Catholic Students in Africa Speak Their Hearts to Bishops in Synod Conversations
This virtue, he said, has been replaced by a growing culture of individualism which he says robs young people of many growth opportunities, especially after school. The result, Timona said, was poverty, unemployment and alarming rates of migration from rural to urban areas and from countries of origin in search of opportunities abroad.
The Kenyan student further called on Catholic Bishops to design structures that would see youth represented in Church administrations, especially at the parish level.
“We university students appreciate what the Church is doing to include young people, especially in organizing spiritual seminars, retreats and supporting our youth groups. But we also want to be included in the administration of the Church. We want young people to be represented on parish councils. This does not happen in many parishes,” Timona said.
For her part, Twiza Nachilongo, a student at University of Zambia highlighted what she described as an urgent need for the Church to provide career mentorship opportunities for young people, noting that the Catholic Church was leaning more towards the spiritual growth of young people while turning a blind eye to their “other real experiences”.
“The scriptures say that Jesus grew in favor with God and men. We young Catholics need this kind of all-out growth. For the moment, we do not have structures for tutoring and accompaniment of young people belonging to the Church. We call on our Bishops to put in place structures that will enable young people to benefit from older, more skilled members of the Church through mentorship programs,” Ms. Nachilongo said.
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Other issues that emerged from the students’ engagement with the Catholic Bishops were the role of young people in addressing the climate crisis which they said had plunged African countries into deep poverty, as well as their role in containment of abuse in Catholic educational institutions where they have reported cases. rape and sex for material favors were on the rise.
University students further denounced the erosion of family values and the breakdown of their families and called on the Bishops to devise structures to strengthen families as the basic unit of Church and society.
In their responses, the Catholic Bishops urged young university students to be more active in the platforms already existing in the Church community to help the Church flourish.
It was observed that young people are the “least active members of the Church” in some dioceses in Nigeria, and that the youngest members of the Church were also interested in activities that brought them instant material prosperity rather than to seek spiritual growth.
“In Nigeria, for example, all the dioceses have programs for young people. Whenever there is an activity, however, these young people do not come. They prefer to go and hang out at an event where they are guaranteed to get money, and not in places where they will have better growth,” Bishop Oyejola said.
“You don’t want to listen to us, your elders,” the Local Ordinary of Osogbo Diocese in Nigeria warned, and added, “You only do what pleases you. You have heard that what an elder sees while sitting, a youth will not see even while standing. You must learn from past mistakes made by others, enjoy the present while preparing for the future.
He continued, “The mistake you make is wanting to jump into the future without reconciling past and present. The Church is ready to help young people. Lead by example so that other young people do not join these terrorist organizations.
Bishop Oyejola further noted that the Church has put in place structures to train young people for various vocations, including the call to family life “to heal broken families in society.”
For his part, Bishop Kukah assured Catholic university students of the support of the Church, saying, “The fact that we are having this conversation shows how seriously the Church takes young people… This should not be a moment of lamentation, but a time for revelation.
He urged young people to always take a leadership role in the activities entrusted to them in the Church and to beware of associating leadership with “positions of power”.
“Many seem to see the structure of the Church from the point of view of power; that everyone has to be on the table to develop policies. But leadership in the Church can be exercised at different levels, whether in the choir, in community activities, in youth groups, etc. It shouldn’t be about how many of us sit on the parish council, but how well we do the little things that are entrusted to us.
On mentoring young Catholics, the Bishop of Sokoto Diocese admitted that the Catholic Church still has a long way to go.
“As the Catholic Church, we have always had very little visibility in the public space and we have to work a lot on this, whether in politics, in the civil space, in technical fields, in the legal space, etc. We have very qualified Catholics in these spaces and now we have to bridge the gap between them and our young people in mentorship programs,” Bishop Kukah said.
Regarding sexual harassment in Catholic institutions of higher learning, Bishop Onah regretted that such abuses could have taken place under the supervision of the governing boards of universities.
The Local Ordinary of Nigeria’s Nsukka Diocese challenged Catholic university students to “be prepared to suffer” for the sake of their counterparts who were selling their bodies to university professors in exchange for good grades in their Classes.
“Speak louder,” Bishop Onah urged the youths at the meeting after it emerged that students in the DRC were “selling their bodies for grades.”
He added, “You should be prepared to suffer for the sake of others in the future. Most universities have governing boards. Take some space in these Tips and talk about it!
“We must not tell young people to give their bodies in exchange for grades. It annoys me. This must not be tolerated. It must be exposed. You should use your social media platforms and any other tool you can get your hands on to speak out against this despicable act. I hope the Bishops in DRC have heard about it,” the Nigerian Bishop said during the October 20 virtual session.
Bishop Onah then urged university students participating in Synod conversations on synodality to “feel like part of the Church” and not come across as a separate entity.
He said, “It is time for you (to begin) to see yourselves as part of this Church. In these conversations, you must not speak as if you were strangers. The bishops are not the Church. We are all the Church and we can solve our challenges together.
The bishops’ dialogue with African university students was the fifth step in ongoing preparations for the Nov. 1 papal meeting with university students.
The first step was the formation of national steering committees to organize cohorts of young scholars, mentor youth, moderate cohort-based conversations and national conversations while providing cohorts with the resources they need for an effective synodal experience. .
In the second stage, cohorts of 15 to 30 students in Catholic universities in each country in Africa were formed. The university students who were selected for the initiative were those who had demonstrable leadership qualities and who had demonstrated a commitment to their faith in “certain recognizable ways,” the initiative officials told ACI Africa.
In the third stage, approximately five Bishops have been selected in each country to serve as Episcopal Conversation Partners for the digital National Youth Synod Conversations.
Then there was the organization of national digital synodal youth listening sessions between all cohort members from the respective universities and Episcopal Conversation Partners, and National Steering Committees.
After the digital engagement with the Bishops, the sixth step will be the listening session between Pope Francis and the representatives of the cohorts of the seven countries, the steering committees of the seven countries and selected African bishops.
Also participating in this listening session will be members of the Vatican coordination team and the coordination consultant, Professor Peter Jones of Loyola University of Chicago and his team from North America and Latin America.
In the final step, dialogue participants will be called upon to bring the fruits of this listening exercise back to their respective universities for implementation as fruits of the deliberation.