“The young person of today is met with a host of external and internal challenges and opportunities, many of which are specific to their individual contexts and some of which are shared across continents. In light of this, it is necessary for the Church to examine the way in which it thinks about and engages with young people in order to be an effective, relevant and life-giving guide throughout their lives.”

The Pre-Synodal Meeting of Young People has concluded and the final document has been released. Addressing the topic, “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment,” it provides a very clear and balanced assessment of the state of the Church today. Much of the document doesn’t apply only to the youth, but should spark reflection in older Catholics as well. The document responds to a wide variety of challenges faced by groups of Catholics around the world, including religious liberty:

“The Church therefore needs to better support families and their formation. This is especially relevant in some countries without freedom of expression where young people – particularly minors – are prevented from attending church and as such, must be formed in the faith at home by their parents.” (Part 1)

The document discusses the need for solutions that will create real community and a sense of belonging within the Catholic community, which is often lacking:

“It is worth noting that the young person’s identity is also shaped by our external interaction and membership within specific groups, associations and movements which are also active outside of the Church. Sometimes, parishes are no longer places of connection. We also recognize the role of educators and friends, such as leaders of youth groups who can become good examples. We need to find attractive, coherent and authentic models.” (Part 1.1)

Indeed, much of the document’s content is related to the need for young people to have a sense of belonging and purpose in a diverse, rapidly changing society. Whether the issue is the rise of secularism and alternative philosophies, or the increasingly multicultural world we live in, the document stresses the need for the Church to present and act upon a model that will help young people understand their Catholic Christian faith and identity within the greater community:

“Many young people are used to seeing diversity as a richness and find opportunity in the pluralistic world. Multiculturalism has the potential to facilitate an environment for dialogue and tolerance. We value the diversity of ideas in our globalized world, the respect for other’s thoughts and freedom of expression. Still, we want to preserve our cultural identity and avoid uniformity and a throwaway culture. We should not fear our diversity but celebrate our differences and what makes each one of us unique. Sometimes, we feel excluded for being Christians in a social environment that is adverse to religion. We are aware that we need to encounter ourselves and others to build up profound bonds.” (Part 1.2)

The young people echoed Pope Francis’s call for a Church that listens and accompanies those who have special needs or have wounds that need to heal. Young people must be able to look to their pastors and community leaders as a place to turn when facing difficulty. Implicit in this request is a desire for pastors who know their people, who “smell like the sheep.” Young people, rather than being left wounded and hurting, should know that the Church is a place to turn in their hour of need:

“Some practical concerns make our lives difficult. Many young people have experienced great traumas in a variety of ways. Many still suffer under the weight of mental illness and physical disabilities. The Church needs to better support us and provide avenues to assist us in our healing.” (Part 1.3)

The document also states that young people also want to make their own positive contribution to a better society:

 “For this reason, young people seek to engage with and address the social justice issues of our time. We seek the opportunity to work towards building a better world. In this regard, Catholic Social Teaching is a particularly informative tool for young Catholics who also want to pursue this vocation. We want a world of peace, one that harmonizes integral ecology with a sustainable global economy.” (Part 1.3)

The document recognizes the concern that the Church has fallen behind in its understanding and use of technology, and emphasized that the Church needs to fully and competently engage modern society, especially in two important areas:

“First, by engaging in a dialogue with young people, the Church should deepen her understanding of technology so as to assist us in discerning its usage. Moreover, the Church should view technology – particularly the internet – as a fertile place for the New Evangelization. The outcomes of these reflections should be formalized through an official Church document. Second, the Church should address the widespread crisis of pornography, including online child abuse, as well as cyber-bullying and the toll these take on our humanity.” (Part 1.4)

The first part concludes with a paragraph that summarizes what young people truly want from the Church:

“Ultimately, many of us strongly want to know Jesus, yet often struggle to realize that He alone is the source of true self-discovery, for it is in a relationship with Him that the human person ultimately comes to discover him or herself. Thus, we have found that young people want authentic witnesses – men and women who vibrantly express their faith and relationship with Jesus while encouraging others to approach, meet, and fall in love with Jesus themselves.”

There is so much more that can be quoted here from the subsequent parts, but I suggest you read it all. It’s a very clear and straightforward document, composed with the contributions of young people from around the world. The one last excerpt I’ll share is one that affirms the great variety of tools that are available to young people in worship and prayer, reaching the great variety of styles, personalities, and experiences of people in our multicultural Church:

“The Church must adopt a language which engages the customs and cultures of the young so that all people have the opportunity to hear the message of the Gospel. However, we are passionate about the different expressions of the Church. Some of us have a passion for “the fire” of contemporary and charismatic movements that focus on the Holy Spirit; others are drawn towards silence, meditation and reverential traditional liturgies. All of these things are good as they help us to pray in different ways. Outside of the Church, many young people live a contented spirituality, but the Church could engage them with the right instruments.”

Hopefully the Synod Fathers will respond to this document in a way that will address the difficulties the Church faces in reaching, evangelizing, and forming young people.

Read it all.

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Posted by Synod2018 on Saturday, March 24, 2018

Image credit: Adobe Stock

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Pedro Gabriel, MD, is a Catholic layman and physician, born and residing in Portugal. He is a medical oncologist, currently employed in a Portuguese public hospital. A published writer of Catholic novels with a Tolkienite flavor, he is also a parish reader and a former catechist. He seeks to better understand the relationship of God and Man by putting the lens on the frailty of the human condition, be it physical and spiritual. He also wishes to provide a fresh perspective of current Church and World affairs from the point of view of a small western European country, highly secularized but also highly Catholic by tradition.

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