vivit is the most important document for today’s Church. It lays a pathway for us in the future. We must take time to reflect deeper and have more understanding of the document and what it means for us. It is our responsibility not just to find a place for ourselves, but for every young person who comes after us.” – Australian Youth Director
The third day explored the theme of ‘Youth in action in a synodal Church: our contribution’. Fr. Rossano Sala, Special Secretary at the Synod on Youth, and Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello, Secretary for the Dicastery, spoke about the importance of vocations, discernment and accompaniment of young people. This last element was underlined as fundamental to youth pastoral ministry. Another fundamental element was identified as collaboration – between Bishops and youth ministers, clergy and laity, countries/regions and organisations. Fr Awi Mello commented, “We cannot live alone, isolated from others. Seek out the support of people who have received specific formation – remember lay people can support also.”
“There was a moment during the Synod where we experienced a moment of conversion – we realised the problem was no longer the young people, but the adults. This was the turning point. We must have humility in synodality.” – Fr. Sala
Throughout the forum there were many opportunities for delegates to join the discussion and share their own thoughts and experiences, or to ask questions of the various panellists. This gave a great insight into the many cultures and situations that are faced by youth ministers across the globe. Charis McCrosson comments, “It was striking how similar many of our situations were. Countries across the world are facing the same struggles with communication and lack of support between clergy and laity, with lack of engagement of the young people they serve, and with access to resources or venues. It was encouraging to know that we are not alone on our journey.”
One of the most prevalent issues was the accessibility of the Synod documents, as many countries do not have them translated to their language or have not been able to circulate them widely. This means that many young people, laity and even clergy have not read or even heard of the Synod or Christus Vivit. The importance of creating a more accessible Church was stressed by many of the delegates.
Speaking of her experience at the Forum, Charis said;
“This week has been a wonderful experience and moment of formation for me. To be surrounded by young youth ministers from all over the world and hear their thoughts, their struggles and their hopes was incredibly inspiring. To have received encouragement and advice from those much more experienced in youth ministry than I has been invaluable.
What struck me most about the whole experience was how remarkable and what a true reflection of the ‘universal Church’ it was to see all these people gathered together and in communion with one another, regardless of political situations in their countries, past or current conflicts between countries etc. There were no majorities or minorities – it felt like we were all the same. This is how God intended us to be, and it exemplifies the Pope’s message: we are one in Christ; we are the Church.
I hope that the fruits of this forum will flourish and that we will see a positive impact on our Church in Scotland. I ask for prayer for all of us who are dedicated to this mission.”
The Forum concluded with a trip to the Vatican for Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica followed by an audience with Pope Francis. He addressed the delegates with thanks and a reminder that “the Church needs [young people], so that she can be fully herself.” Before he left, he personally greeted each one of them.
“Meeting the Pope has to be one of the greatest experiences of my life so far. It was the perfect end to a very intense and fruitful week, and I was touched by his desire to meet all of us. He asked us to be informal, so many of us greeted him with a hug. He truly is a father of the Church, and I believe he would embrace everyone in the world if he could – just as Jesus does.” – Charis