Synod of the youth

In preparation for the Synod of the Youth, there will be a pre-synod meeting in Rome from 19-24 March with about 300 youth from every part of the world. Among them will also be Stella Marilene Nishimwe (Burundi) and Nelson Vanegas (El Salvador) of the Focolare Movement.

Nelson Vanegas and Stella Marilene Nishimwe

It will be a week of work to get to know the reality of kids and youths of the world, their ambitions, hopes, fears, expectations, and to hear what they have to say. It will be a moment of sharing which will be channeled, with all the other contributions received, into the ”Instrumentum laboris” in view of the Synod in October, defined by Pope Francis “not about, but of the youth.” “In this pre-synod Meeting– explained Card. Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod – we will try to better understand what they think of themselves and of the adults, how they live the faith and what difficulties they encounter as Christians, how they plan their life and what problems they meet in discerning their vocation, how they see the Church today, and how they would like it to be.”

There will be Catholics, other Christian faiths and other religions, delegates of associations and movements, but also agnostics, or people coming from situations of unease like jail or drug dependency. Stella Marilene, 24 and Nelson, 29, of the Focolare Movement will also participate in the works (together with a girl from Paraguay, Noemi Sánchez). While anxiously waiting for that day, we met them at the Gen International centre, where all are working intensely for the world events of 2018: besides the Synod of October, also the Genfest in Manila in July.

Nelson_VanegasWhat is the situation of the youth in your country? “In Salvador.” answered Nelson, “the general situation of the youth differs from inside and outside the cities. Life outside is more difficult, services are lacking, and education is guaranteed only up to the compulsory education. Despite this the youth have huge aspirations and greater determination to make their dreams come true.” Marilene explained: “In Burundi we are undergoing a serious political crisis. Unemployment is sky high and also is uncertainty for the future. The youths often leave the country to seek other prospects elsewhere.” At the meeting, they say, they will carry out the role of facilitators of the linguistics groups in Spanish and French. “It will be our chance to do our part, a small contribution – Nelson added – but we shall do it with all our hearts.” And Marilene: “Through the synod’s official site ( and the social network connected, all the youths will be able to let their voice be heard and send proposals, as also those who cannot participate directly.”

Speaking about communication, beyond the fears with which adults often regard the youths, as to the risk of detaching themselves from “reality” and immersing themselves in a virtual hub, what does communication mean for you? “Times have changed–Nelson answered – we are immersed in technology which effectively helps to bridge distances. But we have to try to make it possibly more humane. Cell phones and tablets draw people closer but communicating “face to face” with those who we really see before us is another thing altogether. In this sense we, the youth, can take the first step.” Marilene added: “For authentic communication we have to think of “what” we communicate.”

Stella_Marilene_Nishimwe_e_Nelson_VanegasIn his message for the youth day, which will end the pre-synod Meeting, Pope Francis mentioned the “fears” of the youth. “Often the youths are scared of going forward, to make choices from which they cannot turn back. “Personally,” Marilene explained, “I try to live God’s will in the present moment. Each one has his own story, and I entrust myself to Him.” Nelsno continued: “In such a materialistic world, often the message the adults pass to the youths concerns studying, working, earning, or buying a nice house. The dialogue between the first and second generation is important, but it should not destroy one’s dreams. Together, our energy and their wisdom can do a lot.” Being listened to means taking up some responsibilities.

“It is a big responsibility to speak out for the youth. It’s an opportunity offered by the Church which wants to dialogue with all, and not only with the Catholics. It’s here that we Gen can offer our experience, because we have already started to walk together, with Christians of other faiths and also with agnostics. This is why I would call all the youths, also from afar, to participate! Let’s make our voice be heard.”