Catholic youth are the focus of an international meeting of bishops held later this year and Pacific youth will be well represented.
Pope Francis has appointed Samoan Joseph Moeno-Kolio to be an Auditor, where he will present directly to the Pope on issues relating to youth in the Pacific and their faith.
Raised in the Catholic Church by parents who constantly fought social injustices, Mr Moeno-Kolio said he feels passionate about making sure Pacific voices are heard in the church’s biggest institutions.
The Bishop Synod in October is a critical component of Pope Francis’ mission to include the voices of young people in the focus of the church going forward.
Mr Moeno-Kolio said that young people from all around the word can help the Pope understand where young people are at today, in order to better meet their needs.
More importantly, he said the voice of the Pacific is often overlooked in Church decision making by people not from the Pacific.
“We shouldn’t have to fly to Europe but that’s where the decisions happen,” he said.
“We need to be there to say: this is what is happening, and this is what we need done.”
“Without us, the voice for our region is lost between the cracks.”
The Synod will last for a whole month, and during that time Mr Moeno-Kolio will be able to bring Pacific influence to all corners of the conference.
“In the backchannel meetings and coffee breaks, writing rooms, I will be trying to influence decision making,” he said.
“Throughout that process I’ll be drawing on people in our region to inform myself.”
In the months to come, Mr. Moeno-Kolio will be reaching out to both youth and elders in his Pacific communities to gather reflections and input.
“For me the important thing is to consult the pacific way – with my elders.”
Representing the Pacific voice to the Church must include mention of climate change and its devastating effects on people in the region.
Mr Moeno-Kolio said while he is eager to speak to the Pope on this subject, he knows Pope Francis has his eye on this issue already.
Just last month, Pope Francis held the Laudato si Conference, where the focus was on “saving our common home and the future of life on earth.”
Calling the conference Pope Francis’ “brainchild”, Mr Moeno-Kolio said climate change is an example of an area the church’s attitudes have moved quickly on.
“For an old institution it is both good and bad that things don’t happen too quickly,” he said.
“It gives time for reflection and analysis, which probably helped the perseveration of the church and its wide reaching impact.”
But on the matters of the climate, and of the clerical abuse of vulnerable people, the church needs to move quicker, he said.
“The business as usual boys club way of doing things doesn’t work, and as we have seen now how horrible it’s been it is time for some time, there is real urgency to change.”
“That is why meetings are happening not just with clergy but with youth, experts, and the laity to figure out how to move the church in a positive direction to address these issues while maintaining the integrity of the church.”
On Monday, Pope Francis publically acknowledged the failings of the church with regards to sexual abuse by priests in the form of a letter.
In it, he wrote: “no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient.”
Mr Moeno-Kolio said he is hopeful that the direction Pope Francis is moving the church in will be well received by Samoa.
“But I am cautious in the sense that I am not naïve and I know well the history of the church there and how slow things are to get going,” he added.
“There is a bit of reluctance or resistance towards change that Pope Francis is putting out, and not just Samoa.”
“Part of the reason things are moving so slowly is because Pope Francis is moving so quickly. Churches who are in opposition to that will stall things and obstruct change.”