WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a June 17 presentation to the U.S. bishops at their annual spring assembly, which was virtual again this year, Dallas Bishop Edward J. Burns announced a proposal to develop a new national pastoral framework on accompanying youths and young adults in the church.
He said the work will be presented to the body of bishops for review at their November 2022 meeting. It will be developed by the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.
After his presentation, the bishops voted on the proposal, with the tally announced June 18, the final day of their meeting. The measure passed with 222 voting in favor of it. Seven bishops voted against; there were no abstentions.
Burns, a member of that committee and the youth episcopal liaison to World Youth Day 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal, said this new pastoral framework would be in light of “Christus Vivit” (“Christ Lives”), Pope Francis’ 2019 reflections on the previous year’s Synod of Bishops on young people.
That work encouraged young people about their place in the church and also urged older people not to stifle the enthusiasm of the young.
“A church always on the defensive, which loses her humility and stops listening to others, which leaves no room for questions, loses her youth and turns into a museum,” Pope Francis wrote in “Christus Vivit.” “How, then, will she be able to respond to the dreams of young people?”
Burns said the 2018 synod urged Catholic leaders to come up with a plan to accompany youths and young adults and he said the proposed document he was announcing was an attempt to do just that.
The bishops developed a similar resource document for young adults in 1996 called “Sons and Daughters of the Light.”
“The landscape has shifted in the past 25 years,” Burns said, stressing that a new look at current challenges in the light of faith can provide a “chance to shape and lead our young people.”
The audience for the new document will be Catholic leaders and emerging leaders, he said, with the hope to unite young people and raise them to “something greater” while celebrating their diversity and acknowledging the realities they face.
It will be “rooted in Jesus Christ and the sacramental life of the church,” he added.
The pastoral framework “will not have all the answers,” but it will provide direction, he said. He also urged fellow bishops to reach out to him with ideas and input.
The bishop’s message was prerecorded, but he took questions and comments in the online format afterward.
In their comments, the bishops supported the proposed document and also had some advice about things it should address.
Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Richmond, Virginia, said one aspect that should be highlighted is social media’s current influence and how it “fights against our sacramental understanding of encountering one another.”
Retired Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, emphasized the need to talk to young people and listen to them for this work which was echoed by Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, who urged the committee to listen to concerns and anxieties of young people and focus on issues that are important to them.
Bishop John E. Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, said: “We’re often preaching to the choir with our work with young adults and young people” and urged the committee to remember to reach out to the nones — those who do not have or no longer have a religious affiliation — and also those who “fall outside our normal realms of ministry.”
“Don’t forget them,” he said.