YOUNG Catholic delegates have returned from a week-long meeting in Rome with Pope Francis, energised, enthused and calling for a more transparent and “authentic” Church.
“Just for us to be heard, and to speak our minds within the Church and to get feedback and a response from an older generation that was ‘Oh, yes, we’ll listen to that and we’d love to interact and help you grow’,” Brisbane delegate Lachlan Tomkins, one of 300 delegates representing young people from five continents, said.
“I came back seeing a new potential. I was renewed in faith, and being able to have this interaction has allowed me to see that the Church does want to grow, does want to change.
“It has pulled me back into wanting to participate and wanting to be at the forefront.”
Mr Tomkins, studying his final year in primary education at Australian Catholic University’s Banyo campus, was one of four Australians who joined delegates preparing a 16-page document for the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment planned for October.
The document, which also drew on 15,000 online submissions, is focused on how to better incorporate young people into the Church.
Another Australian delegate Stephanie Santos, a Gold Coast youth leader, was impressed that youth from different faiths were included in the meeting.
“It was very interesting to be part of a conversation about the Church from so many different viewpoints,” she said.
“This document offers me hope, in the sense that I hope that the Church continues to listen.
“We need to listen to everyone: young and old, Churched and un-Churched.”
Mr Tomkins was impressed as Pope Francis spent “a good two to three hours” listening and participating in the pre-synodal meeting.
“Just the respect he had for the voice of young people. I guess he left us all with a sense of empowerment,” he said.
As is the custom of the digital-age generation, delegates shared key moments of their week in Rome on social media.
The final communiqué was even posted on Facebook before it could be officially released on a synod website.
The “youth document” asks the Church hierarchy to “be a transparent, welcoming, honest, inviting, communicative, accessible, joyful and interactive community”.
Delegates noted that many of their peers were leaving the Church in large numbers.
“Young people who are disconnected from or who leave the Church do so after experiencing indifference, judgment and rejection,” the document said.
“One could attend, participate in, and leave Mass without experiencing a sense of community or family as the Body of Christ.
“Christians profess a living God, but some attend Masses or belong to communities which seem dead.
“We need a Church that is welcoming and merciful, which appreciates its roots and patrimony and which loves everyone, even those who are not following the perceived standards.”
The document challenges Church leaders to “speak in practical terms about subjects such as homosexuality and gender issues, about which young people are already freely discussing”.
Importantly, delegates called on the Church to incorporate women more fully into Church leadership.
“Some young women feel that there is a lack of leading female role models within the Church, and they too wish to give their intellectual and professional gifts to the Church,” the pre-synodal document found.
The document also called on the Church to accept that technology is a way of life for young people.
The focus should not be condemnation, they wrote, but rather guidance on how to combat online addiction and using technology responsibly.
Melbourne Chaldean woman Angela Markas, who represented the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, mentioned the particular plight of Australian indigenous youth when she addressed the meeting, while Pope Francis listened.
“As a society and a Church we must ask, how do we empower young people, particularly those who are hurt and marginalised, to discover their identity amongst our shared history?” she said.
Ms Markas spoke about mental health, which, she said, ranked first as the most significant challenge in the lives of young people who answered pre-synod surveys.
“Let us be clear – affluence does not equal happiness,” she said. “There is another side to unhappiness; when you have everything but nothing at all.
“When people begin to feel a real sense of not having value in their life, everything diminishes before them.”
Ms Markas also touched on the impact of the recent legislation of same-sex marriage in Australia.
“Through all of it, so many young people around me kept asking the question, ‘Why ‘no’?,” she told the gathering.
“Young people are not satisfied with simple answers, or with answers that parents of their parents gave them.
“Young people are seeking depth. We want, and are able to, understand the complexity of it all and be able to have a voice.
“There is a tendency in the Church to avoid matters that are not-so-easy to talk about.
“This includes same-sex marriage, our sexuality, and also, the role of women in the Church.
“As a young woman myself, from a Middle-Eastern culture, I can testify to how easy it is to feel marginalised.”