by Annemarie Paulin-Campbell
Easter is about HOPE. A great sign of hope was the courageous leadership of so many young people in the “March for our Lives” against gun violence in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of students participated in the march in Washington DC and other states. Naomi Wadler, an eloquent eleven year old girl, who led a walk-out at her school after the most recent shooting in Parkland Florida, was one of those invited to speak at the march. She said: “I represent the African-America women who are victims of gun-violence, who are simply statistics, instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential…” Emma González gave a powerful speech lasting six minutes and twenty seconds, the same amount of time the shooter had shot at fellow students. For four minutes of that time Emma González stood in deliberate silence as tears rolled down her cheeks. Watch their speeches on YouTube.
In the same week, at the Palm Sunday Service, Pope Francis addressed participants of the pre-synod on Youth in Rome. Over 300 young people had taken part in discussions about their concerns and how the church could respond. Pope Francis urged young people: “It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders – so often corrupt – keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?” Although the Pope made no mention of the young people in the “March for our Lives,” that had taken place the previous day, he must surely also have had them in mind.
Young people at the pre-synod spoke out courageously on many issues. Among the many issues they raised, they urge that “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.” They pointed out how many young people are leaving the church. There is a need for a greater sense of community or family as church. They challenged the church to grapple with difficult issues saying that “they need rational and critical explanations to complex issues – simplistic answers do not suffice.” They said that the dignity of women should be promoted both in the Church and in wider society raising concerns about “an unclear role of women in the church.” They point out that if it is difficult for young people to feel a sense of belonging and leadership in the Church, it is much more so for young women. They called for more involvement of young people in decision-making within the Church at every level, including as a commission to the Vatican.
Amid the messiness of our world, the fact that there are young people, with the moral courage to say what needs to be said, is a real sign of hope. Perhaps their passion and courage will set the world on fire with a new vision that the fruits of the Resurrection may be seen more strongly in our time.