ROME — Ahead of the upcoming Synod of Bishops on Youth, one leading cardinal wants to make sure the meeting is not that of a “bunch of old men” talking about young people, but a gathering in which the voices of the protagonists come through loud and clear.
“It cannot be a synod about the youth, where a bunch of old men talk about the youth, it has to be an opportunity to listen to them, to learn about their experiences, demands, challenges,” said Cardinal José Luis Lacunza of Panama.
“I believe that, if we light a fire in the youth, there will be havoc, because by nature a young person is expressive, forthcoming, willing to take risks and come up with new ideas,” he said.
The word “havoc” is a loose translation of the mostly Argentinian word lio, which Pope Francis used for the first time when he was addressing thousands of Argentine pilgrims at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro (WYD) in 2013, a few months after being elected to the papacy.
Since there’s no literal translation for the word, “noise” or “mess” are also often used. In his remarks, Francis called on the youth to “go out on the streets” and raise havoc in their dioceses.
“I want the Church to go out onto the streets, I want us to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable, everything to do with clericalism, everything that might make us closed in on ourselves,” he said.
Young people are now being summoned by the Vatican to generate havoc not only in their dioceses but in the global Church, including both the Synod of Bishops on the Youth, to be held in October 2018, and the following year during World Youth Day 2019 in Panama.
“It’s from what young people tell us that we have to move forth, because if we don’t listen to their suggestions on how to evangelize, then [a synod on the youth] would be worthless,” Lacunza said.
The prelate was in Rome last week participating in an international gathering called, “From Krakow to Panama: The synod on the way with the young,” sponsored by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Family, Laity and Life, headed by American Cardinal Kevin Farrell.
Before the synod, youth from around the world will be asked to respond to a questionnaire which will be made available in May. But local bishops shouldn’t wait until the results come out, Farrell said, or even until WYD Panama, to begin working with young people.
“We would hope that all conferences of bishops, dioceses and bishops around the world would reach out to young people,” Farrell told Crux on Sunday at the Vatican’s press office.
He agrees with his Panamanian peer, in the sense that the hierarchy needs to learn to listen to young people, and not just “talk to them.”
This is something Francis excels at, Farrell said, mentioning in particular the pope’s off-the-cuff remarks to thousands of young people who’d gathered in Rome’s St. Mary Major Basilica on Saturday for a prayer vigil ahead of Palm Sunday.
The pope, Farrell said, “Was on fire!”
As is usually the case, the pontiff arrived at the meeting with a set of prepared remarks. However, after hearing the witness of a Franciscan sister and a young man who was pulled from the rubble of his school after it collapsed in an earthquake in 2002, killing his teacher and 27 classmates, Francis set his text aside and took notes instead, also a usual situation when he talks to the youth.
In October 2018 the bishops are supposed to reflect on the theme: “Young people, faith and vocational discernment.”
Yet Francis wants for it to be referred to as “the synod for young people,” one from which no young person feels excluded, be it that they’re Catholic or not, active in their parishes or questioning the existence of God.
“Every young person has something to say to others, something to say to the adults, to the priests, sisters, bishops and even to the pope. We all need to hear you,” Francis said on Saturday.
Young people appear ready to voice their thoughts. Together with Lacunza and Farrell, several dozen young people from Panama were on hand on Sunday, to talk to the press.
“If asked, I would tell the priest of my parish or my bishop to follow John Paul’s II call: ‘Don’t be afraid.’ We, the youth, are up to the challenge of bringing joy into spreading the Gospel,” said Carla Polo, 25.
But it’s not all on the bishops, she said: “We have to answer Pope Francis’s call from World Youth Day Krakow: Get up from our couches, put our sneakers on and get to work, putting our talents to the service of the Church, because oftentimes, we’re anesthetized!”
It’s this two-way street Pope Francis wants to see at work throughout the synod process and in WYD Panama.
During his remarks on Saturday, he asked the youth to reach out to their elders, ask about their dreams, and to work on making them a reality. Talking about WYD, with more than two years to go, Francis said that the pope will ask the youth if they’d complied.
“I don’t know if it will be me, but the pope will be in Panama, and he will ask you: ‘Did you speak with your elders?’”