Just over a month ago, Pope Francis greeted young people gathered in Rome to prepare for next fall’s Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. At this pre-synodal meeting, Francis invited these young people to “speak courageously, without shame,” but also to “listen with humility,” especially to those people with whom they disagree. The Secretariat of the Synod, led by Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, had gone out of its way to ensure the participation of as many young people as possible, encouraging those not able to be present in Rome to participate in the conversation through social media, which Pope Francis described as inventive and creative.
The Holy Father, in emphasizing the importance of the contributions of young people in preparation of the October Synod, reminded his audience of “many moments in the history of the Church, as in numerous biblical episodes,” in which “God wished to speak through the youngest.”
“I think, for example, of Samuel, David and Daniel,” Francis said. “I very much like the story of Samuel when he hears God’s voice. The Bible says: ‘the word of the Lord was rare in those days.’ It was a disoriented people. It was a young man who opened that door. In difficult moments, the Lord moves history forward with young people.”
Catholic World Report spoke to a delegate to the pre-synodal meeting from Africa, Tendai Karombo, chairperson of the National Catholic Youth Council, Zimbabwe, about her experiences in Rome at the gathering.
CWR: How did you feel as a young person representing Africa at the pre-synod youth meeting?
Tendai Karombo: Being part of the pre-synod delegation from Africa was such a privilege. As a leader, I felt a strong sense of responsibility being entrusted to me. I felt it is in my power to see to it that the issues I had presented on behalf of the young people whom I lead back home must be well-articulated and not missed in the pre-synod document. I felt that being there, preparing for the synod, meant that I had to carry the voices of all those back home with me and be able to represent not only practicing Catholic youths, but also those young people who feel they have lost the confidence of being part of the youth groups.
Being granted the chance to present on behalf of Africa and meeting the Holy Father was more than I expected. I felt very honored and I am grateful to God for that opportunity.
CWR: What was the greatest highlight for you at the meeting? What touched you the most from Pope Francis’ message?
Karombo: The aspect that I found intriguing was that as much as we had different cultures, the issues affecting us—or the hopes and expectations we have for our respective churches and society—are so common. Having a dialogue at that high level together, and with so much confidence that the Church is listening to us, was very interesting, and especially in the presence of the Holy Father. As young people it meant a lot to us. He encouraged us to be brave and courageous, and to me it is a great sign of emphasis that we are the Church today and tomorrow, so as young people we have to be “protagonists,” he said.
CWR: In your presentation at the pre-synod meeting, you mentioned various challenges that young people face in society and in the Church. Would you please share with our readers some challenges that you have personally experienced or continue to experience?
Karombo: At the moment the biggest challenge I still face is the issue of the elder generation finding it hard to embrace the younger generation. We are in a transitional period as young people, and the role of our parents is to help us grow to be responsible adults and citizens. That is only possible when there is a strong understanding of the young person of today, our needs and aspirations. This is still a challenge.
CWR: How do you think young people in Africa can contribute to a better society and a stronger Church in Africa?
Karombo: Young people in Africa have showed their readiness and willingness to contribute to the Church and society mostly by providing youthful thinking, which can be seen if they take leading roles in both the Church and society. Also in this time when technology is coming to play in most aspects of our lives, the young people will be able to bring the use of it for the greater good if they are helped, guided and trusted.
CWR: What were the differences, if any, between the challenges identified in your presentation, and those of young people from other parts of the world?
Karombo: The challenges as such are not so different, but we might find that some are more common in specific areas than others. I would want to note, for example, the practice of child labor, especially in war-torn countries, and the high levels of social and economic injustices. Young people are being used to provide cheap labor. Many of them, especially girls, still have challenges to accessing basic education, many fail to get specialized trainings. These are common in many African countries, and they affect young people disproportionately, as they form a greater part of the population.
CWR: What key messages from the pre-synod meeting are you taking back to Zimbabwe?
Karombo: My message to Zimbabweans both old and young is that this is the opportunity to look closely at the generation today, see the good that can come from the young, and develop our Church, communities, and families. To the young people, let us feel challenged to change the world and make our country the best place to live. Let us ask God to deepen our faith in Him, and the Holy Spirit to work in every one of us so that we are able to discern our vocations.
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