ROME – Prelates from around the world gathered in Rome for this month’s Synod of Bishops said young people can be agents of positive change and can help to heal ecclesial wounds with their zeal for the faith.
In their concluding document for the Oct. 3-28 synod, dedicated to young people, faith and vocational discernment, participants said young people must be protagonists in the Church and that as ecclesial leaders, “we don’t just want to do something ‘for them,’ but to live in communion ‘with them.’”
Participation of young people “is not optional” but “an indispensable element for the life of every community,” the document said, adding that the fatigues and fragilities of young people “help us to be better.”
“Their questions challenge us, their doubts challenge us on the quality of our faith. Even their criticisms are needed, because not infrequently through these we hear the voice of the Lord who asks us for conversion of heart and the renewal of structures,” the text reads.
Many young people have left the Church “because they have not found holiness, but mediocrity, presumption, division and corruption,” the text continued, and lamented the fact that the world is “outraged” by the abuses perpetrated by certain agents of the Church, “rather than vivified by the holiness of her members.”
Because of this, the document said that the Church “must make a decisive, immediate and radical change of perspective! Young people need saints who form other saints.”
“The balm of holiness generated by the good life of so many young people can cure the wounds of the Church and the world, taking us again to that fullness of love to which we have always been called: holy young people push us to return to our first love.”
Bringing the month-long discussion to a close, the 56-page document follows the same “see, judge, act” formula as the original Instrumentum Laboris, or working document, but is only half the length.
Released after the closing Oct. 27 session, the text touches on a wide range of issues, including hot-button topics such as the abuse crisis, women and homosexuality, as well as the benefits and challenges of technology, issues related to sexuality, and the need to listen to and accompany young people.
Questions on sex
With questions on issues related to sexuality among the most pressing in the lead up to this month’s synod discussion, the final document offered a comprehensive look at both the Church’s teachings on sexuality and the challenges of living it out.
Developments in science and biomedical technologies “strongly influence the relationship that both adults and young people have with the body, leading to the perception that it is modifiable without limits,” the document says.
Sexual promiscuity, sexual “tourism,” and an “exaggerated worship of the physical aspect” of the person are all distortions of what sexuality is intended to be in the eyes of God, the document says. Added to this are new challenges in the digital world such as the “pervasive” spread of online pornography, and the display of one’s body on the internet.
In response, synod participants said the Church’s longstanding teaching on chastity outside of marriage “must be kept in mind, showing its relevance in different life situations, without an attitude of judgement.”
The document notes that many people find the Church’s teaching on chastity difficult to understand, and some distance themselves from the Church because of its moral teaching on sexuality, believing it to be harsh and judgmental. Big questions, it says, are the differences between “the masculine and feminine identity, the reciprocity between men and women, and homosexuality.”
One major topic in the synod discussion was the growth of the digital world, with many prelates striking a more negative posture while others snapped selfies with Pope Francis which they shared on social media.
The final text noted the impact that technology has had on “the notion of time and space, on the perception of oneself, of others and of the world.”
Having changed the way the world communicates, the document said, technology offers an approach to reality which “tends to favor image over listening, and reading is changing the way of learning and the development of a critical sense.”
On a positive side, the document said social media can be an “extraordinary opportunity” for dialogue, encounter, an exchange of ideas and access to information. The digital world can also lead to greater socio-political participation and “active citizenship,” and it can help to protect vulnerable people by revealing violations of their rights.
However, on the other hand, the document also noted that digital platforms can often be isolating, becoming places of “solitude, manipulation, exploitation and violence,” such as on the so-called “dark web.”
Cyberbullying was also named as a new form of violence causing harm to people throughout the world, and other risks were named such as gambling, pornography and online sexual exploitation.
A spike in the spread of “fake news,” easily spread through online platforms, “has generated a culture which has lost the sense of truth and bends facts to particular interests,” the document said, adding that peoples’ reputations are also jeopardized through online scrutiny, including the Church’s pastors.
Migiration and more
Another major point of discussion throughout the synod was the topic of migration, which the document said is a “structural phenomenon, and not a transitory emergency,” especially given the high number of young people who migrate.
Particular attention must be paid to those forced to leave their homes due to “the contradictions and injustices of our world,” such as violence, war, political or religious persecution, extreme poverty or natural disasters.
Other people choose to migrate because they are attracted to Western culture, at times harboring “unrealistic expectations which expose them to heavy disappointments,” the document says.
Pointing to risks migrants often face throughout their journey, including trafficking, drug and arms cartels, violence and various physical and psychological abuses, the document drew specific attention to the plight of unaccompanied minors and those forced to spend “many years” in refugee camps or in countries of transit, “without continuing their studies nor expressing their talents.”
Mention was made of the “xenophobic” attitudes held toward migrants in some developed nations, whose mentality can often be one of “closure and of withdrawal into oneself,” rather that reacting with welcome and a willingness to dialogue.
Also stressed in the document was the need to protect vulnerable populations, particularly those living in situations of poverty or persecution.
Special mention was also made of the “precious contribution” offered by young people who live with disabilities or other limitations such as illness. Participants urged initiatives which recognize individuals with disabilities and which “allow them to be protagonists: from the use of sign language for the deaf, suitably designed catechetical itineraries and various forms of association of job placement.”
The document condemned “the spread of the plague of abortion” and the increase in drug use and gambling among young people and adolescents who struggle due to poverty or in situations of social disadvantage.
At one point, the final document suggests that young people exercise “co-responsibility” in their local churches, as well as in bishops’ conferences and in the global Church.
A request was made to strengthen the office for young people within the Vatican dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, with the suggestion of creating a body that represents youth at an international level. National bishops’ conferences were also asked to create a “directory of youth pastoral” to help form those responsible for youth ministry, with a special emphasis on vocational discernment.
Finally, a suggestion was made for a “creative and flexible renewal” of institutions and formation centers for evangelization directed at youth capable of becoming places of encounter in daily life, “generating a new type of apostolate which is more dynamic and active.”