ROME – In 2017, Pope Francis tapped relatively unknown Brazilian Father Alexandre Awi Mello as Secretary of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. It is headed by American Cardinal Kevin Farrell. This month the pontiff again showed his support by making him one of his three personal appointees to the commission tasked with drafting the final document of the Oct. 3-28 meeting of bishops on youth.
Speaking with Crux a day after being appointed to the commission that will summarize the Synod of Bishops on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment, Awi Mello said it was a “big responsibility.”
He also spoke about the lively atmosphere in the synod hall due in part to the young people present in the discussions, with a “dialogue of mutual openness” between the youth and “the elders” as one young woman put it.
Awi Mello, a member of the Schoenstatt Fathers, spoke with Crux about the synod, the World Meeting of Families and World Youth Day. What follows are excerpts of that conversation.
Crux: How is the synod going so far?
Awi Mello: It seems to me that there is a very positive atmosphere, a palpable unity in the sense that there’s an opening from the bishops to listen to young people, to accompany them, to really listen carefully to their questions. I find it extremely positive. There is a lot of joy due to the presence of young people, but also because it’s a subject that seems to me is not only in the heart of the pope but also of the bishops.
You say that there’s an opening of the bishops to listen to young people. But, the pope recently told young people that they have to be open to listen to their elders, who are the “roots.” Do you see that opening too?
I think so, and that’s nice. The theme of intergenerational dialogue, which is so dear to the pope, is present all the time. And I think that this feedback between young people and adults (and the elderly) is fundamental.
Only half-joking a girl said, “because you are elders,” and the synod fathers who spoke after her owned up to it and answered beginning by saying “we the elders.”
Obviously, the age difference in the synodal assembly is visible, but I think this dialogue of mutual openness is visible too.
What expectations does the dicastery have for the synod?
The first article of our statutes says that we are responsible, always in a subsidiary way and in a spirit of collegiality, for youth ministry. We are responsible for this, so we are very interested in what comes out of here, and we feel responsible for implementing everything that comes out of the synod.
We are very interested in helping the episcopal conferences, the movements, the associations with which we are linked so that they can take seriously everything that comes out of this process. We will surely be part of this post-synodal process. Be it in an official capacity or through the initiatives of the dicastery itself.
In the previous synod there were many “controversial” themes, but in this synod there would seem to be a climate of greater joy. Why? Do these “hot button issues” not count anymore?
The observation has been made by many. And I think everyone is aware that young people’s considerations have to be faced and taken seriously, although perhaps this is not the place to answer all the questions they may have.
But yes, as they asked in the pre-synodal meeting, they want to be heard, and there are issues on which they want to have their pastors speak more clearly and directly about. And this seems to me to be an attitude especially for the post-synodal period.
But all these issues have come out: sexuality, migrants … they are issues over which young Catholics themselves don’t always agree, and it seems to me that the synod is not the place to face the content of all of them. It’s the place to have attitude of listening, to take young people seriously, seeing them as a theological place, see if we really take the voice of young people as an interpellation of the Holy Spirit. If we do, then we have to address the questions they’ve raised.
During the synod so far, we’ve heard about many things revolving around young people, from migration to new technologies. But what about young people with disabilities and what the Church can do to reach out to them. Is this something that has been addressed by the synod fathers?
The document does not touch on this very much, but yesterday [Wednesday Oct. 10] a bishop spoke about his experience with autistic young people. And I think it’s a reality that will have a more important place in the final document. The current document is a “martyr” document. The final document will be written based on what was presented, but it will be enriched by what happens in the assembly.
More than 40 days have passed since the World Day of Families in Dublin, co-sponsored by the dicastery. How does the dicastery think it went?
It was a very good event, we liked it a lot. The workshops were very well prepared, the main talks but also the smaller workshops- that sometimes had 1,000 people! – were all very thought out.
It’s a pity that the content of the event didn’t always have the resonance that one would have liked. The content of the meeting was very rich. Also, the night with the pope for the Festival of Families was very beautiful, with a high technical level, very well thought out.
From our part, it fulfilled all the objectives that we had set out.
There are only months left now before the January World Youth Day in Panama, which obviously is related to the synod on young people …
These days we were with the organizing committee of Panama, and it’s going well. There are logistical challenges, but they are being solved, like a decree presented last week by the president on the subject of visas, which gives pilgrims the possibility of obtaining an electronic visa. They also gave us the testimonies these days … It’s evident that the bishop has his heart in it, that he’s very participative as is the rest of the local Church, and we are truly positively surprised with the management capacity that we’re seeing in Panama.
On Wednesday the pope picked you to be part of the commission charged with drafting the synod’s final document. Some observers have said that, ideologically speaking, the pope chose people from the “center” to avoid what happened at the last synod, where many thought that the balance was clearly tilted to one side …
I cannot speak of the last synod … But of the members of the commission, four are permanent members of the synod. Five were elected by the assembly itself. Of the three chosen by the pope, the truth is that I don’t know the priest from Cuba, although we are sitting next to each other, only now we are getting to know one other. So, I cannot really give a judgement over the commission being [ideologically] in the center.
However, I can say that it’s a very big responsibility. I actually told the pope: “the things you do…” and he said, “Good luck!” In any case, it’s a joy to be able to serve the community of bishops, the synod in this way.