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Catholic youth want to feel welcome

Khadine Bovell (centre, stooping) with other Catholic youth delegates in Rome.

By Renée Smith,

For twenty-three-year-old Khadine Bovell, meeting Catholic youth around the world who share similar challenges and being able to voice them to the Holy Father, Pope Francis was extremely important.

Bovell was selected by the Bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC) to join 300 young people from around the world who participated in a Pre-Synodal meeting held in Rome March 19–24. The meeting was preparation for the 15th Synod of Bishops assembly on ‘Youth, Faith and Vocation Discernment’, which will be held in October.

Having been actively involved in youth ministry for the past eight years, Bovell told the Catholic News her experience at the meeting showed that the issues youth face were the “same all over”. Some of the challenges included personality crisis, relationships, inclusivity, technology, young people and the future, and the search for the meaning of existence.

Citing the topic of inclusivity, Bovell said the young people expressed they often yearned to be welcomed by the Church. “The youth, especially those drifting away from the Church want to be embraced, not in a way where it is suffocating but where we are given the opportunity to learn bit by bit and grow.”

Prior to her trip to Rome, the AEC provided Bovell with data that spoke of the challenges youth faced throughout the Caribbean dioceses. While she does not share all of their experiences she thinks the Caribbean Church has a responsibility to allocate more resources to youth ministry but more so youth within the wider society.

Though predominantly Catholic, the Pre-Synodal meeting also welcomed individuals of other religious bodies, even atheists. “I think the purpose of the meeting was not just to help young Catholics but how the Church can help young people of the world. The fact that the pope felt the need to call a meeting where our needs can be met, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, is definitely commendable,” said Bovell.

On the first day, attendees participated in a Plenary Assembly where they were given the opportunity to have an intimate meeting with Pope Francis. He was asked five questions on issues faced by young people from around the world:

How can young people help victims of human trafficking?

Where should a young person look for guidance in making life choices?

How can we teach young people to be open to their neighbour and to the transcendent?

How is a young person preparing for the priesthood to respond to the complexities of present-day culture—like tattoos, for instance?

How can young women religious balance the dominant culture in society and the spiritual life in accomplishing their mission?

Pope Francis’ response on tattoos stood out to Bovell because he said “not to be afraid of tattoos”, adding, tattoos should be regarded as a “talking-point to begin a dialogue about what it signifies”.

“The Pope spent four hours with us that day and you could really see he was interested in what we had to say,” Bovell said, and felt the tough questions directed to the pope reflected that he created an environment where persons did not feel judged.

During the week, Bovell and her peers were also allowed to enjoy Rome through sight-seeing, visiting holy sites and participating in a cultural night.

As she reflected on her experience, Bovell hopes that the Church of tomorrow can create a space where lay people can lead ministry and be “just as important” as a ministry led by priesthood and religious.

She said, “A lot of the times if the bishop or priest does not enforce something, nothing happens. It’s not just the Caribbean, it is a universal issue where the priest is seen as the centre of all ministry. I envision a Church where young people and lay people are very much involved in the day-to-day running and pastoral ministry of the Church.”

According to the Synod of Bishops, the outcomes from the youth meeting will be included in a working document, prepared by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. The document will be based on answers to a questionnaire distributed to bishops’ conferences, another questionnaire for young people found on Synod’s website ( and various other sources.