ROME – In his noontime Angelus address on Sunday, Pope Francis essentially invited youth of the world to go online and give the Catholic Church an earful, as part of an upcoming March gathering of young Catholics ahead of a Synod of Bishops on youth in October.
“A month from now, March 19 to the 24, around 300 youth from the entire world will come to Rome for a preparatory meeting for the synod in October,” the pope said.
“However, I strongly want all young people to be able to be protagonists of this preparation,” he said, emphasizing the word “strongly” as he spoke.
“Therefore, they’ll be able to take part online through linguistic groups moderated by other youth. The contribution of these ‘groups of the web’ will be joined to that of the Rome meeting,” he said.
“Dear young people,” Francis said, “you can find information on the web site of the Secretary of the Synod of Bishops. I thank you for your contribution to walking together!”
The pope’s invitation is part of a campaign by synod officials to boost youth participation ahead of the October meeting, after what was considered a disappointing response to an initial online questionnaire posted in June 2017.
In the end, roughly 221,000 people took a look at that questionnaire, of whom around 100,000 actually filled it out. Given a global Catholic population of roughly 1.2 billion, a strong share of that total made of youth, especially in the developing world, the results were lower than many anticipated.
The March 19-24 meeting in Rome is intended to shine a spotlight on the upcoming synod, blending input from youth representatives designated by bishops’ conferences around the world meeting in person with suggestions from young people taking part in groups on Facebook organized by language.
“It’s an event where young people will be actors and protagonists,” said Italian Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, during a Vatican press conference for the pre-Synod last Friday.
“We won’t just talk ‘about’ them, but they will be talking themselves: with their own words, their enthusiasm and their sensitivity,” he added.
On Friday, the pre-synod inaugurated its Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages in multiple languages, where youth wanting to be a part of the conversation have a chance to be heard by using the official #Synod2018.
To date, the Synod’s Twitter page has about 2,500 followers, more than 4,000 likes and follows on Facebook and a little over 1,200 followers on Instagram.
In the body of his Angelus address on Sunday, Francis reflected on the day’s Gospel themes of temptation, conversion and Good News, which he situated in the context of the Lenten season.
“For us, Lent is a time of spiritual ‘competition,’” the pope said.
“We’re called to face the Evil One through prayer, in order to be able, with the help of God, to defeat him in our daily life,” Francis said.
“Evil, unfortunately, is at work in our existence and all around us, where it’s manifested in violence, rejection of the other, closure, wars and injustices,” he said.
“In our life, we always need conversion, and the Church asks us to pray for it,” the pope said.
Today, Francis takes part in the opening of the annual Lenten retreat for members of the Roman Curia, the Vatican’s governing bureaucracy. The retreat will take place in Ariccia, a small town about 16 miles southeast of Rome.