By Devin Watkins
“Christ is alive” lays out how young Catholics can add to the mission of the Church and why the Church should welcome their contribution.
One Catholic organization working to integrate young people more into their charitable efforts and governance structures is Caritas Internationalis.
The confederation of Catholic relief and development organizations has been working since 2015 to establish a program for its young members.
Rebecca Rathbone, a member of Caritas Canada, is currently in Rome as Youth Programs Coordinator to ramp up efforts ahead of the General Assembly in May 2019.
She spoke to Devin Watkins about how the Pope’s post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation can provide guidance and a boost to Caritas’ program to coordinate young people.
“I think that this Apostolic Exhortation is going to give a hand up to young people who are trying to participate in various aspects of the Church and who before maybe weren’t taken seriously, or were met with challenges because people wouldn’t accept their contributions,” said Ms. Rathbone.
She likened its impact on young people to the boost that Catholics working on environmental issues received from the encyclical Laudato si’.
“Christ is alive”, she noted, explicitly states that “young people do have a place in the Church and should have a place in the decision-making aspects of the Church.”
Youth program goals
Caritas’ program for young people seeks to put that principle into practice, and aims to accomplish three goals.
The first, said Ms. Rathbone, is to connect the young people who work for local Caritas organizations, allowing them to share stories and energize one another as part of a larger network.
“The second is to carve out a path to give them more access to the governance at a confederation level, so that their ideas can be represented,” she said.
Providing spiritual and social formation opportunities for young people rounds out the program’s goals, “so that they can build their skills and grow in their faith”.
Ms. Rathbone said Caritas hopes to achieve this third goal by providing formation courses to develop skills related to leadership, campaigning, communications, and fundraising. One partner in this task is the Pontifical Gregorian University, which is helping develop a leadership course.
Church is a canoe
The Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life has asked the Caritas Youth Forum Working Group to comment on the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation – along with the Final Document of the Synod – to provide recommendations about how Catholics and Caritas can implement its message.
Caritas even got a special mention in “Christ is alive” at the end of Chapter 6, paragraph 201.
Joseph Sapati Moeono-Kolio, a Caritas Oceania member from Samoa and an auditor at the October Synod of Bishops, provided a metaphor of the Church as a canoe.
Pope Francis picked up the image, writing that “the elderly help to keep on course by judging the position of the stars, while the young keep rowing, imagining what waits for them ahead… [L]et us all climb aboard the same canoe and together seek a better world, with the constantly renewed momentum of the Holy Spirit.”
“That’s Caritas’ little contribution,” said Ms. Rathbone.