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Pope Francis greets Nick Lopez, 27, director of campus ministry for the University of Dallas, during a pre-synod gathering of youth delegates at the Pontifical International Maria Mater Ecclesiae College in Rome March 19. The meeting was in preparation for the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment this October at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

ROME (CNS) -- The Catholic Church needs the enthusiasm, daring and hope of young people so that it can preach the Gospel energetically and respond to the questions men and women raise today, Pope Francis told some 300 young adults.

"We need to rediscover in the Lord the strength to get up after failure, to move forward, to strengthen hope for the future," the pope said March 19, opening a weeklong meeting in preparation for October's Synod of Bishops.

Most of the young people gathered with the pope at the Legionaries of Christ's Maria Mater Ecclesia College in Rome were chosen as delegates by their national bishops' conferences. Others represented a variety of Catholic movements or ministries, including religious life. But the Vatican also invited delegates from other Christian churches, other religions, including Islam, and young people who describe themselves as nonbelievers.

Pope Francis told the young people that they are the ones who can help the church fight "the logic of 'it's always been done this way,'" which he described as "a poison, a sweet poison that tranquilizes the heart and leaves you anesthetized so you can't walk."

The church and its members must continue to go out, continue asking what God is calling them to and continue finding new ways to respond, the pope said.

Of course, he said, everyone must "keep an eye on the roots" of the church and preserve its essential teachings, but they also must find creative ways to share those teachings and reflect on how the Gospel responds to people's questions today.

Spending the morning with the young people, Pope Francis heard directly from 10 of them, who represented every region of the world. Some lamented the amount of time their peers spend on social media, while others spoke of how technology helps connect young people and rally them in support of good causes. Some talked of a need for better catechesis and support in fighting the "culture of relativism," while others asked for an open and honest discussion of the church's teaching on sexuality and on the role of women in the church.

And one, a seminarian from Ukraine, asked about tattoos.

Yulian Vendzilovych, a seminarian at Holy Spirit Seminary in Lviv, asked the pope how a young priest is to judge which parts of modern culture are good and which are not. He used the example of tattoos, which many young people believe "express true beauty," he said.

"Don't be afraid of tattoos," the pope responded, noting that for centuries Eritrean Christians and others have gotten tattoos of the cross.

"Of course, there can be exaggerations," the pope said. But a tattoo "is a sign of belonging," and asking a young person about his or her tattoos can be a great place to begin a dialogue about priorities, values, belonging, "and then you can approach the culture of the young."

"Don't be afraid of tattoos," the pope responded, noting that for centuries Eritrean Christians and others have gotten tattoos of the cross.

A young man from France, Maxime Rassion, told the pope he has not been baptized, but he has questions about the meaning of his life and his relationship to the world and to God, if God exists. He said he is not sure if he wants to approach the Catholic Church for help because it is so big and he doesn't want to give up his freedom. But he asked the pope where he should start.

"You have already begun," the pope told him. "The danger is not allowing the question to come up."

Young people must have "the courage to tell themselves the naked truth" about their hopes and weaknesses, the pope said, and then they must find a wise person -- someone patient, "who won't be frightened by anything" -- with whom they can talk through their questions.

Blessing Okodion, a young Nigerian rescued from forced prostitution in Italy, asked the pope what could be done to increase awareness of human trafficking and whether the church, which is "still too chauvinistic," really is capable of helping young women and men relate to each other as equals.

Noting that the vast majority of Italians are Catholic, Pope Francis said one must assume that about 90 percent of the men who use prostitutes in Italy are baptized.

"Prostitution is a serious problem," the pope told the young people. It stems from a widespread mentality that says, "women are to be exploited," he said, and he asked young people to "battle against this."

"One who goes to a prostitute is a criminal, a criminal," Pope Francis said. "This is not making love. This is torturing a woman. Let's not confuse the terms. This is criminal."

Like many of the speakers, Angela Markas, a Chaldean Catholic and a delegate from Australia, spoke to Pope Francis and her peers about young people's questions regarding their identity.

