In the Opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops, Pope Francis asked the Holy Spirit to guide the participants of the Synod. “At the start of this moment
of grace for the whole Church, and following God’s word, we ask the Paraclete to help us preserve the memory of the Lord and rekindle in us his words that have made our hearts burn (cf. Lk 24:32).
May the Spirit grant us the grace to be Synodal Fathers anointed with the gift of dreaming and of hoping,” he said. He continued by encouraging the participants of the Synod to listen sincerely and free from judgment, because it is only this attitude that protects us, as the Holy Father said, “from the temptation of falling into moralistic or elitist postures, and it protects us from the lure of abstract ideologies that never touch the realities of our people.”
At the beginning of the Synod of Bishops, the Pope told the participants that the Synod is a “moment of sharing,” and so just as there is “courage in speaking,” he reminded them that there must also be “humility in listening.” He further added that the meeting must be an “exercise in dialogue” as it is also an “exercise in discernment.” “This Synod has the opportunity, the task and the duty to be a sign of a Church that really listens, that allows herself to be questioned by the experiences of those she meets, and who does not always have a ready-made answer,” he said.
He went on by emphasizing that participants should “leave behind prejudices and stereotypes,” recalling how the Genfest held a few months ago in Manila challenged young people through its theme, “Beyond All Borders.” The Pope expressed his wish that the fruit of the Synod would not just be to produce a document but moreover, “to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another, and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands, and inspire in young people – all young people, with no one excluded – a vision of the future filled with the joy of the Gospel.”
The Synod lasted for almost a month with moments of dialogue between young people and bishops from different parts of the world. Among them, eight Filipinos also participated including Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, four other bishops, two priests, and a young layperson. There was also a festive rally in the Vatican during the Synod where Aziz, an young man from Iraq (who shared his experience a few months ago in the Genfest) was among those who shared their experience there. Pope Francis was moved by the testimonies and told them that for him, the most touching thing about their life stories is “the discovery that another life is possible.” “Jesus does not leave us alone in our adventure, especially in moments that put us to the test,” he added.
During the Synod, the young people at the International Focolare Center also organized three dinners for 125 bishops during the course of which they presented the Genfest held in Manila. There was also music and sharing of experiences. Nicola, a 33-year-old pediatric therapist in a university hospital shared, “I am always in contact with situations where children are often at the brink of death. The difficulty at times lies in communicating with their relatives… In these moments, I entrust myself to God, so that He may help me find the right words and attitude… Every day for me is like having a gym workout in how to love and serve God.”
The young people who were auditors of the Synod organized a show in the Vatican to express their gratitude for the holding of a Synod focused on the youth. They also gave this message to the Pope and to the bishops: “We want to affirm that we share your dream: an outgoing Church, open to all, especially the weakest, a field hospital Church.
We are already an active part of this Church and we want to continue to make a concrete commitment to improve our cities and schools, and the social and political world and working environments, by spreading a culture of peace and solidarity and by putting at the center the poor, in whom Jesus himself is recognized. At the end of this Synod, we wish to tell you that we are with you and with all the bishops of our Church, also in times of difficulty. We ask you to continue the journey you have undertaken and we promise you our full support and daily prayer.”
The Synod Fathers also delivered an empowering message addressed to all young people towards the end of the Synod. They said, “For a month, we have walked together with some of you and with many others who have been united to us through prayer and affection. We wish to continue the journey now in every part of the earth where the Lord Jesus sends us as missionary disciples. The Church and the world urgently need your enthusiasm. Be sure to make the most fragile people, the poor and those wounded by life your traveling companions. You are the present; be a brighter future.”
In the Philippines
The Synod on the Youth is truly timely for the Church in the Philippines. As early as 2012, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) declared 2019 as the “Year of the Youth.” In line with this, the Filipino youth prepared an open letter for this celebration wherein they described themselves and mentioned their socio-cultural concerns which include health, education, environment, and economic challenges, politics, and the dialogue with cultures.
They recognize that they are “heavily exposed to many kinds of differences” and so they “seek to further understand them,” and “a concrete step is for us to have opportunities for dialogue to face these differences and move towards a more inclusive world.” The coming year envisions young people “inspired by the Church’s missionary spirit, who… promote dialogue with other faiths.”
This is one of the themes also mentioned by young people from all over the world in the pre-Synodal document, possibly a clear confirmation that the work of the Genfest does not and should not end at the World Trade Center but must certainly go ahead in different parts of the world. With the theme, “Filipino Youth in Mission: Beloved, Gifted, Empowered,” the Filipino youth are now on the move preparing for the year-long celebration with much enthusiasm and courage.
Giancarlo “Gio” Francisco