Pope Francis listens to concerns of university students from Asia-Pacific

Pope Francis hosted a virtual dialogue with university students from the Asia-Pacific region last week, concluding a month-long encounter between young people from Oceania and south-east Asia.

During the virtual encounter, the pope listened to the issues, concerns, and dreams of university students from Australia - include 18 from Australian Catholic University - New Zealand, Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Indonesia.

Among the shared concerns were issues related to youth mental health, unfair discrimination and gender inequality, and how to create a sense of belonging especially in societies that disapprove of Christianity.

“Youths look for a sense of belonging because the human calling, the human vocation is that of belonging to something,” Pope Francis said.

“If you look at our surname, for instance, a surname means belonging to a family, to a people. For youths, it means belonging to the human society.

“That is very important to for mental health, it is crucial you belong to friends, a family, a society, a religion.”

As he listened to the students, the Holy Father made handwritten notes, demonstrating his attention and care of the young people addressing him. He thanked each of the presenters, saying he was “very happy” to have listened to the thoughts and opinions of young people, and asked them repeatedly to pray for him.

The meeting with Pope Francis followed a series of encounters between university students from a common region where they listened and discerned about shared social concerns.

Organised by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, and Loyola University Chicago, the Building Bridges Initiative partnered with six universities in the Asia-Pacific region to support students on a month-long “synodal encounter” leading up to a meeting with the Pope. ACU was selected to oversee the involvement of university students from across Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea, in partnership with leaders from the Archdiocese of Melbourne and University of Notre Dame Australia.

Each of the regional groups were asked to elect representatives who would present the group’s experiences to Pope Francis in the virtual meeting.

Seamus Lohrey, from the University of Waikato in New Zealand, and Elizabeth Fernades from Macquarie University in Sydney, represented young people from Oceania.

ACU Pastoral Associate – Students, Rachel Vala, was chosen to give a vote of thanks to the Holy Father at the conclusion of the virtual dialogue.

ACU’s Associate Director of Mission and Ministry, Mark Doyle, said the dialogue between the university students had been “robust, thoughtful, and insightful”.

“The students spoke extremely passionately about various complex issues, and it was clear that they are committed to making the world a better place,” Mr Doyle said.

“Both Seamus and Elizabeth are excited to present their ideas to the Pope and to hear his insight about their concerns.”

The virtual dialogue with students from the Asia-Pacific comes months out from Pope Francis’ expectant visit to the region in September. The Vatican announced in April that Pope Francis would make an Apostolic Journey to Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, and Singapore in early September.

The Building Bridges Initiative has facilitated encounters between Pope Francis and students from the Americas, Africa, and South Asia.

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