Young people and their desire to be happy and to find “the love of their life.” Young people and their fear of remaining alone; young people and the meaning of life, God and dreams; young people and the Church, “an institution that is afraid of taking risks, of following new avenues”, that is called to “return to the roots of the Gospel” and “become the neighbour of everyone, as Pope Francis says.” The young people of Barcelona are the spokespersons of the feelings and aspirations of young Europeans at the Symposium inaugurated here in the Spanish city.
“He walked by their side. Accompanying young people to respond freely to Christ’s call” is the title of the meeting attended by 275 delegates from 37 European Bishops’ Conferences.
Four days of work, debates, sharing experiences and “good practices.” European representatives of five pastoral areas – school, university, catechesis, youth and vocation – are attending the Symposium. They are the living sign of a Church in Europe that wishes to accompany young people during each stage of life. The meeting is held for the first time with a view to preparing for the Bishops’ Synod that Pope Francis has decided to dedicate to the young. Thus the presence at the Barcelona symposium of Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Bishops’ Synod, is no coincidence.
Pope Francis outlined the horizon to which young people are called to extend their gaze: “May young people be convinced bearers of the hope of the Gospel in all areas”, he wrote in a message. The Symposium is being held at a historical moment in time, when Europe is facing a strong identity crisis. Old and ageing, our Continent strives to recover the motivations of unity and peace that were the fountainhead of her history.
“The young are the future of this ancient but not lifeless continent”, underlined Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, in his capacities as CCEE President.
“Europe has the prospect of a new youthfulness, not an inevitable old age”, the Cardinal went on, but “its success will depend on the desire to work together once again and on the willingness to stake our futures.” “To stake our futures means helping young people to have trust, to believe in the European Union, and, even before that, to believe in the identity of our continent.” “Believe strongly, with realism and hope, for you are the true protagonists of this journey and of Europe’s mission”, His Eminence said.
Who are the young people at the centre of the debates and reflections in Barcelona? Monsignor Marek Jedraszewski, Archbishop of Krakow, President of the CCEE Commission for catechesis, school and university, drew their outline. Many of them were born into Christian families and in some natural ways they grew in the faith of the Catholic Church. Many others have lost their faith for various reasons, in some cases for lack of trust in the Church. This led them to live with an inner bitterness that gave rise to “sadness, to the inability to give meaning to life, and to a paralysing loss of hope.” Many others, knowledgeable of the Christian religion, remain “at a great distance.”
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, defines them as
Young people who don’t know where to go, who see the future with a deep feeling of “uncertainty.” But the Europe of young people is also the Europe of migrants. In Barcelona we are being reminded that our Continent includes also all those youths crossing its lands in search of a better future, fleeing from Countries at war or from extreme poverty. Among them figure “thousands of unaccompanied children” who often fall into the dark nets of “human trafficking.”
“We don’t expect to find the political answers to these questions in the Gospel”, said Cardinal Nichols. But the Church does not draw back. She knows that young people are the future of Europe and she wishes to listen to them, “to help bring out the best in each one of them, to discover with them the mystery they are bearers of and encourage them to follow the noble art of discerning the will of God in their own lives”, said Monsignor Juan José Omella Omella, Archbishop of Barcelona. But this entails being open to meet the challenges:
it means “being open to new horizons, to new proposals and avenues needing to be explored.” The major challenge – said Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, Archbishop of Valencia, Vice-President of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference – is making young people aware that “being a Church is worth the while. They must perceive our love for them, that we put faith in them. They have to feel welcomed, that the Church wants them and receives them with open arms, that she believes that young people can build the world of the new millennium. They need to feel they are the hope of the world and the hope of the Church.”