ROME – Pope Francis greeted the hundreds of young people gathered in Rome for the pre-synodal meeting for the bishop’s general assembly in October on youth by asking them “to speak bravely” and inject a dose of creativity to a Church “in need of young prophets.”

The meeting – themed “We talk together” – welcomed youth from every part of the world and from many different cultural and religious realities. They were selected from dioceses, seminaries, associations and movements, schools and universities and from many walks of life, including arts, sciences, politics, sport, volunteering and young people with disabilities.

The document that will emerge from the weeklong gathering March 19- 24 will be presented at the Synod of Bishops themed “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.”

“Speak bravely!” the pope told the crowded auditorium of the Pontifical Maria Mater Ecclesiae College not very far from the Vatican. “Here, we leave shyness at the door,” he added, also encouraging those present to “listen with humility.”

Francis said that many times in the history of the Church and in the Bible, God has chosen to speak though youth, and said that in these days he will also speak though the diverse group of young individuals present at the pre-synod.

“Too often people speak of youth without consulting you,” the pope said. “Some believe that it would be easier to keep you at ‘a safe distance,’ so as not to be provoked by you. It’s not enough to exchange a few little messages or share cute pictures. Young people must be taken seriously!”

Young people, he continued, are the builders of culture with their style and originality, yet, too often they are left alone. “It doesn’t have to be this way in the Church,” the pope said, adding “this pre-synodal meeting wants to be the sign of something big: The desire of the Church to listen to all youth, without exclusion.”

The aim of the synod in October is to develop conditions so that youth may be accompanied with “passion and competence in the vocational discernment,” Francis said, reminding the audience that “God has faith in you, he loves you and calls you.”

This message echoed that of the young individuals who inaugurated the meeting by asking participants, including the pope, to look under their seats where they found a note saying: “God loves you immensely.”

Francis said the pre-synod is also meant as “an appeal to the Church, so that it may find a new youthful dynamism,” which would allow it to learn new ways to be present and close to young people.

Before the meeting, more than 150.000 young people throughout the world were asked to compile a questionnaire asking about their hopes, needs and concerns regarding the Church and religion, as well as other issues they face in their everyday life. The data drawn from this document will also be presented at the bishop’s assembly in October.

Francis spoke of the splendid message for  young people at the Second Vatican Council, which, he said, was a stimulus to fight against every egoism and bravely build a better world. “It’s an invitation to search for new paths and walk them with courage and trust, keeping the gaze fixed on Jesus and opening oneself to the Holy Spirit, to renew the same face of the Church,” the pope said.

“The heart of the Church is young precisely because the Gospel is like a vital sap that continuously regenerates it. It’s up to us to be docile and cooperate in this fecundity,” he added.

The Church, Francis said, needs to regain the enthusiasm of faith and the taste for discovery, because “an institution that makes choices so as not to change remains a child, it does not grow.” In order to do this the faithful must dare to set on new paths, despite the risks it might entail, he added.

“We must risk, because love knows how to risk, without risk, a young person ages, and the Church ages too,” Francis said. “We need you young people, living stones of a Church with a face that is youthful, but not wearing makeup: not artificially youthened, but revived from within. And you provoke us to escape the logic of ‘it’s always been done this way’ in order to remain creatively in line with authentic tradition.”

While young people are fundamental in “creating a new culture,” Francis also said that culture must not be “eradicated” and therefore needs its roots, which are grandparents who have already lived their lives and can guide the young.

Quuoting the Acts of the Apostles, the pope said, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams,” adding that today “we need young prophets,” but this can only happen if young people “make the old men dream.”