Every young person has something to say, in society and in the church, Pope Francis told us. He asked us to speak with courage and gave us permission to speak without filters: “because everyone has the right to be heard, just like everyone has the right to speak”. The Pope was speaking to me, too: I couldn’t believe it, but I was there listening to him.

I was very surprised to receive the invitation to take part in the pre-synodal assembly; I didn’t expect such a gift. It wasn’t until I walked into that hall that I realised what a great opportunity and responsibility it was to be able to take part in that meeting. Because the pre-synod is a step forward in conceiving the church of the future and its mandate to evangelise.

It is a sign of how highly the young people of today are regarded and trusted by the church and particularly by the Pope. Every young person has something to say, says the Pope. It has always been like that, but the youth of 2018 have received this special gift, the opportunity to talk openly, to the world and to the church, about their challenges, their choices, their will to take part in the life of the church and to have their say in decisions regarding its future.

The meeting with the Pope was a special and complete moment. People often talk about the Pope these days, but you have to meet him in person to realise how authentic he is, to understand his personality, his courage, his passion for the truth, his concrete love for young people, his dedication to the church and his humanity. Every Pope is chosen by God for his time, and I am really glad that, once again, the Holy Spirit has given us a Pope for our time. I was struck by his sense of humour, too, because it makes it possible for everyone to understand him and it allows him to get a powerful message across with extraordinary lightness.

Francis did not only come to bring his message, he came above all to listen to us. From the very first day, we have all established an intense method of dialogue and profound attention to one another’s needs. The group sessions are a unique moment of collective intelligence. As a Sophia student, I am interested in seeing how many different answers we can provide to the same question, and how all the answers given are complementary, both within each group and between groups.

I also realised how diverse the youth of the world are, we are all from different backgrounds, yet our aspirations and our experiences of faith are similar, and above all, I realised that we share the same humanity. Each region of the world has its challenges and its strong points, and each strong point can be an answer to the questions of others. I have heard the expression ‘diversity is richness’ many times, but here at the pre-synod I am truly experiencing its value. Every experience is an answer to somebody else’s challenges.

The group sessions confirmed my idea that the church and the society are linked, and that the spiritual dimension goes hand in hand with the material one. In developing countries, the church cannot ignore issues such as health, education, etc. But it must not forget its spiritual mission either. As Benedict XVI said: there is no difference between the church and a charitable NGO if the church does not bear witness to the Gospel.

The pre-synod is not over yet, and I already have a very positive feeling. The Pope told us that, on many occasions, God “chose to speak through young people”: it happened with Samuel, David and Daniel. God loves young people and young people love God, too, but they are waiting for the church and the society to allow them to manifest this love. They demand for the church and the society to appreciate their generous enthusiasm, to encourage their efforts, to admire their audacity, to value their passion and, above all, to be sincere with them.

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