[Editor’s Note: As the Synod of Bishops on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment draws to a close, twelve students from the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture’s Sorin Fellows program spent a week in Rome meeting with synod delegates, volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity, and traveling on pilgrimage to some of Rome’s historic churches. Below are their reflections on the synod process and the challenges facing young people today.]

Keenan White, Senior

The particularly daunting task of synthesizing the concerns of the youth of the world—from South Bend to South Africa to South Korea—can sound like a losing battle.

We were challenged to think about the ways in which such a system disproportionately burdens poorer dioceses and potentially disservices the problems of world youth by taking on such a breadth of issues without the ability to account for the relative severity of each.

For example, while the sexual abuse scandal looms large for bishops of many Western countries (the United States among those most affected), other dioceses, particularly in the Middle East, face widespread anti-Christian persecution. Both are issues well worthy of being addressed, but neither can necessarily be given the attention it deserves within the limited timeline and broad scope of a synod.

It was proposed that a potential solution could be to begin such discussions at the local level, starting within individual dioceses and extending to the regional, national, and continental levels before culminating in a conversation convoked by the Vatican. In such a way, the focus could be less on the particular problems of each region, and more about synthesis: incorporating the findings of each region into a wide-reaching document that could address prevailing themes.

As the Church moves forward towards greater transparency and lay participation, reevaluation of the synod system may be in order. It may be worth taking a step back to evaluate whether this tradition is serving the needs of the Body of Christ in the most effective way.

Noelle Johnson, Junior

The greatest gift that the Church can give to the youth of today is what Jesus instituted the Church to protect: the Eucharist and his teaching about living lives conformed to himself.

It would be a tragedy for the Synod on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment” to try to offer the youth of the world anything else. St. Paul writes in the Letter to the Colossians, “So, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted in him and built upon him and established in the faith as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.  See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ” (2:6-8).

Jesus thirsts for each of us and wants to give us his Sacred Heart. It is because of this that he has shared himself with us and taught us how to live a life in accordance with his will. The youth of today, with our unique generational challenges, thirst for the truth that only Christ can give us. This is what the Church should share as well—Christ, and not an empty human philosophy.

John Hale, Sophomore

This morning, our group had the opportunity to serve with the Missionaries of Charity sisters at their shelter for homeless men at San Gregorio al Celio. Working with these sisters, whose vocation it is to serve the impoverished as contemplatives in action, was the most impactful experience I’ve had on this pilgrimage so far.

Upon arrival, we were blessed to be able to pray in the very room Mother Teresa stayed in when she came to Rome. After we prayed, the sisters split us up into three groups. One group worked to produce Mother Teresa relic cards—3,000 in all!

It was so beautiful to see the genuine care these men had for their brothers. This beauty-in-action was taken to another level when I realized that these men, who don’t have families, were impacted by the witness of the sisters who so joyfully care for them. Seeing the pure joy in the sisters’ eyes and hearing the love in their laughter brought me a sense of profound peace I have not experienced anywhere else.

The previous night, my roommate and I were talking about what it means to answer the Lord’s call to love Him radically, and our conversion was on my mind all day during our time with the sisters.

When we received the relic cards which our fellow students had produced, we decided to choose them at random—each card had a different quote from St. Mother Teresa. The one I pulled said “Learn to love until it hurts.” I got chills immediately, taking it as a direct message from Jesus through his servant Mother Teresa.

I will never forget this day of service and the impact these sisters’ joy had on me! Today, God put in my heart a desire to dig deeper and learn how to love. To love as these sisters love. To love with the joy that these men have.

We are all called to love until it hurts, imitating the perfect witness of Jesus in his passion, death, and resurrection.

The full texts of reflections from all Notre Dame students can be found here.