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“Special experience” as Elizabeth Fernandez takes young Aussie’s concerns to Pope Francis

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Catholics in Australia - The Catholic Weekly
Elizabeth speaking with the pope on an online forum with other delegates. Photo: Screenshot from the live video.

Speaking to Pope Francis was a “surreal” and unforgettable experience for Sydney’s Elizabeth Fernandez who represented young Aussie Catholics in an online forum with the pontiff on 20 June.

Speaking on behalf of a group of student representatives from across the country, Fernandez, 20, told the pope about young Catholics’ experience of isolation in an increasingly secular culture, and lack of reliable faith formation.

“Many of us feel lonely in our schools in universities. Daily we are bombarded by secular ideologies, mocked for our faith, and outnumbered in our mission to be beacons of hope,” she told him.

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“We are also concerned that many young people receive shallow faith formation.

“Some religion teachers in Catholic schools use class time to preach their own agendas of abortion, contraception, and gender theory.”

Fernandez said many of Australia’s young Catholics are committed to serving others and building a “culture of charity.” She proposed that all religion teachers be trained catechists and young people encouraged to teach scripture in public schools.

She gave the example of the Archdiocese of Sydney recently subsidising the cost of World Youth Day pilgrimages to youth catechists who committed to serve in schools for a year.

Catholics in Australia - The Catholic Weekly
Elizabeth Fernandez. Photo: Screenshot from the live video.

“We want young people to also have greater access to confession and to have Christ integrated into all school subjects, thereby fostering a culture of greater reverence for the Eucharist,” Fernandez added.

Noting that “Australians are brave” Pope Francis said persecution has always been a part of Christian life.

He urged the young adults to love those who mock them without settling for a “lukewarm” Christianity.

“We must have a good faith-based education because this will help us to be authentic, real Christians,” he said.

Tertiary students from six universities across the Asia-Pacific including Australian Catholic University took part in the opportunity in partnership with the Building Bridges initiative by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and Loyola University Chicago.

It supported students on a month-long “synodal encounter” leading up to the two-hour call, the fourth in the series.

Fernandez, who is studying business and law at Macquarie University, told The Catholic Weekly last week, she had been chosen for the role as her mother Donna was diagnosed with a rare cancer. She asked Pope Francis, who showed “deep care,” throughout the online forum to keep her mother in his prayers.

“He gave us unique and beautiful insights into each of our issues and showed us his sense of humour,” she said.

“It truly was such a special experience and something I will never forget.”

You can view the recorded conversation here.

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