(A series of columns focused on and written by millennials and young adults)
By Christopher White
Catholic News Service
During his recent visit to Colombia, Pope Francis put young people front and center in many of his speeches.
Pope Francis had agreed to visit the country once a peace deal was in place following 50 years of civil war that killed over 200,000 Colombians and displaced more than 7 million.
For Pope Francis, the message to young people was direct: Your futures can be one of hope, rather than one marked by violence and conflict like your parents’ generation.
In one of his first addresses in the country, the pope enumerated four gifts that he believes young people possess that have the power to improve the world: recognizing the suffering of others, perceiving the pain suffered by others, understanding, and the gift of forgiving those who hurt us.
Pope Francis believes that these four gifts found in young people are especially applicable in the Colombian context as the nation continues to recover from civil war, but they are also hallmarks of young people around the world and critical to the future of the church.
A major theme of Pope Francis’ papacy has been the challenge of building a culture of encounter — one in which we are not afraid to move beyond our comfort zones and one where we dedicate special attention to the marginalized and vulnerable members of our communities.
This, too, is why Pope Francis has challenged the church as a whole to focus on those living on the peripheries rather than those at the center of power, because it allows us to see the “complex environments,” the “varying realities” and the “gray tones” of life.
Pope Francis is convinced that young people enjoy a particular ability to recognize and perceive these realities, the ability to understand the pain, the suffering and the baggage that many of those living on the peripheries often carry, and the willingness to build bridges, forgive and create a place of welcome in the church.
It’s for this very reason that he’s turning the attention of the entire church toward young people at the next synod — and asking us to lead the way in creating this culture of encounter, which will look differently in Colombia than it will in the United States, but it will inspired by the same principles.
This will take many forms: It will be looking at the lives of young people who turned down enticing career opportunities in pursuit of religious life or missionary work. It will mean looking at the witness of the young mother or father trying to provide for small children and barely making ends meet.
It will demand looking at the experiences of those struggling with substance abuse, depression and loneliness, and seeing how they, too, still find the church to be a place of hope. It will, in short, mean making ourselves uncomfortable so that we can find room in our churches and our lives for all of God’s children — and as the preparatory document for the 2018 synod on youth reminds us, this process is one of “collaboration” not “control.”
Millennials have sometime been labeled as the “iGen” — a generation more interested in our iPhones and screens than in the lives of others. Yet, Pope Francis believes this is untrue.
“Pay no attention to these caricatures of young people,” he told Catholic leaders in Colombia. “Look them in the eye and seek in them the courage of hope.”
That’s a strong vote of confidence coming from our Holy Father. Let’s not prove him wrong.
– – –