NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) — Young people in the church need to have their voices heard, said an American Maryknoll missionary who helps to get Pope Francis’ words discussed by African youth.

“I am, in a way, responding to Pope Francis’ appeal to assist young people in the Catholic faith to realize their spiritual meaning and more” through using online communications, said Father Joseph G. Healey, who has worked in Africa for 40 years and lives in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.

A Facebook page for small Christian communities is among his social media efforts to engage young people.

Noting that he looks for messages from Pope Francis to youth and shares these with young African audiences, Father Healey said he spends a lot of time responding to text and other messages from young Catholics with various concerns around the continent.

“I enjoy doing this as I aim to assist the church, and the Holy Father in particular, succeed in this youth mission,” he told Catholic News Service in an interview at the Maryknoll House in Nairobi.

The theme chosen by the pope for the October Synod of Bishops is: “Young people, faith and vocational discernment.”

As well as being very active in building small Christian communities, especially among youth, Father Healey lectures at Tangaza University College in Nairobi and also works at St. Kizito, a vocational training institute of the Archdiocese of Nairobi.

Noting the outcome of a survey conducted by members of the Small Christian Community collaborative website, Father Healey said young people want spaces of their own where they can freely discuss among themselves issues that affect them.

“The youth are saying something, and they must be listened to by the church,” he said.

Cornelius Opollo, 28, chairman of the National Catholic Youth group in Kenya, was expected to attend the March 19-24 pre-synod meeting to which selected young delegates were invited. However, he told Catholic News Service March 15 that he was having difficulties with his flight booking and visa dates.

As the only representative of Catholic youth in the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa region with plans to attend the March meeting in Rome, “it will be very disappointing if I can’t go,” Opollo said.

At a February Mass to launch the synod’s theme, Bishop John Oballa Owaa of Ngong, vice chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, “We are taking this year seriously, our young people, because we take you very seriously.”

AMECEA Online News reported the bishop said that at every Mass in his diocese throughout the year, a hymn, “Simama imara katika imani, usiogope” (Swahili for “Stand strong in faith, do not be afraid”) will be sung.

“Whether it is Bible study, liturgy, active participation in the small Christian community activities or a pilgrimage to holy places — use these to help you listen more attentively to what God is telling you,” the bishop said.