VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Whether or not they are practicing Catholics, young people need to know that they belong to and are welcome in the church, the superior general of the Salesians told the Synod of Bishops.

Young men and women “must hear us say that we love them and that we want to walk along the path of life and faith together with them,” Salesian Father Angel Fernandez Artime told the synod members Oct. 17.

“They need to feel that we neither want to run their lives nor dictate how they should live but rather that we want to share with them the best that we have, which is our Lord Jesus Christ,” Father Fernandez said.

The Salesian superior general began his talk by recalling a couple he met after leaving the synod hall several days earlier. The young couple, he said, politely asked him, “Why there were people with colored sashes walking around with something on their heads.”

Realizing that they knew little to nothing about the church or its bishops, Father Fernandez explained to them what the Synod of Bishops was and why Pope Francis called a meeting to discuss young people, the faith and vocational discernment.

The couple also asked him if they could “meet the pope because they really wanted to get to know him. They told me that they felt that he was ‘a good man for everyone.'”

“And in my heart, this conviction resounded: These, too, are ours!” Father Fernandez exclaimed. “All young people are ours. There are no young people inside or outside. I believe that we must transmit this to the world: that the church and its shepherds feel that the young people of the world belong with them because no one should feel excluded.”

The message of welcome and inclusion, he said, must extend to young migrants who often face “rejection, fear, intolerance and xenophobia” in the countries where they live.

Young people, he added, should feel that the church is there for them “if they want us to be” and that it shares in their joys and hopes, their happiness, their sorrows and tears, their confusion or search for meaning, their vocation, their present and future.”

“Perhaps we may not achieve an excellent orthodoxy or orthopraxis,” Father Fernandez said, “but they will feel — through our poor mediation — that Jesus loves them and always welcomes them. Then it will all be worth it.”