From April 30th until May 4th 2018 I participated as the only SSpS at the SEDOS (Service of Documentation and Study on Global Mission) Residential seminar on “Youth and Mission” in the “House of the Divine Master”, Ariccia, Rome, Italy.  We were altogether 110 religious missionaries, brothers, sisters, priests as well as three lay missionaries. This meeting was organized as an answer to the Pope’s invitation to the Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, which will take place in October this year.  Our aim as participants was to deepen our understanding of the youth today and to find ways how we can engage with them. Several good speakers led us through these days.

The first day’s theme was Young People and the participants had the opportunity to listen to two very interesting talks: “Contemporary Youth Culture between Right and Wrong” (by Emilia Palladino) and “Generated by Life to Correspond to Love” (by Bruna Zaltron, SCM).  Professor Palladino’s talk helped us to better understand the characteristics of the millennials (those who were born between 1980-2000).  Sr. Bruna outlined that although today’s culture might implicate that we must free ourselves from all ties, none of us are self-creators. We depend on other human beings. Paradoxically we are free just if we have bonds, if we have relationships with one another. So only the other person allows me to be something what I cannot be alone.

On the second day, we dealt with the topics of Evangelization. Paul Raj, FSG gave a talk on “The Role and Challenges of Evangelization for Youth in the Multicultural and Pluralistic World of today”. The essence of this talk for me was that Evangelization before 2nd Vatican Council meant bringing the gospel from the (Christian) centre to the (non-Christian) periphery, whereas it’s nowadays a movement vice versa from the periphery to the centre. In other words: The Catholic Church gets already evangelized by the periphery and therefore the future of the Catholic Church will be (in many countries) the future of migration. This implies a specific view on migrants and refugees in many European countries – but that would be a further topic to think of!

The second speaker of this day was Michael Papenkordt. His topic was “The Evangelized will Evangelize – the Role of Lay Missionaries Today”. As a lay person he was for us an example of someone who is really filled with a burning fire for the Gospel. Following the mission statement from their institute’s website: “The Institute for World Evangelisation – ICPE Mission is a Catholic Mission made up of Christians committed to the goal of world evangelisation. The ICPE Mission is dedicated to the formation and training of Catholics so that they may become more effective evangelisers.” (cf. http://www.icpe.org/missionstatement, checked on 2nd of July 2018) the speaker focused very intensively on our personal encountering of Jesus as the key and the core of evangelization, especially when we want to win the hearts of the youth.

On Thursday, our talks were focussed on Vocational Discernment. Based on his own experience in vocation and formation ministry our first speaker Paul Bednarczyck, CSC presented his profound insights from the Vocation Ministry in the US. In 2008 a big study was done on vocation to religious life in the US. Two results of this study are still very present within me and they continue to make me think: On the one hand the importance of the involvement of all members of the congregation in vocation ministry and the importance of having a full-time vocation director in the province. On the other hand the US-study proved that a high percentage of newer members of religious congregations were attracted by the joy of the members – How can I myself make this joy more visible to others?  A “Panel Discussion of Young Religious Missionaries” followed the talk; they discussed the topic “My fascination on being a missionary today”.

The last input in this seminar came from Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the head of the coming Synod on the Youth. He shared with us about the preparation for the Synod in October and all the steps which still need to be done. I really felt that the Church authorities desire to listen to the needs of young people in order to identify the most effective ways to announce the Good News today.

Between the talks, there were possibilities to discuss things we have just heard within a smaller group, which was very good to deepen our knowledge. Within all the discussions, which were sometimes also very diverse, I have felt the big need and desire of all the participants to listen and to trust young people in today’s world – In order to invite them to live their faith with joy, we need to be ourselves good examples for them. We need to build truthful relationships with them. And the best is to live our own vocation faithfully and joyfully!

As Pope Francis said: Where there are religious, there should be joy! 😊

Sr. Christina Blätterbinder SSpS – Austria