From Boston to Rome

Christopher Russo prepares to attend pre-synod meeting.

Christopher Russo

Christopher Russo met Father Will Rupp, Director of Spiritual Formation at the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of SS. Cyril and Methodius in Pittsburgh, Pa., as a student at Penn State University. He said it was “amazing” to talk to Father Will, who was serving as Eastern Catholic chaplain in Happy Valley, and see how his spiritual mentorship
benefited young people.

“During that time, I greatly benefited from the spiritual and Catholic ministries they had there. Just how the chaplains were able to talk to (young adults) and inspire them and be close to them in different challenges they had, both spiritual and personal.

“That really benefits people to have that type of mentorship for that type of pivotal points in their lives.” It’s a message Christopher, 23, of Boston, Mass., hopes to deliver as a delegate to a Pre-Synod meeting in Rome from March 19 to 24. He is one of only four young adults — and the only Byzantine Catholic — from the United States who will join about 300 others ranging from age 18 to 29 from around the world in a series of meetings prior to the Syond of Bishops’ “Synod 2018 on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment” in October.

Christopher and the other young people will conclude the Pre-Synod session with a Eucharistic celebration with the Holy Father Pope Francis on Palm Sunday, March 25. Christopher, who graduated from Penn State in 2016 and works as a research technologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, was selected to attend the Pre-Synod by Archbishop William Skurla. He is the son of Deacon Stephen and Heather Russo of Southbury, Conn. They are members of St. Nicholas in Danbury, Conn.

“It was kind of unexpected… Archbishop got in contact with me and asked me if I was interested in going. I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with different youth ministries, both with the Eparchy of Passaic and the Archeparchy of Pittsburgh. Venturing a guess, I think my involvement was one of the deciding factors,” he said. “When Archbishop was telling me about this, I was completely moved. I’m both excited and honestly a little nervous. But it’s a good nervous.”

The three other U.S. delegates are Roman Catholics from Louisiana, California and Texas. Starting last year, Archbishop William invited young people of the Metropolitan Church to complete an online questionnaire. He received almost 1,000 responses with opinions, ideas, hopes and challenges regarding the topic. A summary of their work was sent to Rome with all other responses from around the world being compiled into a document for the bishops to consider at the Synod.

Christopher will be flying from Boston to Rome and meetings will be held at a Pontifical University close to the Vatican. “Pope Francis really saw the need to have another Synod where all the bishops of the world come to meet together to talk about how the church can better minister to youth and young adults, ” he said. This includes how to help them better navigate milestones in their lives, such as jobs, marriage and their religious life.

“I see this opportunity to go to Rome and be able to participate and not only represent the United States but the Byzantine Catholic Metropolia. I’ll hopefully be able to come back from this with a lot of insight on what we can do as Eastern Catholics in the U.S.” Christopher said he’s excited to meet Catholics from all over the world.

“I still can’t wrap my head around it. And, honestly, I was thinking about this other day, It’s going to be very interesting to hopefully have the chance to meet with some other people from different countries. Different things that might be challenges (in the) U.S. will be completely different for people coming from areas like Syria, Lebanon; areas of the world we see in the news that are not the best place for Christianity at the moment. It will be really interesting to get deeper insight to the faith of these people and how they’re able to endure through all of this. And proudly say, at the end of the day: ‘I believe’.”

Christopher has given much thought to the message he wants to convey. This includes the need for the church to be part of the lives of young people beyond the initial Sacraments of Initiation, he said. “On a large scale, that’s what the Synod is really trying to do; to make sure young people have a voice within the church. And have a guiding hand and very good mentorship during these different milestones in their lives.”