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In the New Year, What Will Our Response Be to Youth Who Advocate for Change?

There is a popular holiday song called, "My Grown-up Christmas List" that tells the story of an adult remembering their childhood wishes and then writing an adult Christmas list.

"Do you remember me
I sat upon your knee
I wrote to you with childhood fantasies
Well I'm all grown up now
And still need help somehow
I'm not a child but my heart still can dream

So, here's my lifelong wish
My grown-up Christmas list
Not for myself but for a world in need"

There is a verse in the song that speaks a powerful truth about young people:

"What is this illusion called the innocence of youth? Maybe only in our blind belief can we ever find the truth."

Young people, by virtue of being young, can call us to truth. Are we open to hearing that revelation?

In keeping with the priorities of Pope Francis, World Youth Day 2019 will focus on immigration, the role of women in the church, and the environmental crisis. Quite relevant since all these issues are on the minds of young people today. Teens are growing up in a reality where they see global problems that never existed before. Because they are more than just concerned about the future, young people feel compelled to do something, anything to make the world better. Many youth are already organizing around various social concerns; especially around our ever-declining environmental crisis. Take for example, 15-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden who has recently been thrust into the spotlight for her month-long protest from school to sit in front of her country's parliament. But that's not all, while speaking at a United Nations Climate Summit, she told the adult leaders that they were not "mature enough to tell it like is." Greta later tweeted "Some people say that we should study to become climate scientists so that we can "solve the climate crisis" but the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we need to do is to wake up and change." Again, let me remind you that Greta is 15.

Greta is not alone in her climate justice efforts. Here in the United States, young people are actually suing the Federal Government and seeking action to address the climate crisis. Bravo to the 21 young people, aged 11-22, who argue that government officials have known for more than 50 years that carbon pollution from fossil fuel was causing climate change. In their suit, they are accusing the government of failing to protect natural resources for future generations. As of November 2018, the lawsuit against the U.S. government has won the right to a trial, overcoming the present administration's efforts to cancel it in court. Let me repeat, 20 young people are suing the U.S. government.

In July of 2018, HUNDREDS of youth marched for "Zero Hour," an environmentally focused, youth-organized, nationwide coalition. Young people marched on the National Mall in Washington DC to advocate for their own rights to a safe and livable future. 15-year-old Jamie Margolin, who helped to establish the three-day event, proclaims that climate change is the greatest threat of the twenty-first century.The group is following in the footsteps of other recent youth-led movements such as the nationwide March for Our Lives rallies against gun violence. In case you didn't notice, youth, in record numbers, are demonstrating that they don't need adults to organize and do something amazing.

In California, a state that has seen some of the worst fires in recent history, high school students are planning a summit for their peers to address the effects of climate change. The Tech for Global Good Youth Climate Action Summit will bring hundreds of high school students together in San Jose to learn about climate change and discuss what their generation can do. This is just one of many youth summits currently being organized around the country. Former U.S. vice president and climate change activist Al Gore has taken notice and is helping to mobilize and train young people through the Climate Reality Leadership Corps. Al Gore acknowledging the passion of youth and says, that "the rising generation is demanding a better world."

Pope Francis, I believe, also recognizes this unrest in our young people. In Laudato si', he writes "Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the suffering of the excluded," This summer, the Pope held his own "summit" inviting to Rome a diverse group of scientists, economists, activists, diplomats, indigenous representatives, and youth for a conference celebrating the third anniversary of . He has been very clear in his teachings that climate change is a moral and religious imperative. Let me clarify what the Pope has taught, as faithful Catholics, we cannot simply dismiss climate change as something that does not exist or that does not warrant our immediate attention.

Just a few weeks ago, church leadership gathered for the Synod 2018 on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. Speaking on behalf of all adult Catholics, Pope Francis formally closed the Synod by asking young people for forgiveness. "Forgive us if often we have not listened to you; if, instead of opening our hearts, we have filled your ears. As Christ's church, we want to listen to you with love" because young people's lives are precious in God's eyes and "in our eyes, too," said Pope Francis.

Young people are organizing now, standing up now, and demanding to be heard now. Are we listening? Do we hear, support, and applaud their efforts in working to create a better world? As the Synod asks, are we "listening with love" to our young people? Do we hear the truth they speak? "Let no one despise your youth but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." 1 Timothy 4:12

Even more, are we allowing them to lead us? Are we joining them in peaceful, compassionate action? Are we accompanying (walking with) young people on their journey of faith and their passion for solidarity and social justice? Our resounding response must be to empower our young people, any way that we can, to "be the change they wish to see in the world." Let's begin by listening with love.

"No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end."

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Carried to Christ
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