Pope Francis called on young people not to be afraid of “authentic, beautiful and profound love” that shows — more than any words — that Christianity consists, not in a series of prohibitions that stifle the desire for happiness, but in a life project capable of bringing “fulfilment to every human heart”.
The Pope made the call to 70 young leaders of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church from outside of India, who made a pilgrimage to Rome last month and attended a summit called “Arise 2022”.
Among those present were 23-year-old Jacob Anithottam, Syro Malabar Youth Movement (SMYM) coordinator of Auckland, and 28-year-old Deepak Martin, the former coordinator of SMYM Wellington, who were selected to represent New Zealand.
“There has been a great challenge in that Eastern Catholics are losing their faith/identity in the diaspora, so the purpose of the summit was to strengthen the youth in order to enrich, not just our particular Church, but the wider Catholic Church,” MrAnithottam said.
The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is one of the 22 Eastern (Oriental) Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome. It is the second largest Eastern Catholic Church after the Ukrainian Church, and the largest of the Saint Thomas Christian (Nazrani) denominations, with 4.6 million believers. According to the Church’s website, it traces its origin to St Thomas, the Apostle, who landed at Cranganore (Muziris) in India in 52 AD, and founded seven Christian communities.
At the summit in Rome this year, the young Syro-Malabar leaders identified key ideas for the evangelisation of the youth, and how to best implement it in their communities.
“One key point raised was that the media is the new ‘street corner’ where evangelisation takes place, and we as Catholics should utilise media well in order to preach the same Gospel to the world. There was also an emphasis on the love that youth have for the traditions of the Church and how, as St Paul reminds us, we must hold fast to our traditions: ‘Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, either by our message or by our letter’,” Mr Anithottam said (quoting 2 Thess 2:15).
He said that they were “absolutely thrilled” to meet the Pope, who seemed “just as excited to meet us young people”.
“Despite being in a wheelchair, his zeal for the Church shone through, as he strongly encouraged us to say ‘yes’ to Christ despite facing the challenges of today’s ‘fluid’ culture,” he said.
Mr Anithottam said that the Pope reminded them, especially on the 1950th anniversary of St Thomas’ Martyrdom, that they share in the mission of the apostles.
“He called on us to enrich, not just our communities, but the wider Catholic Church. This mission entrusted to us by Pope Francis is the same mission Christ has entrusted to us all,” Mr Anithottam said, adding “it was awe-in the leader of the Apostles, reconfirm this mission to the children of Thomas the Apostle”.
He said that they also met Syro-Malabar bishops from America, Canada, Australia, Europe, and Great Britain.
“It was especially amazing to have Major Archbishop Mar George Alencherry, the head of our Church and successor of St Thomas the Apostle, with us throughout the conference,” he said.
Mr Anithottam is currently studying for a diploma in Theology from the Pontifical Oriental Institute, and working as an engineer at Samsung New Zealand.
“In my community in Ellerslie, Auckland, I teach catechism, help with the sacramental programme, and do youth ministry. I genuinely love doing all I can for the Church, and I hope and pray that the Lord calls me to do even greater things for him,” he said.