As the Australia-born daughter of two Iraqis, who lives in a multiethnic country and is connected by social media with people all over the world, Markas said it was difficult to know who to listen to and to know "which path should I take, given that I can virtually take any."

"As youth, we are in need of guidance," she said. But from talking to friends, family and young people she tutors, "I feel young people are less drawn to seek this guidance from someone associated with the church. There are many reasons, but a consistent one is that youth feel disconnected from the church."

"Youth do not always feel they have a place in the church," she said. "They need a place where they feel safe, welcomed and loved."

But they also want the church to take them and their concerns seriously, Markas said. "There is a tendency in the church to avoid matters that are not so easy to talk about. This includes same-sex marriage, our sexuality, and also the role of women in the church."

Nick Lopez, a campus minister at the University of Dallas and a delegate chosen by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, also addressed the opening session with the pope and focused on the youth and young-adult years as a time of transition: "moving, choosing, experimenting, failing, succeeding, fearing and hoping that that next steps we make are the steps that God is calling us to make."

Many young people today, he said, have already decided that the church is not relevant to them. But they are still searching, and church members should go out to meet them and help them see that Christ is the answer to many of their questions, he added.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Lisa Weber
6 years 3 months ago

The questions young people are asking are the same questions that young people have always asked about church. The sad part is that we have developed so few good answers.

The truly difficult aspect of religion to convey is that it is important primarily in the journey to spiritual maturity, but too many people in church think of it in terms of obedience to a set of rules or to a group of people. Too many people who have left the church left because of the emphasis on rules and the ruling hierarchy. Until we can make the aspect of the spiritual journey more prominent, we will have difficulty providing young people with good answers to their questions.

Derrick Kourie
6 years 3 months ago

What you say is true. The rules serve as signposts on our spiritual journeys. Part of the problem is that these rules / signposts are circular.

"Here is what you should do on your spiritual journey," the rules proclaim.

"But these rules point in a direction that makes no sense in the 21st century, " responds the young Catholic.

"Ah, but they are timeless and have been given to you by the all-wise and all-knowing hierarchy whose wisdom comes from the Lord," is the answer.

"How do I know that is true," the young respond.

"Because that, too, is a timeless rule given to us by Jesus," is the answer.

"But the rules make no 21st century sense"

"Ah but the have been given by ...."

Nora Bolcon
6 years 2 months ago

Actually, many of our rules have changed through out the ages and our sexism and ill treatment of LGBT must change because Jesus never supported treating women differently than men in anyway, or keeping any sacraments from them, nor did he support patriarchal rule for his church specifically in the Gospels. Jesus never said to judge or condemn LGBT either. While we choose to act with hate, we will diminish and that is God's Justice.

Kristin Wiener
6 years 3 months ago

Excellent and encouraging article. I love Pope Francis because he is ultimately privileged, but never speaks from a place of privilege. He truly does as Christ did and meets people where they are, in order to minister them effectively. As a tattooed Catholic, I love his comment on tats, naturally. But more importantly I hope the curia and the American bishops actually listen to and attempt to practice what was said at this meeting.

Han Jenny
6 years 3 months ago

"But these rules point in a direction that makes no sense in the 21st century, " !
happy wheels full game online

Richard Neagle
6 years 3 months ago

Pope Francis told the young people that they are the ones who can help the church fight "the logic of 'it's always been done this way,'" which he described as "a poison, a sweet poison that tranquilizes the heart and leaves you anesthetized so you can't walk."
I can only assume he is saying the young will surely find new and better ways to save their souls then preceding generations.
Here I was thinking it is the job of the Pope to save as many young souls as possible by directing them in the ways of the one true catholic and apostolic church , with all her traditions and dogmas passed on over two thousand years. The church of saints and martyrs.

Mike Theman
6 years 3 months ago

I was taught from a very young age - in catechism and in church - that the most important thing in life is God. More important than my parents, more important than school, more important than anything. With that premise, the struggles of one's life and the answers to one's questions have an entirely new perspective, diminished by something far greater than can be imagined. From my experience with 3 kids, there is no one teaching this to Catholic children today: CCD (now PREP) is pathetic, a seeming afterthought of the church taught by whomever acquiesces to the pleas for more teachers. Today's parents are now the product of that terrible schooling, and so few of them attend church let alone bring their children. It's a recipe for destruction.

