ROME — European bishops are meeting in Barcelona in order to search for ways to extend a hand to Europe’s youngest and most disenchanted generation.
The European Symposium started on March 28 and is titled “Accompanying young people to respond freely to Christ’s call.” The four-day-long meeting will be attended by 275 delegates of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe, among them experts in the pastoral care of young people, schools and universities, and vocational and catechetical work.
Essentially the summit plays out as a practice game for the 2018 Bishop’s Synod called for by Pope Francis that will be dedicated to young people.
On March 24 Pope Francis spoke to the grown-up table of Europe, addressing more than 20 European leaders in the Vatican on the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Community, which is now the European Union.
The pope called on European leaders to be “open to the future,” offering young people serious prospects for education and jobs, and to remember the importance of the Christian roots of Europe.
In line with the pontiff’s remarks, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the CCEE wrote a letter to the meeting ahead of his arrival calling young people “The future of this ancient but not lifeless continent.
“Investing in the future means helping young people have faith, to believe in the European Union and, most importantly, in the identity of the continent. Believe in it strongly, with realism and hope, because you are the real protagonists of this journey and of Europe’s mission,” Bagnasco wrote.
The cardinal emphasized that sixty years are a good start for the EU but that the journey is still far ahead.
“Europe has the prospect of a new youthfulness, not an inevitable old age,” the letter read. “Its success will depend on the desire to once more work together and invest in the future.”
The one-of-a-kind European bishops summit comes at a moment in history where Europe is faced with extreme challenges that threaten its very survival. The clash between younger and older generations is strongly felt, as society and culture try to adapt to fast-paced changes.
The disappointment and protests of many young people in the United Kingdom following the vote in favor of leaving the EU, is an example of the cultural shifts within Europe’s generational fabric.
Pope Francis himself sent a message to participants by way of the Holy See Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, calling them “to lead a reflection on the challenges of evangelization and on the accompaniment of young people.”
In the letter Pope Francis expressed the hope that “through dialogue and encounter” and as “living members of the family of Christ,” young people may be the “convinced bearers of the joy of the Gospel in all areas.”
In his address at the conference, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and Vice-President of the CCEE, made an effort to widen the concept of Europe post-Brexit.
“I speak about Europe which is not the same as the European Union,” Nichols said. “This is important to me as a person from England!”
Nichols reminded participants that contrary to popular belief, most young people in Europe “Do not live in comfort, in affluence; most are not secure; most are not safe.”
The cardinal also put a spotlight on the issue of migration as “thousands of unaccompanied children are moving across Europe,” exposed to the dangers of human trafficking.
A photograph of Europe’s youth today does not leave much hope. With sky-high unemployment rates, an aging population heavily relying on a crumbling welfare state, staggering poverty, and exclusion rates leading to increases in drug abuse and suicide numbers, it is little wonder many young Europeans feel disenchanted or join the migrant flow themselves.
Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, Archbishop of Valencia and Vice-President of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, made his appeal on the first day of meetings.
Young people “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,” Llovera said.
“They need to feel they are the hope of the world and the hope of the Church,” he added.