At a prayer vigil with youth this weekend, Pope Francis said the Church needs to listen to the voice of young people, and some of them have responded saying they want to let the world know they are not tired of following Christ.
“There are a lot of young people who feel like the Church is difficult, that it is far off, that it’s something for adults and for serious people,” Nicole Espino, 18, told EWTN News. But the Pope, she said, “helps us to understand that we are important and that we are part of the Church.”
“We feel included and like we are part of the Mass. We feel important, and he makes us feel that the youth count and that we belong to the Church,” she said.
Espino was one of some 300 Panamanian youths who came to Rome to receive the official World Youth Day cross from Polish young people during Pope Francis’ Palm Sunday Mass April 9.
The Mass coincided with the 32nd WYD, themed “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name,” and is the first step in preparing for the global 2019 WYD in Panama.
The youths were present along with Archbishop José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta of Panama and Cardinal José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuan of David. Their itinerary included not only Mass with the Pope, but a prayer vigil the night before and meetings with the organizers of WYD and the upcoming 2018 synod of bishops on “Faith, Young People and the Discernment of Vocation.”
In a prayer vigil held April 8 in anticipation of this year’s diocesan-level WYD celebration, Pope Francis told the thousands of young people gathered in the Basilica of St. Mary Major to be protagonists in the preparation process for the two events, because the Church needs to hear their voice.
Espino said that for her, what she would tell the Church, particularly priests, is that “the youth are very important and that it’s an honor that the Pope chose Panama (for WYD).” She said she would also tell them that as youth “we are ready to give everything to give the best possible and to give face to our country.”
Similarly, Paul Tijerino, 24, who was present at the prayer vigil along with a number of other Panamanian youth, said his message to the Church would be that “we do not get tired of following God, of always following his example, of being humble in what we do.”
“We are aware of what we can be the only Gospel that a person reads,” he said, and voiced his hope that “our actions reflect this living Christ and when people see us, they see Christ, and not only that they see Christ, but see that we are guided by Mary.”
Tijerino was one of two youths to shake hands with Pope Francis at the prayer vigil as the Roman Pontiff was leaving, and all he could say about it was “wow!”
For him, Pope Francis is “a model of life, an example to follow in humility, simplicity and in everything that he represents.”
“He has turned the Church,” the young man said, explaining that what impacted him most about the Pope’s message to young people at the prayer vigil was “the message he gave on the syond …because it helps us a lot to know what it is that we want to do in our lives.”
“I feel that this is what young people should look for,” he said. “To know what is the plan that God has for us in order to be able to prepare it.”
“We are waiting for them with open arms,” he said, explaining that he plans to prepare with a lot of prayer and community events, by trying to make his life “an example for others” and by trying “to follow the Pope gives us.”
Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, said WYD – which will be held in Panama Jan. 22-27, 2019 – needs to be prepared in tandem with the synod on youth “because WYD is for the youth. WYD has a history and a tradition, and now we’re having the first synod on the youth.”
Speaking to journalists during an April 9 meeting on synod and WYD preparations, he said that “We need to prepare with consultation from the youth,” explaining that at nearly 70 years old, “I don’t think like the youth do,” so there is a need to speak with them as well as the priests and bishops who are closer to their reality.
And this means speaking not just with youth who are constant Church-goers, but also those who are perhaps atheists or who no longer go to Church, he said, referring to comments Pope Francis had made on this point during the prayer vigil.
Perhaps the most difficult part of preparing, he said, will be to “enter into contact with the youth, but it needs to be done (and) we need to change the system that we use.” Rather than just sending out letters to bishops, Cardinal Farrell said the dicastery is looking to develop ways for youth to contribute online.
“We need to do what Pope Francis says: go out, go beyond the doors of the Church and of all the organizations” in order to reach especially those who are far off.
For his part on the diocesan level in Panama, Cardinal Lacunza said that at this point, things are already moving forward and “there’s no going back.”
“We remain with the task of raising awareness, to make everyone see that they should participate and that everyone can open their doors to welcome pilgrims so that no one feels like a stranger,” he said, explaining that since the country is so small, part of their preparations involve asking locals to open the doors of their homes to those who come for the global event.
To have the synod on youth happen just before WYD, he said, “is another blessing from God.” On the journey from Krakow to Panama “you pass through the synod,” he said, explaining that for him, the synod will be an opportunity for WYD to be “even more meaningful and impactful.”
While there are only a few months in between the October synod and the WYD gathering in January, Cardinal Lacunza said that “if the Pope proposed it and insists, it can be done and it will be a wonderful opportunity to deliver to WYD the result of the synod.”