Young people want leaders who are fathers, not Pharisees, observer says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Catholic Church must be a place
of justice and mercy, and its members must be catalysts for change, some young
observers said at the Synod of Bishops Oct. 11.

“In order to teach justice and mercy to our young
people, the church must first be a place of justice and mercy for our young
people,” said Joseph
Moeono-Kolio from Samoa, who was representing the Caritas Internationalis
Youth Forum and young people from the Pacific Islands.

He asked the synod what young people could to do about
uprooting injustice from the world “when we can’t do it within our own

The problem of clerical sexual abuse and corruption are
present in his region, he said, but “reporting it or even speaking of it
here is professional and cultural suicide.”

“Young people are tired of Pharisees, we need
fathers,” he said.

Moeono-Kolio used an analogy for how he would like to see
young people and elders live and work together. When his ancestors would sail
from island to island, he said, strong young people were put in charge of paddling
while the elders onboard were in charge of reading the stars in the sky and the
ocean currents in order to guide the boat to their common destination.

Whether it is the Pacific Ocean or today’s sea of
challenges, he said, “until we start paddling together by way of listening
and equipping our young people with the tools to navigate the inevitable
storms, our canoe will only float into irrelevance.”

“But if you, our elders, set the right course and
steer this canoe in the right direction, we the young faithful are ready to
help you power it through the challenges” and bring the light of faith to
the ends of the world, he said.

Nicole Anne Perez, who is a catechist in the Philippines,
voiced her concerns to the synod about how Catholics in youth ministry can be
catalysts of change and find solace, guidance and love in a region with so many
huge problems.

The breakdown of families, parents focused more on money
than their children, predators taking advantage of children’s poverty for
sexual exploitation, inauthentic online relationships and casual sex all leave
“ordinary” people wondering what they can do to solve these problems,
she said.

Her answer, she explained, is found in Jesus telling the
Pharisee that the greatest commandment of all is love — loving God and loving
one’s neighbor as oneself.

Perez said she looks inside herself to make sure she is
being “a spark of light in the dark,” spreading that spark to others
and leading other people to “the true light.”

“Let us be Jesus to others, letting them see the
source of true light in our own lives and relationships,” she said.

Chaldean Catholic Safa al Abbia, a 26-year-old dentist
from Iraq, urged the synod participants to pray for Iraq and support its
Christians and churches.

He said he understands the importance of talking about
the more common themes at the synod — the family, sexuality and social media —
but the main challenge for young people in Iraq is “peace and stability
and their right to live in dignity.”

Young people are struggling to remain faithful as
witnesses to Jesus and hold onto their traditions, values and liturgy, he said.
But they have grown up seeing many of their brothers and sisters martyred and
their churches bombed.

“I will never forget the face of my friends after
the Mass when they said, ‘See you next week,’ and I never saw them again
because they were burned under the fire of the bombed car” near their
church one year.

Young people also are leaving the country because of
diminishing opportunities in employment and education as well as a breakdown in
values and the law, he said. As a result, “Iraqi youth are questioning the
impact of being Iraqis on their life, the role of God and the role of the
church in spite of all the good effort of the church in assisting.”

Al Abbia told Pope Francis that he had a message for him
from young people, “They hope one day to see you in Iraq.”

Henriette Camara, a member of the Catholic scouts in
Guinea, told the synod that the scout movement “is deeply permeated with
Gospel values” and it helps young people deepen their faith and love for
Christ and the church.

Catholic scouts can help those young people who have
given up on life or are headed down errant paths, she said, because “we
are young optimists who face life’s daily problems with stamina, courage and

Mantantu Vita, who works in youth ministry at the Congo bishops’
conference, told the synod the ministry’s aim is to guide young people in all
aspects of their lives so they can become responsible adults.

To be someone who accompanies, she said, isn’t about
trying to attract young people to entertain them, keep them busy or help them
“kill their free time.”

It is being someone who is a true guide, leading them
toward Jesus, whom they greatly need, she said.

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