Answering the Call | Representing New Zealand at the International Youth Congress

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May 24, 2024

Nick Wilson, the Palmerston North Diocese Young Catholics Team Leader and newly appointed chair of the Council for Young People, is currently in Rome representing New Zealand at the International Congress on Youth Ministry.

The Diocesean Communications Team caught up with him for a chat about it before he left.

So I hear you’re heading to Rome soon …

Yes I am! I’ve been asked by the Catholic Bishops of New Zealand to chair the Council for Young People, which comes with a particular responsibility: attending an international youth meeting in Rome.

The main focus will be discussing our learnings from World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, which over 130 New Zealanders attended. It’s also about this time of synodality: the role of the young church within it, and how we can cultivate leaders from this synodal space.

The program is packed with topics, including the fifth anniversary of Christus Vivit, the document Pope Francis wrote to young people. It encourages them, and those who guide and disciple them, to live a vibrant life of faith as followers of Jesus.

This is my first international congress representing New Zealand, and honestly, it’s a bit daunting! Although I have travelled before, participating in an event of this magnitude and being asked to represent New Zealand by our bishops is incredibly humbling. I’m profoundly honoured to serve in this way.

What will you be doing while you’re there?

Given the time difference, I’ll be heading to Rome a bit early to stay at the Rosminian chapter house in Rome, where a priest who used to serve in Palmerston North has kindly invited me. This will give me a chance to recover from the journey, especially since one of the flights is 17.5 hours long! I’ll be able to decompress, catch up on sleep, and smash the jet lag. From there, it’s a short trip to the conference venue.

At the conference, I’ll meet others who hold my role in different countries—about 130 delegate countries will be attending the International Youth Congress.

I’m also looking forward to meeting up with Jessica Jackman, a primary school teacher from Christchurch and the second delegate for New Zealand. Together, we’ll ensure our views are heard and consider the ideas from other countries. That’s really important to me, hearing the voice of the ‘other’ and to be in dialogue, which reflects our Catholic kaupapa. I’m really excited to hear what others have to say.

Have you been to Rome before?

Yes, I have. The first time I went to Rome, I was just a tourist, visiting the sights and the Vatican museums. This time, it’s a work trip, so my main focus will be addressing the mahi I’ve been asked to do. There might be a little time to look around, but that’s not the purpose of this trip, and I’m very clear about that. The days will be long; the timetable is packed, which is great because gathering for this kind of event is rare and expensive. We want to make sure we get the best value from it!

What does your family think about you going?

When I first told my wife, she wasn’t too excited since it meant I’d be away for a while, and we have three busy kids. But my kids thought it was cool! They asked, “Hey Dad, are you gonna meet the Pope?” And I’ve recently found out that, yes, part of our program includes an audience with the Pope. It’s incredible! Considering I’m just a kid from Nelson who grew up in the South Island, being asked by the bishops of New Zealand to go to the other side of the world and meet the Pope is amazing.

What are you most excited to focus on in your new role as chairperson of the Council for Young People?

I have a real heart for young people, especially those who are tangata whenua in our country. That’s not to say I don’t care for other cultures; my entire life has been devoted to uplifting and encouraging young people, which is why I became a teacher. In my role as chair, I’m not doing the work alone but leading a magnificent council of diverse, dedicated individuals from across Aotearoa New Zealand. They serve the young church and advise the bishops on various issues affecting young people.

We are blessed with an incredible group of bishops who have given their yes to serving the people of our country. They genuinely want to listen, learn, and do right by our young people. Their goal is to ensure that everyone they encounter, lead, preach to, or walk alongside has a profound experience of Jesus Christ and is inspired to orient their lives towards Him. My role is to facilitate this mission, and that’s my hope and aspiration.

Our work is grounded in prayer and discernment, responding to Pope Francis’s call to live in a synodal way. We need to understand what this means and how it shifts our previous ways of operating, ensuring that our actions and projects reflect a Spirit-led approach. There is a magnificent life in being responsive to the Spirit’s call!

What message do you have for young people?

My encouragement to young people today is to step up and take on leadership roles in the church. If you say yes when asked to try something new, lead a project, or attend an event, it brings your faith to life and nurtures your desire to serve. After a while, as you prove yourself and become known in your community, you’ll be looked to for greater responsibilities.

If you’d told me at 20 that I would work for the church one day, I would have laughed! I was a teacher; that was my thing. But here I am because of a series of invitations: “Will you serve? Will you join? Will you lead?” Saying yes to these invitations has brought me to this place. It is an amazing, deeply privileged, and humbling thing to serve the church. So give God your yes. Giving God my yes has brought me here, beyond my wildest dreams. What a privilege.

Finally, to all young people in Aotearoa New Zealand: you are infinitely lovable and infinitely loved. It’s a wonderful thought, isn’t it? You are infinitely lovable and infinitely loved. That’s a great message to take into our hearts and live by. So my encouragement to young people today is simple: you matter!

Also see this media release from the NZCBC for more information.

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