ROME – As the first round of discussions during the Oct. 3-28 Synod of Bishops comes to a close, much discussion has consisted of apologies for Church failures and attention to migration, with special mention that it is young people who often make the difficult choice to leave home.
With war, poverty and violence often serving as causes, one African prelate said Saturday that his goal, not only for youth in difficulty but for the whole Church, is to bring a message of hope.
In comments to the press Sept. 6, Cardinal Dieudonné Nzapalainga, Archbishop of Bangui in the war-torn Central African Republic, said that despite the fact that his nation has been devastated by military and political conflicts for years, “most youth love the Church” and are waiting to see how it can foster solidarity and charity in their troubled society.
“There are great expectations for justice and peace, they have great expectations for themselves,” he said, adding young people in his country are searching for ways in which they can transmit God to others through their words and actions.
In his experience, Nzapalainga said that amid crisis and difficulty, rather than resorting to violence, “we need to refer to God’s word, because he’s a rock to us, we need to send real messages, to say that this is God, so I will go towards my brother, he too is sent by God.”
When a person suffers, “it is Jesus who suffers,” he said, adding that “when you come from a country where you live with war and suffering, God is present,” and those who have experienced God’s presence, including young people, want to share it with others.
“I want to share this message, a message of hope, so that the universal Church may dance,” he said.
Nzapalainga was given a red hat by Pope Francis in 2016 after visiting the troubled nation a year earlier, where he officially inaugurated the Jubilee of Mercy. He spoke to the press as the first week of the Synod of Bishops on young people, faith and vocational discernment came to an end.
So far, the topics of war, poverty, violence and migration have been a key talking point, with many emotional speeches given by prelates and delegates alike on the tragic reasons many young people opt to leave home and the need to welcome new arrivals on European shores.
The topic hits close to home for Nzapalainga, whose nation since 2012 has been embroiled in armed conflict between the mainly Muslim rebel group, the Seleka, and the anti-Balaka self-defense group, composed primarily of Christians.
Though a new government was installed in 2016, the conflict has continued, resulting in thousands of deaths and millions of displaced, with nearly half of Central Africans dependent on humanitarian aid, according to the U.N.
Asked about the role of the Church in supporting incoming migrants fleeing from situations of war and poverty, Nzapalainga said the Church is not “an employment agency,” and each state “has its own mission to support its own population.”
What the Church can do, he said, is raise awareness and offer their own charitable contribution and appeals to respect human dignity.
“There has always been migration since Abraham,” he said, noting that many young people currently face the difficult decision of risking death by staying at home, and risking death on a long journey abroad.
The question they face, he said, is “if I stay I die, if I leave I’ll die, what do I choose? At times it’s a leap into the dark.” The problem of migration, he said, can’t be generalized, because each situation is unique, but in every case, the Church must be there to ensure that migrants are welcomed, and not “rejected as if they were animals. They must be treated as if they are children of God.”
Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, also weighed in on the topic, telling press that migration is a “complex problem,” and the Church must be a place where doors are opened, not closed.
In terms of the wider synod discussion, Versaldi said he feels enriched by the global reach of the gathering, and the universality of the Catholic Church.
Many of today’s “most vivacious” churches come from outside the Western world, he said, and are minorities in their homeland.
In comments to the press, Mariano Germán García, a young auditor of the synod from Argentina, said young people are anxious to share their joys, sufferings, fears and even experiences of difficulty and violence with the Church, adding that they believe in the Church and have “a lot of hope.”
“(We) come to share the life of many youth from around the world and to remember that it is Jesus who is uniting us,” he said, adding that the Church is and must be a home for young people, who are often “the poor of our time.”
Youth, he said, have “big dreams” and are oftentimes “the transformers of history.” The synod, he said, is a good place for young people to share these dreams and to build strong encounters with others, “so that youth are present in the Church and in the world.”