Almost a year ago, an International Youth Forum was held in Rome, Desfortunées, a young adult from Cameroon, tells “Il est Vivant” about her amazing experience.*
Desfortunées took part in the
Youth Synod in October 2018
and also in the
Youth Forum in Rome in June 2019.
IEV: Desfortunées, can you tell us how your journey of faith began?
Desfortunées: In 2012, my mother insisted that I take part in the Youth Forum organized by the Emmanuel Community in Yaoundé. I did not have the slightest wish to do so. I went to it just to please her. During the Forum, I was deeply touched to see young people of my age full of joy and with an incredible faith. I also liked the praise, the teachings, everything. This is how my journey with the Lord began.
At that time you were probably far from imagining yourself taking part in the Youth Synod in Rome, with the Pope, the Cardinals and the Bishops? … How were you chosen?
The Vatican asked the Emmanuel Community to send a young African to the Synod and after discernment, the mission was offered to me. When I heard the news, I was quite apprehensive, but I prayed, I spoke to a few people about it and I finally accepted, wishing to be, as Saint John XXIII says, “the servant of the Holy Spirit”.
What do you remember from this experience?
It will always be unforgettable for me. First of all, I was happy to see that, even before the Synod, young people from all over the world were able to contribute to the reflection of the Church thanks to an on-line questionnaire. This showed a willingness that young people should be co-responsible for what is happening in the Church and cooperate actively in it. During the Synod, I was deeply touched by the attitude of Pope Francis. He was always the first to arrive so that he could welcome each participant, one by one, asking them if they were well, if they were satisfied with the way the Synod was happening, and so on. I saw in him a shepherd who is close to his sheep, and who knows how to make himself a servant. This really inspires me today in my own mission to young people.
I also found the same openness of heart and spirit in the Bishops and Cardinals.
Through the attitude of these men, I saw that the Church was ready to allow itself to be unsettled by young people, who have their own way of doing things. One little example: these men, who are responsible for the leadership of the universal Church, had no difficulty in agreeing to take “selfies” with us!
But, above all, the way they listened was incredible. We were able to express our hopes, our fears and our joys without restriction. It was as though we were equal. There was a profound communion.
We also gained a great deal through experiencing this with other young people. We understood that, despite the extreme diversity of the local situations in which we live, God’s faithfulness and His presence never fail us. For example, Safa the young Christian from Iraq testified to us how, in the midst of the appalling situations that the Christians of his country have gone through, they have kept the faith and have seen God at work. Finally, when you are young and Christian, you sometimes feel alone, odd and set on one side.
What was it, in the working method employed during the Synod, that allowed the young people to express themselves?
During the plenary sessions, each person was able to speak for three minutes to give their input on a specific numbered point in the preparatory working document.
We also met in small groups. Each group of about 20 people consisted of Cardinals, Bishops and young people. In my group, there were only two young people but we were able to express ourselves very freely and were listened to attentively.
Do the young people who were at the Synod continue to exchange ideas?
At the Synod, we created a WhatsApp group on which we share our pastoral experiences. We share a lot of news. We remain a close-knit group. Sometimes we also speak in private. A very strong bond has formed between us. Some people even visit one another from one country to another.
You also took part in the Youth Forum organized in June 2019 in Rome, after the Synod. Tell us about this.
Three hundred young people from all over the world gathered in Rome for three days at the invitation of the Dicastery for the Laity. These included, among others, the young people under the age of 30 who were auditors at the Synod. The object was to exchange about the response to the Synod in our local situations and to think together about how one could promote the implementation of Christus vivit.
How did you welcome Christus vivit then?
It is a beautiful text which is very rich. When you begin reading it, you want to carry on to the end! I particularly liked Chapter 7 which gives major directives for youth ministry. Of course, it has to be adapted to the context of local situations. We do not approach a question in the same way in China or in Africa, even if the expectations of young people are basically identical. It is up to everyone to absorb the text in order to put it into practice.
How are your experience of the Synod and the close reading of Christus vivit helping you today in your commitments to young people?
The Synod and Christus vivit have intensified my desire to really listen to the young people on the ground, following Christ and inspired by the attitude of the Pope and the Bishops during the Synod:
This also encourages me to take the risk of giving greater responsibility young people as we are in the habit of doing in the Emmanuel Community, and to trust them. We are often afraid of their mistakes. But as the Pope says, “If you make a mistake, it it doesn’t matter!”
I also remember the remark made by a Bishop during the Synod: we talk about young people; we try to develop a pastoral mission to them, but let us not forget to pray for them! He was right. In my daily prayer, do I say: “Lord, I entrust to you all the young people for whom I am responsible” ? Since the Synod, I pray more for the young people whose path I share, here in Cameroon.
Finally, the Pope – a shepherd who is available, a servant, an attentive listener – is a model for me. Striving to be available in such a way is a matter for conversion!
How is the Pope’s exhortation being spread in Cameroon?
A Session was organized in November 2019 with young leaders from the Archdiocese of Douala. The Session was led by the Emmanuel Community. We returned to the working methods of the Synod. We worked on three major themes: the situation of young Catholics in the Diocese of Douala, discernment of vocations and spiritual accompaniment. We were divided into small groups working on a few questions. Each group had to answer these and to report back before everyone. This exchange was followed by a teaching. These young people were leaders in their parish, and so the object was to help them realize what a precious tool Christus vivit is for their pastoral work so that they would keep it as a guide.
And elsewhere in Africa?
The Emmanuel Community brought together in Cameroon for a week all of their Youth Coordinators in Africa. In a way, we had our own little Synod. The object was to determine how, in our various situations, we could draw practical inspiration from the Synod’s proposals. During this Session, we also worked according to the method of the Synod, that is, starting from what the youth are saying. We are in the process of putting in place the means of helping each other on this path we are all following together.
Locally, has there already been any practical initiative inspired by Christus vivit?
In Cameroonian culture, and this is very strong, the tendency is to consider the young adult as a child. The Head of the Emmanuel Community had the idea of inviting all the members to recognize the real place of young people, and that they are adults. Workshops were organized for adults to reflect on this question. For us young adults, it was touching to see the parents working at this. The parents realized that it could be very hurtful to young people not to be given consideration; and they have committed themselves to making an effort.
Is this already having a practical effect?
Yes. For example, when, as a Youth Coordinator, I consult the Heads of Emmanuel in Cameroon, they tell me: “It is up to you to suggest things to us! We want to know what you want. Express yourselves.” In this way, they are encouraging us really to take our place.
And now, what do you hope for from the Church?
That Bishops and priests, locally, truly accept the Pope’s message about young people. Sometimes there is still a big gap between what the Church wants, as expressed by the Pope, and what is experienced on the ground. In some parishes, young people are not given an opportunity to express themselves. It can be very frustrating.
I also hope that The Church will deploy multiple means so that the message of Christus vivit spreads as far as possible. For example, on the YouTube channel of the Dicastery for the Laity there are many videos of young people sharing their experience in the Church where they live. One resolution taken in Rome during the Youth Forum was to communicate as well as possible and put into practice what we learned during the Synod. Because it is only if we do it that others will want in their turn to start moving in the same spirit.
I was surprised at how quickly Rome implemented one proposal from the Synod: the creation of an advisory body made up of young people to assist the Holy Father. When I heard news of this, I said to myself: the Church is acting, we too must get going!
In a word, I hope that we will not stop at what was said but that we will fully put into practice all that was said during the Synod. And on this path, we have the wonderful tool of Christus vivit.