In present day Europe, only very few young people feel connected to the Church. The situation is different in Africa where many are attracted to the Pentecostal churches. The reasons for this attraction or the lack of it are as diverse as the youths themselves. However, it is vital for the Church to find new ways into the world of the young, to prepare them to contribute their ideas to the growth of the society in more productive ways that take into account our shared humanity and the common good.
Pope Francis appeared set to step into the world of young when he called some 300 young people to a pre-synod meeting in Rome from March 18th to 24th. The decision of Pope Francis to consult with the youth ab initio is very remarkable! However, it remains to be seen whether the youth will have the space to participate through pout the process; otherwise the synod remains a synod for the youth and not a synod on the youth. It must be underlined that the youth share similar experiences, speak the same language, and it is they who can come up with the best strategies and are the best apostles going into the world of youth especially at a time when it is becoming more challenging to accompany them.
Honestly, the Church has a huge and urgent task to champion a change in global social order for peace. The present dysfunctional social order is a manifestation of the present individual and collective consciousness. We cannot deny the fact that through science, it has radically enhanced human living in recent years in ways that could be described as miraculous. However, we must recognize the perception of other people, self and the planet earth. This has led to trade in other human beings, two world wars and unprecedented violence against oxygen-producing forests and the poisoning of global waters and other life-forms that has put our collective existence on the edge of a precipice. That is why AEFJN considers the forth coming synod on the youth a veritable investment for the future.
New Means of Communication
The decision to encourage the youth of the world to express their opinions openly and freely using #hashtags is well thought out. It is gratifying to know that about 14,000 youngsters communicated their ideas, wishes and critical remarks through the social media. And of more than 100,000 contributions, 18% originated from Africa and it was possible to follow the discussions in Rome everywhere on YouTube. It was perhaps the first time that the Church has used the modern means of communication so effectively. Especially, for the youths in Africa for whom it is particularly difficult to obtain visas, this was a great medium to interact with their colleagues from the other parts of the world.
Themes of the Synod
The discussion focused on three major themes:
- Challenges and opportunities of young people in the world of today with the #hashtags: #WhoamI #Differences #Future #DigitalWorld #InteriorLife
- Faith and vocation, discernment and accompaniment with the #hashtags: #Jesus, #believe #Called #Choices #Guide
- The Church’s formative and pastoral activity with #hashtags: #Church #ActivelyInvolved #Places #Proposals #WaysAndMeans.
At the end of a lively discussion, the 300 participants of the pre-synod, including some atheists, Buddhists and Muslims, voted on a final document which was handed over to the Pope. It is meant to serve as a basis for the working document of the synod of bishops which will take place in Rome from 3rd to the 7th of October. AEFJN considers the decision to allow the youth from different religious backgrounds to be part of this process highly commendable. At least it recognizes the fact that our shared humanity and the common good take precedence over our belief systems and that renewing the face of the earth is the collective project of the whole of humanity.
Voices of Africa’s Youth
In no other continent does the youth represents such a high proportion of the total population as Africa. Half of all Africans are under 18; in Germany, half are under 47 years. Meanwhile, one in every five European is over 65 years. This youthful African generation represents a huge potential for Africa but also an enormous challenge for her governance, for the society and the Church. With the attainment of political independence, African nations did not sufficiently use the newly gained freedom to work toward keeping pace with the rest of the world. Many of her leaders became very corrupt and oppressive and collaborated with their colonial masters in maintaining the old colonial economic paradigm. The result is the worsening economic woes of African nations, the politics of reinforcement of failures, the despondency of the youth and the resultant massive exodus in search of new life on the shores of Europe and America. The European demographic shifts may not be able to sustain the rate of influx of migrants from Africa and the Middle East. The Church especially in Africa has through the years remained indifferent or rather chosen to sit on the fence over the plight of Africa and her people; but it needs to rise to this occasion now. The youth does not expect a blue print of Africa’s socioeconomic revival from her, but they expect directions, motivation, and for it to be “a lamp for my feet” that can help Africa chart a new course. Justifiably, they expect guiding wisdom that offers norms for evaluating their journey and prods them to act in the direction of building true African nations. The African youth participants expressed their deep-seated desires during the meeting in the following #hashtags hoping that the Church offers them ears.
#Challenges of young people: Problems mentioned very often by African participants are unemployment and a lack of perspectives for the future. These are a major cause of migration but can also lead to drug abuse and make terrorist groups attractive. Gabin Djimtoloum, a participant from Tchad, underlines that “the actual situation in Tchad is very difficult with the economic crisis and strikes everywhere. Young people do know where to turn or what to do”.
#Church: Africa’s youth generally has a positive attitude towards the Church. For many, it is a place of hope. She is particularly appreciated for her contribution in the field of education. There was great interest in the question about how the Church could become more attractive and credible for young people. In the views of Charlene Garba from Central Africa Republic, “the youth absolutely needs the Church. It is like an institution for the formation of young people because she teaches us common sense and is for us a safe place where we can go”.
#Future: Whereas youth in the Western world dream more of personal fulfilment and self-realisation, young Africans are more concerned about a better future for their families and communities. As the final document of the pre-synod meeting observes, “Young people talk of safety, stability and fulfilment. Many hope for a better life for their families. Young Africans dream of a self-reliant local Church, one that does not require aid that feeds into dependency, but one that is a life-giving contributor to its communities.”
#PlaceOfTheYouth: In the African tradition, it is the elders who take decisions. In many African nations, politics is dominated by the old generation. There are few possibilities for young people to influence decision-making processes actively. With the pre-synod meeting, Pope Francis gave young people the opportunity to participate actively and effectively in the preparation of the next synod using their language and their means of communication. Vincent Paul Nneji from Nigeria insists that “We want to be part of the decision-making, [and] the Church has given us the opportunity in the pre-synod…to see ourselves and know our strengths and our weaknesses, manage them together and see how we can help the Church and the Society.”
Getting ready to get going – More participation, more discussions!
As we await the format of the Synod – whether it will be one for the youth or on the youth – we turn our focus to the African continent and how her inputs can be given a broader base and be made richer. The synod presents the Church in Africa with a unique opportunity to galvanize the large number of young people towards a new vision. They will be part of a global exercise, with their peers, in a quest to shape the Church’s mission of evangelization in a world that has become very secularized in the west and adversely affected by a human-induced poverty on the African continent.
Towards a maximization of the opportunity provided by the forthcoming synod, AEFJN calls for more discussions among youth groups at different levels – parishes, dioceses and provinces in Africa. There must be intense awareness creation aimed at making the Synod a recurrent topic of discussion among youth groups with effective feedback mechanism that ensures that new inputs are integrated into the preparatory documents. The wider the range of inputs from the youth, the more encompassing and ventilated will be the resolutions at the end of the discernment process. The synod is a golden opportunity for the youth in the African Church to think globally and act locally!
 Eckhart Tolle, A new Earth: Awakening to your Life’s Purpose. Dutton publishers, 2005.