ROME – According to a young American who participated in a meeting earlier this year in Rome ahead of the Oct. 3-28 Synod of Bishops, the gathering is a chance to confront the clerical sexual abuse crisis “head-on” but also to show that the Church is more than that.
“That’s not to downplay what we’re facing, it’s to say that this is the moment to not run and hide, but to face it upfront, and to have conversations about how to articulate the faith to the generation that is questioning, especially because of this,” said Katie Prejean McGrady, a Catholic speaker, writer and podcaster.
“If, perhaps, those in power have lost credibility, then I think they need to apologize not only for what they’ve done, but also to ask us what they need to do better – and then listen, with humility and openness, to our answers,” she told Crux in an interview.
She said that she believes that the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment is not one of “platitudes,” but one that’s announcing to the world that young people will no longer “be shoved to the margins of the Church, but brought to the forefront to be heard, valued, and welcomed – and their gifts to then be used.”
Crux: Having participated in the pre-synod meeting, what are your expectations with the gathering starting in Rome this week?
Prejan: I have a lot of hope that young people who are present, and who of course contributed at the pre-synod will be both heard and listened to. Not just as a political ploy (which I don’t think any of this is), but as authentic witnesses of what they yearn for from the Church: honesty, Truth, beauty, and opportunities to meet Christ.
The pre-synod was a week of community building, honest dialogue, and a beautiful witness to the great joy that can come from young adults being honest about their love of the Church and their desires for her. I’ve described it to many people as young-adult Catholic summer camp: we were gathered in fellowship, prayer, discussion, and sharing for a week, and each day was a chance to grow ourselves as we learned of new realities and talked together about our hopes and dreams.
It was a snapshot of what I think the Church should do all the time – bring young people to the table, ask them about their day to day reality, and then show them it’s a good thing they are there. I’m hopeful what we experienced there – that great community – is reproduced at the synod, with the bishops, watching and understanding how young adults are good together in community and long for the Church to be a home to them.
I also expect, and would hope, that what we wrote in our final document at the pre-synod (much of which has been quoted in the Instrumentum Laboris) is wrestled with. I think it’s a very good thing that some bishops have been challenged by what we said – it shows that they were perhaps surprised to learn of the realities youth and young adults face every day. I also think it’s good that there are young people at the synod itself, contributing to discussions, offering ideas, and hearing what the bishops themselves have to say.
This is a snapshot of dialogue, which we lack in this current culture and climate, and I think it can be a vision of how all people should engage with one another, but especially in the Body of Christ.
You’re a young person yourself, who talks with young people about their faith on a regular basis. Do you notice an interest in the Synod of Bishops?
So yes and no. A lot of youth and young adults know the synod is happening, but don’t entirely know what it’s all about or why it matters. It’s that last part, why it matters, that worries me. This is not a synod of just “platitudes” (at least I hope not). This is a synod that’s announcing to the world that no longer will young people be shoved to the margins of the Church, but brought to the forefront to be heard, valued, and welcomed – and their gifts to then be used.
So, what I want more than anything else is for youth and young adults to pay attention to the goings-on of this synod…to read the interventions that are published, to write open letters expressing their thoughts and desires, and then ultimately read the final document that’s produced and see if it not only fits their experiences, but also see how it can apply to their lives going forward.
If the Synod Fathers asked Katie Prejean for advice on how to best reach out to the youth, what would you tell them?
I’m Cajun. I come from a small town in Louisiana where people are known for sitting on back porches with a sweet tea, chatting about life. In my world, lots of stories are told. Those stories are both memorable, and hugely influential. Stories matter. They give a snapshot of the heart and mind of a person, and they articulate in a beautiful way not only what they believe but the experiences they’ve had in life that have formed their identity.
In that vein of thinking, I’ve found that when we share our stories of faith – when we articulate how we’ve encountered Jesus, how the Sacraments have deeply and profoundly changed us, how we’ve been able to serve others with the hands and feet of Christ – those stories move peoples’ hearts and inspire them to deepen their own faith.
I want the bishops of the world to be able to give authentic, personal testimony to their relationship with Jesus, and how they’ve fallen in love with Him. Their stories are important for us to hear. Not just a story told in a rehearsed, formal way, but a real expression of their struggles and doubts, their experiences of discernment and formation as young men, the moments when they’ve been surprised by and swept up by the glory of God…those stories can move people to deep, unrelenting faith, and challenge them to seek the Lord themselves. I would ask them to be unafraid to honestly tell us their stories, to know that they will be met by young men and women who want to know them as faithful men, not just diocesan managers, but as shepherds who know their sheep.
I’d also tell them to put young adults in charge of designing parish bulletins. Those need…revival.
Due to the recent crisis in the Church, including Chile, McCarrick, and the Pennsylvania grand jury report, we’ve heard some people say that the Church has lost all credibility, and even others saying that the synod should be suspended. What’s your opinion?
The Church has faced hard times many times before. I think this particular moment of crisis is especially challenging because of the evidence of systemic cover-ups by those in the hierarchy, which then makes all of the hierarchy not only suspect but calls anything they say into question. I think, now more than ever, we need this synod on young people – the ones who seem most challenged and hurt by these abuses and this cover-up.
The synod is a chance to confront that head on, but to also show how much bigger, and greater, the Church is than that crisis. That’s not to downplay what we’re facing, it’s to say that this is the moment to not run and hide, but to face it upfront, and to have conversations about how to articulate the Faith to the generation that is questioning, especially because of this. If, perhaps, those in power have lost credibility, then I think they need to apologize not only for what they’ve done, but then to also ask us what they need to do better – and then listen, with humility and openness, to our answers. Furthermore, for far too long young people and the challenge of them leaving has been kicked down the road.
We’ve ignored this crisis of youth and young adults long enough: now is not the time to keep ignoring, but to confront that crisis, and the other crises, and be unafraid to fix it.
Anything else you’d like to address?
I hope youth and young adults see this synod as not only important, but a reason for hope. We matter. Pope Francis and the bishops have told us that – that our voices are important, that our opinions and ideas are valuable, and that what we can bring to the Church is significant. We are not side-lined in the Church, only important when we tithe or when we are older, but important now, and in fact, needed in the life of the Church.
With that in mind, this month of the synod, all of us, especially youth and young adults, should be praying intensely for open hearts and humble minds to be moved by the Spirit, and for the work of this synod to bear great fruit for us all for years to come. With that in mind, I’d like to challenge my fellow young adults to fast and pray all October – to do as Pope Francis has said and pray a rosary daily, and to offer small sacrifices and penances for those who are gathered in Rome, doing this good work.