Parramatta youth leader, Elizabeth Fernandez, the only Aussie chosen to meet with Pope Francis  

By Anita Sulentic, 20 June 2024
Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Rouse Hill, parishioner, Elizabeth Fernandez, who will represent Australia at the upcoming Building Bridges Initiative with Pope Francis. Image: Mary Brazell/Diocese of Parramatta


Faith formation and loneliness key issues for young people  

Elizabeth beat out some stiff competition to be selected to represent Australia at a virtual meeting with Pope Francis tonight with 11 other university students from the Asia-Pacific region.  

“Everyone [that was chosen] was really good! It was stiff competition,” laughs Elizabeth, one of the 20 young Australian Catholics who were selected to be part of the Building Bridges Initiative – a synodal process to help Pope Francis understand the issues affecting young people.   

The group of 20 from around Australia met on several occasions to discuss what issues young people face across family life, social issues, peer issues and more.  

“Everyone’s input was really interesting, but we all agreed quite quickly on the main issues which are loneliness and a lack of faith formation.  

Coming from a big “very religious” Catholic family of 11, Elizabeth was surprised when she met other young Catholics at a youth group who felt lonely in their faith.  

“I went to Tangara [School for Girls], which is very Catholic and has very good faith formation. When I met my friends at youth group outside of school, I was a bit taken aback that the norm is that people don’t go to Mass, their friends do not go to Mass. Some people in the group shared that they felt they were the only one in their group of friends that believes what they believe.  

“When I started university after leaving such a supportive high school environment, I remember walking through uni and feeling lonely. It felt so impersonal and sometimes teachers or peers would make comments about the faith, and you feel way out of your depth. Also, after COVID, everyone just gets in and gets out. So, I know the feeling of loneliness in my belief but also generally.” 

That’s why, Elizabeth explains, University Societies have been so instrumental to her own experience. A member of CathSoc at Macquarie University where she studies Business Admin and Law, Elizabeth values its importance and has seen it reach new people and grow.   

“We have really good staff to help us, and we have grown from a few of us at Mass and events a few years ago to 50 people at our Welcome Event this year and a solid group of people coming and helping out with social nights and events.”  

Elizabeth will also raise the need for more faith formation for young people to Pope Francis.   

“I think that 16-24-year-olds need a lot of faith formation as that’s when they start asking the real, hard-hitting questions, and I think a lot of people don’t get a good enough answer. This is also the time when the world and social media starts to become [a big factor] in their lives so there’s a lot that they have to fight against. If they don’t really have a reason, then why would they bother?” 

A parishioner of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Rouse Hill, Elizabeth feels there is a lot of hope.  

“We have a lot of good Churches and parishes in the Diocese of Parramatta. There are a lot of good priests doing a lot of good work. Finding a youth group outside of Tangara was awesome, to meet even more young people that practice the faith.”

It’s also something that she would share with Pope Francis if she ever got the chance to show him around Sydney.  

“Well, I think I would faint first! But I would take him around to all the university Catholic Societies to show him that there are a lot of young people who are passionate about their faith, and how they want to spread the faith. I would want to show him our beautiful churches, schools and students and to get him to hear from them. Also our clergy, we have a lot of awesome clergy in Australia.” 

Preparing to meet the Pope is a big deal. And there’s a lot of pressure to do it virtually. From getting her speech just right, to ensuring she has the right backdrop, to testing the technology. She’s been running through all this with her very supportive mother and family.  

“Mum was thinking that we should put the Australian flag in the background, or maybe a little koala toy on the desk. I think we will also put the statue of sleeping St Joseph that we put our intentions under.” 

This statue has a lot of significance. Her mother was recently diagnosed with cancer and when the children first found out, the first thing they did was place an intention under the statue.  

Meeting the Pope is something that has brought the whole family joy and helped them through this difficult time. 

“It’s something that everyone’s been looking forward to. Mum and I do this high-pitched, excited scream whenever something happy takes place, and we did that when I was chosen. We were calling everybody and it was really, really nice.

“I’m hoping to have Mum in the room with me, and maybe get a blessing for her.”  

The Building Bridges event will be livestreamed at 10pm AEST. You can watch it here: Building Bridges Across Asia Pacific | The Building Bridges Initiative : Loyola University Chicago (  

Building Bridges is a unique forum established by Loyola University Chicago and the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Latin America. Since 2022, the initiative has invited young people from large geographic regions to share honestly with each other and the Pope on issues affecting youth. 

With thanks to ACU who facilitated the small group meetings.  


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