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A synod journeying with the young from Krakow to Panama

Many things were said about World Youth Day which was held in Poland last year. From international headlines to local news, the world was able to get in touch in one way or another with the international youth gathering.

Krakow was the city that hosted it. Good memories are still alive in the minds of those who attended it; a network of friends was built and the spiritual impact of such an event will be felt according to each person’s experience.

But for sure it was an opportunity for the young people and their leaders to exchange and (re)experience first-hand the catholicity of the Church.

As it is customary at the end of World Youth Days, the pope made the awaited announce, choosing Panama to host the next one in 2019, but a back track through time can help us get some idea of what this gathering is all about.

In keeping with tradition, the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life organised an International Youth Meeting in Rome during
the first week of April 2017 to share about the last worldwide gathering and to make recommendations for the next encounter in Panama.

Something special was added to this year’s meeting: it was organised in collaboration with the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. As we probably know, Pope Francis has called for a Synod of Bishops on the theme, Youth, faith and vocational discernment.

Needless to say one of the main desires of the pope is to see a Church that journeys with the young people, a community that welcomes them and a family of God listens to them with the sincerity that characterises them as true disciples of Christ, because young people too have much to offer to the Church.

And this was obvious in the pope’s own words when he asked the young people many times in Poland, “Can we change things?”

The synod will be held during the month of October 2018. It was an immense pleasure to see that many young people answered the call to come to Rome to share more about their experiences and expectations for the future of the youth ministry in the Church.

Cynthia Lau and I, both members of the Youth Commission of the Diocese of Hong Kong, were among the delegates from 103 countries, 44 groups and international associations of young Catholics who attended the meeting.

In all, more than 300 people joined together and their active participation and wisdom said much about the importance they place on the issue.

Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwisz, former secretary to Pope John Paul II and archbishop emeritus of Krakow, is a living memory of World Youth Days and in his sharing he spoke of four major points:

• World Youth Day as an experience of the Church’s catholicity;

• World Youth Day as an experience of community and hope for a new world;

• World Youth Day as an experience of a Church which goes forth;

• World Youth Day as an experience young people in the building of the future Church.


Lorenzo Cardinal Baldisseri, the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, talked about the preparatory document of the synod and the spirit behind its convocation.

The contribution of Bishop Fabio Fabenne was important too, as he spoke about the process of the synod.

Experts like Jesuit Father Jean-Paul Hernandez, the founder of Living Stones, had the task of introducing the young people to the world of discernment.

He did “this by telling about the details of Caravaggio’s famous painting, The Calling of St. Matthew, which is conserved in the church of St. Louis of France, in Rome.

“He helped the young people to feel the painter’s narrative and theological wisdom during his account of how the call leads to a choice and conversion, without overlooking any details” (

Another lecture was given by Father Fabio Attard, from the Salesians of Don Bosco, who focussed on important points like empathy, communion and leadership, process and courage.

His input was aimed at helping young people, leaders and parents alike to understand the need for an education that is based on empathy and the need to get into someone else’s shoes.

And to do this, he relied completely on Pope Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel, which he said needs to be seen as today’s compass of youth ministry.

At the Vigil in the Basilica of St. Mary Major and during Palm Sunday Mass, the pope himself talked directly to the young people sharing his views on how to get a better understanding of them and their mission in the world.

Using the language of the young, which is more than just simple vocabulary, he told them to be afraid of being present in the world in the name of Jesus, who gives without counting. As a pastor, he asked them to pray for him and for the success of the synod of 2018.

However, the synod has in fact already begun and young people need to get involved in the process at local levels too.

What impressed me was the importance that young people gave to group discussions. Their reports during panel discussions showed the desire of the young people to journey with the Church in the spirit of mutual understanding and love.

As is clearly mentioned in the theme of the synod, the Church wants to journey with young people.

However, at the end of the meeting my impression was that the young people too want to journey with the Church and this spirit needs to be further addressed throughout the preparations leading up to the formal opening of the synod 2018.

To come back to World Youth Day, Panama had a chance to make its case during the last day of the meeting.

Its preparation so far indicates that there is no need to fear, for the country and the Church are waiting to welcome delegates in the spirit of love and the warmth that symbolises the Central Americas.

Are you ready for Panama 2019? Questions about the timing of the event could head here and there.

But as was clearly said by one participant, let us see it as an opportunity or a challenge, not a problem. Welcome to Panama!


• Father Dominique Mukonda CICM 
St. Mary’s, Hung Hom