The three-week Synod of Bishops will focus on the lives of some 1.8 billion people between the ages of 16 and 29. A conversation with Thomas Andonie, who accompanies the meeting for the Federation of German Catholic Youth.
Interviewer: It starts today in the Vatican, what wishes and topics did the youth and young adults give you from here to Rome?
Thomas Andonie (Federal Chairman of the Federation of German Catholic Youth, BDKJ): I have a lot of things to offer: On the one hand, the BDKJ is the umbrella organization of Catholic youth organizations in Germany. And of course they have already made resolutions in the course of their time: "What moves young people, what do young people want from the church and how do you want the church to be??"
We also did a postcard campaign before the Youth Synod where young people could communicate their specific concerns to Pope Francis. We handed this over last week, and of course I have the concerns with me.
Interviewer: Is there anything in the first place? Is something crystallizing? What is important to young people?
Andonie: It is very important for many young people that the church appears credible and authentic. On the one hand, there are the questions of equality between men and women. Concretely: How can women in the church become more visible – also in leadership functions?? What also moves young people in Germany very strongly is the question of compulsory celibacy and the possibility of ordaining women as priests.
What also moves us is the question of how we can also be church together; i.e. breaking up the clericalistic structures in the church and how we can also take on leadership responsibility in the church together as the whole people of God and young people are also involved in church decisions and decisions are not made about them but with them.
Interviewer: There we are also already with the bishop synod. How does that work? 40 youths and young adults will be present and will face up to 350 bishops and cardinals. Are you allowed to sit and nod or are you also allowed to say something??
Andonie: No, in no case will I sit and nod. Of course, the auditors have the task to accompany the synod and to get actively involved. I will not only sit there and nod, but I will be able to speak in the large assembly, to make a statement there and to actively participate in the small groups. That is also the claim we have, because the concerns about people have to be heard there.
We think it is a pity that there are only 34 or 35 young people who are involved as representatives of their respective countries. But of course we also hope that these concerns will be taken seriously enough to be taken into account in the final document and in the negotiations, and that they will also be taken as a guideline. Then to take the perspective from the world of young people and to look there: How must the church respond to this?? And how could the church be so that young people also perceive the Catholic Church as a companion on their journey through life and faith??
Interviewer: In the run-up to the Synod of Bishops, there have also been calls to cancel it and to hold a special synod on the abuse scandals that have been uncovered in many parts of the world. What do you think about the decision to hold the Youth Synod as planned??
Andonie: I think it's absolutely right to hold this youth synod, but we can't just go back to business as usual. The topic of sexualized violence is not a regional topic, it is a worldwide topic, which now again and again in different phases shows very clearly how much sexualized violence has happened to children, adolescents and young adults in the past and how much has happened structurally in the church. And this must also be discussed here.
We cannot deal with the subject of youth without also looking at the conditions that afflict the church here. There we have the clericalism, the power structures, these all-male groupings, which then cover up for each other accordingly. We need to talk about how the churches together can take responsibility for breaking down the power structures that cause indescribable suffering to young people, when in fact the church promises salvation to young people.
Therefore I say: We do not go over to the agenda, but broach this also. I will definitely bring this to this synod, and there must also come a clear vote. Then action must also be taken in the respective regional differences and concrete things must happen.
Interviewer: You have already been in Rome for a few days. Today it finally starts. What is on the agenda for you?
Andonie: We will open with a grand pontifical mass in St. Peter's Basilica, then after the service, the gathering will be opened by Pope Francis himself. Then we'll see what direction the whole event takes. The Synod envisages that we will sit together in large groups and then also discuss in smaller language groups. This will happen throughout the month, alternating between the different parts of the "instrumentum laboris", the preparatory document.
The interview was conducted by Heike Sicconi.