Nearly a decade before Pope Francis launched this month’s Synod of Bishops on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment, the Church in France was already attempting to address those same concerns by combining its separate national offices for young people and vocations into one powerhouse department.
At the helm of that office, up until last month, was Sister Nathalie Becquart, who during that time emerged as not only one of the most important voices in the French Church, but a globally sought-after expert on young people and, for many, proof that the Church is at its best when women are given the chance to lead.
Becquart, who is a member of the Congregation of Xavières, was the first woman to serve as the Director of the National Service for Youth Evangelization and Vocations. While the French bishops were among the first in the world to have a national office for vocations – dating back to 1959 – all her predecessors were priests.
In 2010, the separate offices were merged with “the idea that youth pastoral care must be vocational pastoral care, because every young person needs to discern their own vocation.”
In an interview with Crux, Becquart – who is serving as an auditor during the synod – said that the mission of her office has been “to help young people have a personal relationship with Jesus.”
“It’s exactly the point of the synod, too,” she added.
While France has long been known as the eldest daughter of the Church, rapid secularization has forced the country to recognize that it is, in the words of Becquart, “a missionary Church,” in need of influence and inspiration from the outside.
She describes the 1997 World Youth Day in Paris – the Vatican-organized global gathering of young people that takes place every two to three years – as a turning point that planted the seeds for a new focus on young people.
“We still get the fruits of it,” she maintains.
Prior to World Youth Day, Becquart said, many ministries and programs throughout the country were uncoordinated or lacked focus. Twenty years later, she believes the event helped the Church come together to work with clearer purpose – and for many in the French Church, they’re keen to play host again in the near future in order to punctuate the renewal unleashed 20 years ago.
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