Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez, chairman of the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, speaks during a Nov. 17, 2021, session of the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

BALTIMORE (CNS) — Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez invited fellow bishops to a national gathering in Chicago in June to participate with young Catholics in a dialogue about issues of culture, racism and inclusion through the prism of faith.

“Perhaps (the COVID-19 pandemic) was the Holy Spirit’s way of telling us bishops that we really needed to take time to listen to young people, those who minister to them and, especially, those who are in the peripheries, feeling unimportant and unloved, and often alienated from the church,” Archbishop Pérez said Nov. 17.

Speaking on the second of two days of public sessions during the bishops’ Nov. 15-18 fall general assembly in Baltimore, he detailed the opportunity the coronavirus pandemic has provided in facilitating virtual gatherings between young Catholics and bishops over the last year and a half.

More than 60 bishops have joined virtual gatherings as part of a process called “Journeying Together,” said Archbishop Pérez.

The gatherings have taken place online in the midst of a pandemic, under “social unrest, racial reckoning, and the polarization affecting U.S. society,” he said.

The process created “an opportunity for bishops, young adults, youth ministers and campus ministers, and leaders of various other ministries with young people, to engage in respectful yet honest dialogue in matters of faith, culture, racism, inclusion and the issues that affect them as young people,” Archbishop Pérez said.

His presentation included a video of young Catholics from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds sharing some of their struggles as well bishops participating in conversations with them.

Organizers are hoping to have an in-person event June 23-26 in Chicago.

“The aim of the national gathering is to bring these leaders together in person, after two years of virtual meetings, to experience the joy of encounter, to celebrate our unity in diversity and the many new friendships in the Lord created by this process,” he said.

“The National Encounter in Chicago will also be the moment,” he continued, “in which we turn input into action, ideas into concrete actionable steps, recommendations and commitments, as we complete the journey toward a ministry that is more welcoming of everyone’s gifts; one that inspires and propels young people of every cultural, ethnic and socioeconomic background to be fully alive for Christ, for the church and for one another.”

The process was inspired by Pope Francis’ 2019 apostolic exhortation “Christus Vivit” (“Christ Lives”) and the 2018 Synod of Bishops on young people, the archbishop said.

“Providence and the COVID-19 pandemic determined that what was to be dialogued and discerned over a long weekend turned out to be a two-year long (and counting) process, mostly carried out virtually,” he said.

He said the isolation created by the pandemic made organizers realize the necessity to accompany others, “to seek reconciliation and understanding, and to empower young people to guide us along a different path.”

As a bishop, he said, he was touched by the testimonies of the young adults who participated.

“I admire their resilience, and their faith, despite the many challenges they face; I have witnessed their love for the church and a yearning for inclusion and for finding a space and their voice in the church,” he said.

“We have shared painful experiences and had honest and, at times, hard conversations. We also had joyful moments of hope and celebration,” the archbishop said. “We have learned so much about the richness and diversity present in our Catholic Church.

“We have met promising young leaders from multiple ethnic and cultural communities who give me so much hope for the present and the future of the Catholic Church in this country.”

He asked bishops to help by sponsoring a meal, a session or a group of individuals to attend, or by donating to a scholarship fund for those who want to attend the Chicago gathering.