TALLINN, Estonia — In what is probably the least religious country in Europe, Pope Francis said he is surprised by how many people hold firm to their faith despite all the sexual abuse and financial scandals in the Catholic Church.
“We know — as you have told us — that many young people do not ask anything of us because they do not believe we have anything meaningful to say about their lives,” the pope said Sept. 25 during an ecumenical meeting with young adults in Estonia.
Some young people “even ask to be left in peace because they feel the church’s presence is a bother or even irritating — and it’s true,” he said. And the bolder ones say, “Don’t you see nobody is listening to you anymore or believes what you have to say?”
Often they think the church has no clue about what is important to young people, he said, or that the church wants them just to be passive members of the congregation and parish programs.
And “they become outraged when they do not see a clear condemnation of sexual and financial scandals,” the pope said.
But the Catholic Church, he said, wants to respond to young people and “wants to be a transparent, welcoming, honest, attractive, communicative, accessible, joyful and interactive community.” That, he added, is one of the main aims of the Synod of Bishops on young people, which begins Oct. 3.
Still, he said, the amazing thing is that young people continue to find Jesus in the church and through its members and ministers.
Just as Jesus praised God for revealing truths to the “little ones,” Pope Francis told Estonian youth, “I marvel that, for all our lack of witness, you continue to discover Jesus in our communities.”
“We know that where Jesus is, there is always renewal,” the pope said. “There are always new opportunities for conversion and for leaving behind everything that separates us from him and our brothers and sisters.”
“Beyond all our limitations and divisions, Jesus is still the reason for our being here,” he told them.
Young believers must be generous and courageous enough to share that hope with their peers, especially in a country where an estimated 75 percent of the population identify themselves as “non-religious.”
Meeting the young people in Tallinn’s Kaarli Lutheran Church, Pope Francis listened to the stories of trials and faith shared by: an 18-year-old Lutheran named Lisbel, whose father is a sometimes violent drunk; an Orthodox young man named Tauri, who said he found faith through the Divine Liturgy, lost it studying theology, but discovered it again through the Greek fathers of the church; and Mirko, a Catholic, who directs a theater company and believes beauty is the path to discovering God.
“We want to mourn with you when you mourn, to accompany and support you, to share in your joys, and to help you to be followers of the Lord,” the pope told them.
The Christian churches and, really, “every institutionally structured religious organization,” he said, “at times bring attitudes that make it easier for us to talk, give advice, speak from our own experience, rather than listen, be challenged and learn from what you are experiencing.”
Pope Francis assured the young people that the church does, in fact, want to listen to them, respond to their questions and support them as they seek the ultimate meaning of their lives.
And, he said, the church wants to help them come to know Jesus and to know God’s love.