A Maryknoll mission promoter highlights the participation of young people in the Catholic Church.
When I read the final document of the “Synod of Bishops on Youth, the Faith and Vocational Discernment” in 2018, I was particularly interested in the following paragraph:
“The Synod asks that the active participation of the young become effective and ordinary in places of co-responsibility in the particular Churches and in the organs of the Episcopal Conferences and the universal Church. It also asks that the activity of the Office for the Young in the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life be strengthened, not least through the constitution of an organ to represent the young at an international level.” (paragraph 123)
“The young people were heard!” I thought. But I felt a little skeptical and noted: “Maybe one day…at best in 100 years.”
We young people sometimes see things moving slowly in the Church. We are disappointed when we see no action in response to our concerns. But God has ways to revive our hearts.
The Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment took place from Oct. 3 to 28, 2018, in Rome. But preparations for the Synod began two years earlier, when Pope Francis announced the theme for this 15th general assembly of bishops.
The 20 members of the first Youth Advisory Body, including Brenda Noriega (top row, third from left), represent young people from around the world. (Courtesy of Brenda Noriega)
From the beginning, the Holy Father communicated his desire for young people to be part of the synod process. As a result, the Synod on Young People was organized so the voices of the young were very present before, during and after the Synod.
Young people worldwide contributed their life testimonies, challenges, and social realities and dreams through online questionnaires and international meetings before the Synod. During the Synod, young people from different countries participated as auditors and, at times, were invited to express what they carry in their hearts.
During World Youth Day in Panama in January 2019, the Holy Father continued listening to young people’s concerns and dreams. I had the privilege of being one of 10 young people who had lunch with Pope Francis at the end of World Youth Day. My life was transformed, and my flame reignited.
Two months later, Pope Francis released the Apostolic Exhortation Christus Vivit (Christ Is Alive), the beautiful letter he wrote for young people and all who walk with us. But the Holy Father’s desire to engage young people did not conclude there. He called for a post-synodal international forum. Thus, at the end of June 2019, about 250 young people from all over the world arrived in Rome to discuss ways in which Christus Vivit had been received in their realities. I was one of two representatives of the United States.
Brenda Noriega (yellow shirt) joins other young people sharing their hopes and dreams for the active participation of youth in the Church. (Courtesy of Brenda Noriega)
At the end of the forum, we were told that paragraph 123 of the Synod on Young People’s final document would become a reality. You can imagine the joy among us that day. Here was the Holy Spirit blowing like at Pentecost, renewing the Church and inviting us to be part of the forward march.
On Nov. 24, 2019, the first International Youth Advisory Body (IYAB) was officially announced to the world, the first of its kind in the history of the Church! I was among 20 young people from different parts of the world chosen to continue the dialogue and consultation with the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family, and Life. This Vatican office is responsible “for the promotion of the life and apostolate of the lay faithful, for the pastoral care of the family and its mission according to God’s plan and for the protection and support of human life.”
Since the formation of IYAB, I’ve learned that the same Spirit who moved in Jeremiah and Samuel in biblical times continues moving and speaking today through Sofia, Makoto, Émile and the rest of my colleagues. My 19 brothers and sisters are each bestowed with gifts, charisms and experiences that enrich dialogue and shape my own ministerial perspective.
Being part of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers’ family as an educator and mission promoter has enriched my participation in this advisory body. Through Maryknoll, I have learned about a diverse global reality and ministry on the peripheries. I have learned that one pastoral response is not the solution for all. My brothers’ and sisters’ promotion is always more important than my own. That is part of being a missionary disciple.
Listening to the Maryknoll missionaries about the circumstances in some countries in great need has helped me be mindful during IYAB meetings of the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go accompanied.”
Featured Image: At the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment in 2018, Pope Francis meets Yadira Vieyra, a delegate from Chicago. (CNS/Vatican Media)