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Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB


Abbot Peter NovecoskyYoung people on the move

Young people were marching this past weekend to make their voices heard.

They gathered in Rome as well as cities across the globe.

In North America, demonstrations were held in more than 800 cities to encourage gun control reforms after the Florida school massacre. In Rome young people met all week in a pre-synod gathering to give their viewpoints to Vatican officials.

Hundreds of thousands of teenagers and their supporters in American and Canadian cities marched in one of the biggest youth protests since the Vietnam War era.

"If you listen real close, you can hear the people in power shaking," David Hogg told the roaring crowd of demonstrators at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington. He warned: "We will get rid of these public servants who only care about the gun lobby."

Hogg is a Florida student survivor who has emerged as a leader of the movement.

The Associated Press reported that the protesters, who packed Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House, chanted "Vote them out!" They held signs that said "We Are the Change," "No More Silence" and "Keep NRA Money Out of Politics."

The march had three primary demands:
- Pass a law to ban the assault weapons;
- Stop the sale of high-capacity magazines;
- Implement laws that require background checks on all gun purchases, including online and at gun shows.

The protesters also encountered some oppositon. In Washington, about 30 gun-rights supporters staged a counter-demonstration in front of FBI headquarters, standing quietly with signs such as "Armed Victims Live Longer" and "Stop Violating Civil Rights."

The mood was somewhat different in Rome. Pope Francis had invited more than 300 young people to a weeklong meeting designed to allow young people — Catholics and others — to provide input for the world’s bishops, who will meet in a synod in October to discuss “young people, faith and vocational discernment.”

If the Catholic Church at every level — and governments, too — would listen to young people and give them a voice in decision-making, they could unleash great potential, said two African young adults who spoke to Catholic News Service.

Vincent Paul Nneji of Nigeria said that the preparatory meeting offers a chance for young Catholics in his country who are considered “a minority voice” to speak out on important issues. The letter of invitation from Pope Francis, he said, meant the pope wants to give youth “a listening ear.”

African youth today, he added, have “so many things in our hearts we want to express and want to say,” yet they often feel disregarded. Too many, he said, then resort to violence in the hopes of provoking change.

Tinyiko Joan Ndaba from South Africa spoke about the evil of human trafficking. Human trafficking is an important topic for a youth gathering, she said, “because most victims of human trafficking are young people who are trying to find better jobs, a better life, so they migrate and traffickers take advantage of that, most especially with young people.”

The final document resulting from the March 19 - 25 gathering stressed that young people want to know they are valued members of the Catholic Church and that their questions and struggles are taken seriously enough that someone will spend time with them discussing issues rather than simply repeating “prefabricated” responses.

“We need a church that is welcoming and merciful, which appreciates its roots and patrimony and which loves everyone, even those who are not following the perceived standards,” the document said. The document was presented to Pope Francis at the end of Palm Sunday mass March 25. It will be used in drafting the working document for the synod of bishops in October.

With a frantic pace of life, thousands of life choices and proponents of different ideas and ideals battling for their attention, young people said what they want most from the church is “attractive, coherent and authentic models” who will accompany them in their search for meaning and fulfillment.

But, they warned, “we need rational and critical explanations to complex issues — simplistic answers do not suffice.” The role of women in church and society was a lively topic of discussion.

“Young people who are disconnected from or who leave the church do so after experiencing indifference, judgment and rejection,” the delegates wrote in the document. “One could attend, participate in and leave mass without experiencing a sense of community or family as the Body of Christ. Christians profess a living God, but some attend masses or belong to communities which seem dead.”

In the document, the young adults asked the church to be more credible, more honest, more transparent and to continue to admit its failures and express sorrow for the way it has dealt with clerical sexual abuse and the misuse of wealth.

Young people are issuing strong challenges. They want their elders, with their wisdom, to listen, understand and act. — PWN