The whole point of Jesus' coming was to provide the answers to the questions that not only children but all of us have about life. Have faith. Trust in God. But you have to be introduced to Jesus, his teachings, and the teaching of the church. And "be nice to each other," which seems to be the take-home of Sunday school classes and homilies these days, is only a scintilla of what Jesus taught.

The other issue in the US is public schools, which ridicule faith and belief in God, suggesting that man can find all the answers to life, since he's solved some of the puzzles of the world. "Follow your dreams" is what the schools are teaching these days. And that is proving to be a big disappointment for countless people who relied on that advice.

Michael Barberi
6 years 2 months ago

I think Lisa Weber hit the nail on the head. The elephant in the room among the young is the fact that the Church has not provided them, or most Catholics, with a convincing moral theory in support of its teachings, especially on the issues of sexual ethics including the role of women in the Church.

Some important questions that many young Catholics have are provided below. The questions do not exhaust all the questions, nor are these questions intended to describe the complexity of the issue, or frankly the answers.

1. Why it is 'intrinsically evil' for married couples to take the pill because they don't want more children for good reasons? How can the Church justify NFP as God's Procreative Plan when both NFP and contraceptive couples have the same end and intention? Does not both so-called birth control method prevent every marital act from being procreative?

2. Why does the Church find it almost impossible to treat homosexuals with dignity, respect, and sensitivity? Why does most clergy, especially bishops, have very little idea what it is like to be born with a same-sex orientation or how a person can love another person of the same sex in the same manner as heterosexuals do? Fr. Martin's recent book provided a pathway for the clergy to build a bridge to the gay and lesbian community. Sadly however, why do few of the hierarchy seem to give his book a second thought?

3. Why do gays and lesbians have only one option, namely, they must live a life of sexual abstinence while other Catholics have two options, marriage or permanent abstinence? Even a priest can be allowed a dispensation, leave the priesthood and get married, yet why is there no dispensation for a homosexual?

4. Amoris Laetitia provided a pastoral pathway for Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried. Yet why are worldwide bishops divided over this magisterial teaching with each claiming they speak the truth?

5. Why are women denied an ordained ministry or positions of leadership, authority and responsibility in the Roman Curia?

I pray for the Synod on the Young and hope that meaningful changes are found and implemented by Pope Francis in his expected post-Synod Apostolic Exhortation.

Nora Bolcon
6 years 2 months ago

Until we teach the role of women in the church is exactly the same as the role of men - which is the role of Mankind - No bias allowed we are not a symbol of Christ's justice but a symbol of it's opposite, evil misogyny. We aren't really a healthy place for women or men until we face this abuse of women in our history and cast it away and ordain men and women the same .

Nora Bolcon
6 years 2 months ago

""You have already begun," the pope told him. "The danger is not allowing the question to come up."

But Pope Francis can you bear to take your own advice? It is you who will not dialogue on the injustice of unequal sacraments and the banning of women from same ordination based on nothing in the Gospels or really the New Testament supporting this hate filled discrimination.

"Many young people today, he said, have already decided that the church is not relevant to them. But they are still searching, and church members should go out to meet them and help them see that Christ is the answer to many of their questions, he added."

Yes, Christ is the answer but any amount of sexism is not. We are drawing people away from Christ by teaching he only loves and treats men with equity. Actions speak louder than words. If we do not treat men and women exactly the same, and either group differently, and less than the other, then as proclaimed followers we show Jesus is not true to his own commands to treat all the same. We allow our baseless biases to corrupt the basic message of the Gospel, making Christ appear as a hypocrite and a liar. We, or any in the Church who support this bias, will pay a price for these lost souls, if we do not repent of our hatred towards women, and start demanding they be ordained priests under the exact same sacrament, Holy Orders and ordination as their male counterparts immediately.

Jesus tells us God loves unconditionally but he does not forgive unconditionally. God demands we repent and change from evil to do good before he forgives us. Anything we are willing to repent from that is wrong he will unconditionally forgive.

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