Pre-Synodal Meeting 2018: My experience

James writes about his exciting week in Rome, covering the Pre-Synodal Meeting of young adults.

The Palm Sunday Mass at St. Peter's Basilica
The Palm Sunday Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica

At the request of the Cardinal, I went to Rome in March to work in the media team for an important event in the lead-up to the Synod of Bishops this October, which will be focused on ‘Youth, faith and vocational discernment’.

This lead-up event was called the Pre-Synodal Meeting of young people, and was to form part of the preparation work for the Synod in October, to help inform and guide the bishops in their discussions.

The Pre-Synodal Meeting consisted of 300 young people from around the world – mostly Catholic, of course, but with a few from other backgrounds too – who had come to stay in Rome for the week, and around 15,000 young adults on the six Facebook language groups that had been created.

Some of the drafters of the Pre-Synodal Meeting document
Some of the drafters of the Pre-Synodal Meeting document

Collectively, the young people were asked to explore and discuss a series of questions about being a young person today, such as “In these times, what relationships, emotional experiences, specific events and places primarily determine the identity of younger generations?” and “How is the person of Jesus, as recounted in the Scriptures, perceived by the young people of the third millennium?”

Over the course of the week, the thoughts and opinions of the young people were then condensed by a writing team of fellow young adults into a summary document, which went through a couple of revisions, as the 300 young people in Rome suggested parts that they liked and disliked about each draft.

The final document was then presented to Pope Francis at the Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican.

That’s a summary of the purpose of the meeting, but there was so much that went on, with many personal highlights. The following are some of those stand-out moments.

Working on the document

The 300 young adults from around the world, who came to Rome to take part in the Pre-Synodal Meeting
The 300 young adults from around the world, who came to Rome to take part in the Pre-Synodal Meeting

Being part of the media team at the Pre-Synodal Meeting was a fascinating opportunity to see, from the inside, how such documents are put together.

One of the particular highlights in this regard was being one of the editors of the final document and seeing how the writing teams put together their sections (there are three parts to the document).

For privacy reasons, I won’t go into the exact details of how the teams put together the document, but what I can say is that they worked very hard, staying up very late and not getting much sleep.

There was a great sense of accomplishment from the team, and the rest of the 300 young people there, once the document had been completed and was read out in the auditorium.

The fellowship of the media team

The media team, representing the Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Spanish, French, English and German languages
The media team, representing the Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Spanish, French, English and German languages

There were six language teams working in the media team for the Pre-Synodal Meeting: Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, English and German. In the English team, there was me, Alex and two lovely American girls called Briana and Cherise, who are members of a community called the Apostles of the Interior Life.

We worked really well together, instantly clicking, and sharing many laughs and having good chats. This made the work – which had its hectic moments – all the more enjoyable.

The members of the other language groups were lovely too, and I chatted with many of them and made new friends.

Collectively, the entire media team was a great unit, made of wonderful people with interesting and inspiring personal stories.

Staying at the Venerable English College

One of the seminarians from the Diocese of Westminster, Alex, had also been asked by the Cardinal to be involved with the meeting. As a result, I had the opportunity to stay at the place where English seminarians are trained – the Venerable English College (VEC).

The VEC is a beautiful place, with the corridors filled with statues and paintings depicting figures of Church history. This meant that we could travel together to our workplace.

If it were a hotel, I’d definitely recommend staying there – but alas, it isn’t usually open to the public in such a way.

Meeting Pope Francis again

Selfie with Pope Francis
Selfie with Pope Francis

Five years ago, whilst working in the Local Organising Committee of World Youth Day Rio 2013, I was given the opportunity to meet Pope Francis, just a few months after he had been elected to his role. We met in a favela and I got to briefly chat with him. I also wanted to take a selfie with him, but I was told beforehand that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to use a camera. Sadly, I thought the chance had passed by.

But not so! Five years later, at the Pre-Synodal Meeting, I bumped into the Pontiff in one of the corridors of the university where the event was taking place. The chance had come! And so I asked if we wanted to take a selfie and he was happy to oblige.

Palm Sunday Mass

The procession at the Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square
The procession at the Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square

Throughout the week, the weather was cold and wet. However, as though influenced by divine intervention, the weather took a dramatically positive turn for Palm Sunday.

I walked from the VEC to one of the side entrances of the Vatican, to meet with a Brazilian friend who works at the Vatican Museum. She got us in and we were able to skip the queues.

Joining our other colleagues from the media team, we were part of the procession of young people carrying the branches from palm and olive trees.

Under a perfect blue sky and an improved temperature from the previous days, we took part in a lovely opening ceremony to the Mass in the centre of the square, before heading towards the basilica and sitting down near the front.

During the Mass, I had a moment of great appreciation for the rich history and tradition of beauty within the Catholic Church – a true beauty that calls to mind the divine. From the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica, to the mystical singing, to the ornate outfits of the Swiss Guard and others, to simply the order and harmony of how the congregation was organised – everything about the experience spoke of the transcendent, of that which is greater than mere humanity.

The celebration at Castel Gandolfo

Selfie with Sister Cristina Scuccia, who won the Italian version of 'The Voice'
Selfie with Sister Cristina Scuccia, who won the Italian version of ‘The Voice’

At the end of the week in Rome, after the final document had been approved, we were all invited to be part of a visit to Castel Gandolfo, which serves as the summer residence and vacation of the Pope.

The journey there and back was a great chance to chat with my new friends and get to know them better.

Once there, we visited the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo and toured around the rooms and museum sections.

Afterwards, we all hanged out in the gardens, where we were blessed to meet the winner of the Italian ‘The Voice’, young nun Sister Cristina. She sung some of her songs and there was lots of food and drinks available.

Overall, it was a wonderful week, and I’m grateful to Cardinal Vincent for having given me the opportunity to be involved in the synod process in this way.