(from SIR’s correspondent in Bethlehem) “Even here, the new generations are leaving the Church. Evangelising young people is one of the toughest challenges that the Churches of the Holy Land are called to face”. This is how monsignor George Wadih Bacouni, Melkite bishop of Haifa and co-president of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land, deals with the problem of young people and the Church, as he spoke during a meeting in Bethlehem yesterday with the Coordination of the Bishops for the Holy Land, during which they addressed multiple topics, such as political instability, the unsolved conflict between Israel and Palestine, the economic crisis. Topics that are also the main causes of the emigration of so many young people from this region, who, the bishop explains, seem to be more and more attracted by “increasing secularisation”. That’s why, he states, “the Synod for the young launched by the Pope in 2018 may help us understand better how to approach and listen to them. We must go to them, this is the main thing. This is not the time to wait for them in Church or in our offices”. Despite the high proportion of young people in the population, especially in Palestine, mgr. Bacouni says, “our churches are always full of old people who do not make room for the young. Pastoral workers get old too, but they are loath to make room for others. The innovation the Pope wished for the Church, the young, seems to be still far away. We say young people are the future of the Church, but we do not let them work”.
Another reason young people leave the Church is, according to the Melkite bishop, “misunderstanding the concept of laicism and the scandals of some men of the church, not about sex abuse but living in a way that does not become a proper priestly and religious life”. Another obstacle along the path of the Church towards young people, according to the prelate, is an “ecumenical one”. “In the Holy Land – he explains –, we have lots of churches and multiple rites. Each of them tries to get hold of their own young people, and that’s why there is no mutual support between the Churches. They fear they could lose their identity. We should try instead to find out how to put Christ, and the young people’s interest, back at the centre of the mission”. As to the young people who will attend the Synod in the Holy Land in 2018, mgr. Bacouni has no doubts: “there will be our young people too, and they will tell their stories, which are even more important in the light of the problems of this Land in which they are called to live their vocation. My hope is that, with the Synod, the Church may change its attitude to the young”.