By Patrick Laorden
Catholic News Service
“Make your voice heard; let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherd of souls,” proclaims Pope Francis in his letter to young people this past January. As we look to the upcoming Synod of Bishops in October 2018, these times are crucial for young adults to be engaged in the life of the church. For me, this means being an advocate for social change in a world very much in need of it. For almost five years, I discerned religious life with the Dominicans. My time in formation helped me to understand the apostolic life of the church and what it means to go into the world and proclaim the Gospel as the friars have done for more than 800 years.
In 2014, I served as a missionary in Kenya and made a silent pilgrimage through Kibera, the largest urban slum in Africa. While there, I saw extreme poverty. But I also saw a persevering spirit within the people. This encounter was where I truly realized what I was called to do: to dedicate my life working for social change. Though I did not continue with formation, God’s provided me with a new way to answer this call. Today I work as a parish social ministry coordinator. I organize an annual social justice conference, provide faith formation in parishes and schools, work with parish social ministry leaders and connect with local grass-roots organizations.
I’ve noticed a smaller young adult presence at Mass and in social justice efforts. On occasion, young adult groups participate in daylong opportunities to do service. However, they are by and large not engaged in ongoing advocacy or ministry. I’m left asking the question: Where are they? I suspect the upcoming synod will ask that same question.
Our pope wants to hear from us and wants the world to hear from us. That means we need to move beyond direct service into advocacy, where we can bring the Gospel into the public square, for instance, by looking at unjust policies and communicating with our legislators. It means regularly showing up in pews and food pantries alike.
In preparation for the synod, I think we should turn to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Two Feet of Love in Action” inspired by Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclicals “Deus Caritas Est” (“God is Love”) and “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”), which remind us that when it comes to love of neighbor, we need two feet: charity and social justice.
Charity responds to immediate needs and specific situations, like my ministry at a children’s orphanage in Kenya. Social justice entails finding solutions to the structural dimension of problems, such as how these slums came to existence in the first place, and how we might change those conditions.
Pope Francis has repeatedly challenged young adults to create a culture of encounter by emulating Jesus. This requires going beyond our routine activities and concerns, listening to and accompanying others and awakening ourselves from complacency. Our faith will only continue to grow if we remain steadfast and share it. My challenge to fellow young Catholics is to raise our voices so that the world knows a different way.