Pope Francis greets Emilie Callan, right, a synod delegate from Canada, during a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 11. CNS photo/Vatican Media

At the synod on youth, Canada’s Emilie Callan felt she was heard

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  • November 8, 2018

The Synod of Bishops on young people is over but Emilie Callan will be unpacking a month full of memories for a long time. 

As one of 36 young auditors at the Synod on Young People, Callan had the unique opportunity of rubbing shoulders with the world’s bishops on a topic she holds closely to her heart. 

“From my part and I think for a lot of the young people there, we felt like we did have the freedom to speak,” said the 29-year-old Salt+Light Media French producer. “There wasn’t one time where I felt I needed to hold back or anything like that. Even sometimes when I haven’t spoken in a while, a bishop would say, ‘Hey, Emilie, you haven’t spoken in a long time. Is there something you wanted to say about this?’ ”

Callan was invited to Rome Oct. 3-28 to be one of two Canadian auditors, alongside her colleague, S+L blogger Julian Paparella. Both were given an opportunity to address the bishops during synodal interventions on “Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment.”

Two more S+L staff, Prevain Devandran and Allyson Kenny, were invited as observers. S+L CEO Fr. Tom Rosica was appointed as the English media attaché.

The bishop delegates that represented the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops were Saint-Jean-Longueuil Bishop Lionel Gendron, Sherbrooke Archbishop Luc Cyr, Montreal Bishop Thomas Dowd and Prince George Bishop Stephen Jensen.

Pope Francis also appointed Quebec Cardinal Gerald Lacroix as a synod father and Cardinal Marc Ouellet represented Canada as prefect of the Congregation of Bishops. 

The final document of the synod stressed that bishops need to listen to young people and recognize them as full members of the Church.

Callan said she felt that her voice as a young auditor was valued by the bishops and the peers around her. Since coming back from Rome, Callan has been on a whirlwind of speaking engagements. Recently, she spoke at the Canadian Catholic Students’ Association conference in London, Ont., and in two workshops at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto. 

“We were there on the inside,” she said. “We got to hear what a lot of the interventions were in the background and what some of the conversations were like in our small working groups. And so, the result of that is the final document, but there was so much that happened in the background.”

On the home front, youth leaders from across the country were also keeping an eye on the month’s activities in Rome. Campus minister Sr. Susan Kidd of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame said talks about the youth synod have been permeating among University of Prince Edward Island students for a little more than a year. 

“I was hoping for a broader representation of Canadian delegates,” she said. “Most of our clergy were from the province of Quebec expect for one. And the four young adults, in different capacities were all Salt+Light people. So initially, I was pretty hesitant about the narrow focus of the Canadian delegation.”

Nevertheless, Kidd said she was grateful that leaders of the Church came together to discern its relationship to the young people of today. 

A synod topic that struck a particular chord with Kidd is about the role of women in the Church, especially in a decision-making gathering like the synod. 

“We’re a missing piece,” she said. “I’ve given my life to ministry in the Church and my vows allow me to respond to the call of the mission of Jesus in the Church today, except for there.”

Now that the synod discussions have wrapped up in the Vatican, Kidd believes her role is to be an advocate in her local community. As she awaits the official English translation of the final document, she looks to unpack the results with the young people she works with in Charlottetown. 

Kevin Prada, associate director of the Catholic School of Evangelization in Saint-Malo, Man., said the gathering may be over, but there is still more work to be done in the Church at home. 

“If anything, it’s giving us a time to think about youth ministry,” he said. “Young people need what everybody else needs. They need belonging. They need love. They need to feel like they have a seat at the table and if anything, it’s giving us the opportunity to identify that and talk about that.”

The Catholic School of Evangelization is hosting a speaking event with Gendron and Callan to talk about their experience at the synod. Prada said they hope to unpack the final document together with their students and staff in order to “concretely lead our Church here in Manitoba.”

“I’m glad that they included vocations in their discussions because in my mind, if as a Church, we are not being intentionally present in young people’s single biggest, most important decision of their lives, we’re kind of missing the mark,” said Prada. “I’m glad that’s a discussion that our clergy are having.”

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