Using Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Christus Vivit” (“Christ is Alive”) as a roadmap, Bishop Nelson Perez discussed the role of young people in the Church on Oct. 4 during his annual address to the First Friday Club of Greater Akron.
A large crowd filled the Tangier ballroom, including students from Hoban, St. Vincent-St. Mary, Walsh Jesuit and Our Lady of the Elms high schools and Holy Family, St. Mary, Seton Catholic, St. Hilary and St. Francis de Sales elementary schools – all in the Akron area.
“The Holy Father was talking to you – the young people,” the bishop said, referring to the exhortation. “But he also addresses it to the rest of the Church.” He encouraged everyone to read the document, which is available free on the internet. It was written after a long period of prayer and reflection that led up to the 2018 Youth Synod in Rome. The exhortation followed the synod and in it, the Holy Father talks about the spirit and youthful heart of the Church, Bishop Perez said.
“The pope said that youth is more than simply a period of time. It’s a state of mind. That’s why an institution as old as the Church, which is more than 2,000 years old, can experience renewal and return to youth at different points in her history,” the bishop said.
“Pope Francis said at the most dramatic points in its history, the Church is called to return to its first heart and love: Jesus Christ. The Church is the real youth of the world,” he said, adding, “Young people are spontaneous and filled with life.”
Bishop Perez talked about the daylong “Open Wide Our Hearts” forum on Sept. 28 that addressed racism, which he called “a real scourge.” He shared the story of Sister Juanita Shealey, CSJ, an African-American nun who early in her teaching career worked in an all-white elementary school. When a parent asked one of the students to describe the teacher, the child said, “She wears glasses.” The bishop said the fact that Sister was black was irrelevant to the child.
The Church grows and evolves over time, the pope wrote in his exhortation. Bishop Perez said that is what helps keep the Church vibrant and relevant. For a time, he said our values and the values of the Church “walked together. Then they shifted. In the ‘70s, we began dabbling and deciding on when life begins. Abortions were permitted in the first three months. Now some states allow an abortion at any time. And things have shifted to the other end of the spectrum – the end of life – with euthanasia and assisted suicide permitted in some states. We think that if we can define life, we can define anything including gender identity, what a married couple is and what a family looks like.”
The bishop said that according to the Holy Father, the Church is young when she sees three things: the word of God, the Eucharist and the presence of the spirit.
“Young people help keep us – the Church – young,” he said. They also help us to bear better witness and to fight for justice, he added.
Bishop Perez referenced the Catholic Schools for Peace and Justice respect life Mass, march and rally that took place on Oct. 2 in downtown Cleveland. Some of the students at the First Friday Club program also were at those events.
“The Holy Father tells you in the exhortation to take to the streets, to be protagonists for change and that’s exactly what you did. We created a future and now we’re living in it.”
The bishop urged especially the young people to fight apathy. “Things do matter,” he said. “The Holy Father tells us to build a better future, to work for a better world and not to be bystanders. Don’t be aloof. Immerse yourself inthe realityand the gift of life. Fight for the common good and serve the poor. Be protagonists of a revolution of charity and love.”
For more information on the First Friday Club of Greater Akron, including upcoming speakers, click HERE.