VANCOUVER, British Columbia — As parish youth coordinator at St. Matthew’s in Surrey, Eleanor Wong sees firsthand the struggles that young people have with the church, so she’s welcoming a new pastoral letter from Canada’s bishops that tells young people they have unique contributions to make to the church and to the world.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral letter to young people Oct. 12, in honor of the anniversary of the death of Blessed Carlo Acutis.
The letter addresses some of the “prominent concerns and struggles” facing young people and presents them with a vision of a church in which they can take ownership and find belonging, said Wong.
“It was good to see issues that I see in my ministry addressed in a document from church authorities,” she told The B.C. Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Vancouver. “It makes us feel heard.”
The pastoral letter was drafted by the CCCB’s Office for Evangelization and Catechesis and the Office for Family and Life at the request of the bishops’ executive committee.
The bishops said the letter can be used for individual reflection, as well as in group settings such as schools and parish or diocesan youth groups and can help with family faith formation.
The letter was released in written and video form and was the result of synodal conversations held with young people and teenagers in the fall of 2020 during the height of the COVID pandemic.
The greatest fruit of those conversations was the understanding that young people want to “engage in meaningful discussions” about faith, the world, and their hopes and dreams, said the bishops, who affirm young people in their desire to be heard and to have their experience and wisdom validated.
“Dialogue offers a chance to understand one another better,” says the letter. “It creates a space where the Gospel message can ignite a spark deep within our hearts and transform each of us.”
The letter places a special focus on technology and faith, noting that many young people were grateful for technological solutions during COVID-19 isolation such as livestreamed Mass and online youth group meetings, especially those with prayer and music.
While the letter notes the many ways that technology can be a “viable means to encounter Christ in others,” it doesn’t shy away from the fact that young people also reported their use of social media can be “all-consuming, meaningless and even hurtful, which leads to feelings of isolation, loneliness and diminished self-worth.”
“Even though technology is designed to bring people together, it can leave us feeling more socially isolated than ever,” the letter says.
By releasing the letter on the feast of Blessed Carlos, the bishops hope to emphasize his approach to technology as a way to address many of these concerns. Blessed Carlos was well known as an amateur programmer and enjoyed playing video games with friends and so offers a productive model for properly integrating those aspects of life in the Christian life.
Most notably, Blessed Carlos created a website documenting eucharistic miracles and “used his gift with technology to evangelize and proclaim the Gospel through” the use of technology, says the letter.
The letter addresses concerns that young people have regarding mental health, including anxiety and depression, both of which the pandemic exacerbated. The bishops advise young people to speak to someone they trust when needed and to invest themselves in their communities and families.
The letter also encourages young people not to let their fears and anxieties stop them from finding courage and strength in Christ.
“Christ is always with us. … Pope Francis reminds that ‘we should not be hesitant, afraid to take chances or make mistakes,'” the bishops say.
“The greatest response you can give to the gift of life is to take that life and live it fully.”
The bishops also thank young people for their desire to learn and to ask questions about the faith.
“We understand that when you have questions about your faith, you want to be taken seriously,” they say, “and (you) expect meaningful responses from church leaders. We were humbled by your desire to listen.”
The bishops say they will make ongoing faith formation for young people a priority for their pastoral planning, taking inspiration from young people who have a knack for creatively finding ways to learn about their faith.
“The church relies on your originality and creativity, your enthusiasm and youthfulness, to build up the kingdom of God on earth,” says the letter. “Your witness to the good news of Jesus Christ can have a big impact on those around you.”
The letter closes by telling young people that their gifts are uniquely suited for the struggles the church finds itself in today.
“We are committed to finding opportunities to spend time listening, learning, and growing in mutual understanding. The church needs your vitality and enthusiasm,” say the bishops.
“Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you and help you to understand how to use your unique gifts and talents for good.”
The letter quotes Blessed Carlos and calls young people to recognize and cultivate their uniqueness: “Everyone is born as an original, but many people end up dying as photocopies.”
“Be an original! Arise and become who you are meant to be,” the letter ends.
Elbers is a staffer on The B.C. Catholic.