Young Australian Ashleigh Green has told representatives planning the next Synod of Bishops that disadvantaged and marginalised youth are hurting and need to be heard.
Ms Green, who is a social worker for CatholicCare in the Broken Bay diocese, represented Australia at an international conference in Rome from April 5 to 9 alongside director for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Office for Youth Malcolm Hart.
The conference, organised by the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life in Rome and the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, spent two days discussing the October 2018 Synod of the Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment.
Pope Francis joined the delegates at a prayer vigil on April 8 at St Mary Major Basilica, before welcoming them at the Palm Sunday Mass in St Peter’s Square where the WYD Cross and Icon was handed over to Panama youth.
Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life prefect Cardinal Kevin Farrell said the numbers at the recent meeting were the highest in the conference’s history.
Ms Green was asked to give a presentation before the delegates about her hopes for the upcoming synod and the subsequent Year of Youth organised by the ACBC.
Drawing from a recent conversation with one of her new clients who created a new religion “where there is only love”, Ms Green said the Church needed to create “new and welcoming spaces” for disadvantaged youth.
“Yes, the church-going young Catholics sitting in the pews on Sunday comprise a small percentage of youth, but how can we engage the sixteen-year-old Aboriginal girl living in a CatholicCare residential group home in Sydney?” she said.
“How can we engage the twenty-year-old young mum who has spent her youth moving from foster home to foster home and now has a child of her own?”
Ms Green said the Church also needed to create bridges that harnessed young people’s passion for social justice.
She said people she knew who were educated in a Catholic school could not make the link between social justice and Church teaching “despite the link that is so evidently there and which underpins the Gospels”.
Ms Green also raised the declining numbers of young people in parishes, suggesting the Church find new spaces for building Christian communities.
“Despite the media perception that society is becoming more individualised and that young people are becoming more self-focused, as humans, our dreams and identities can only be fully realised in community,” she said.
She also said a “revitalisation” of role models and mentors “who are at peace with themselves” were needed to journey with young people who were suffering.
But the greatest fruit would come from listening to the “language of young people”.
“I believe that the greatest fruits of this synod will come from listening to the language of young people – the words we reach for, the images that move us, and the music which calls us to consider our deeper desires,” Ms Green said.
“To paraphrase Saint Ignatius of Loyola, to go in our door before attempting to lead us out your own.”
Pope Francis addressed youth delegates on the April 8 prayer vigil to welcome in the 32nd World Youth Day, celebrated on Palm Sunday every year.
The Holy Father said the Church needed to listen to all young people, even those who did not believe in God.
“Every young person has something to tell others, has something to say to adults, has something to say to the priests, nuns, bishops and the pope,” Pope Francis said.
“We all need to listen to you.”
The Pope’s message to young people, which he gave in the name of the Church, was to “talk with the elderly”.
“Talk to them, ask them about things,” the Pope said. “Let them dream and draw from those dreams to go on, to prophesy and to render that prophecy concrete.
“This is your mission today; this is the mission that the Church asks of you today.”
On the next World Youth Day in Panama, Pope Francis could not tell the young people if he would join them.
“I don’t know if I will be there, but the pope will be there,” he said.