ROME – Young people who took part in a recent Synod of Bishops in Rome have said the month-long discussion was an overwhelmingly positive experience, one which they’re eager to take home and translate into action.
Yadira Vieyra, a young delegate from the United States at the Oct. 3-28 synod, told Crux that as she goes home, her goal is to work on “bringing the Church to life, making sure that when we preach the Gospel of Jesus, we do it in a way that exudes joy, because we have such beautiful teachings and it’s important not to teach them in a somber way. We have to be excited.”
Calling her overall experience in the synod one of joy, Vieyra said young people need to make sure they incorporate that spirit into their experience in the Church.
“They’re an integral part of the Church, so we have to go back to that joy when we’re all young and make sure that we incorporate that in the Gospel and in different ministries,” she said, adding that a priority for her is to foster intergenerational relationships.
Jonathan Lewis, also a young American delegate, said the Church will gain credibility to the extent that there is concrete follow-up on the synod, putting the discussion into action rather than leaving ideas on paper.
“Young people will find the Church credible when they find the Church active, reaching out to engage them,” he said, adding that the “great risk” for this month’s synod, which was dedicated to young people, faith and vocational discernment, is that “it requires action being taken not in Vatican City, but in each of our cities.”
An assistant secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington and a member of a national advisory team for young adult ministry, Lewis said the team has already gotten approval to establish an institution dedicated to young adult ministry.
One of the proposals in the synod’s final document was for just such centers and institutions to be established. With plans in the U.S. already underway, Lewis said he believes the entity will “better engage this age range,” referring to people in their 20s.
Lewis also said he was encouraged by a statement from Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Conn., who announced plans to hold his own diocesan-level synod gathering not just on young people, but with them as protagonists.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction, whatever form it takes, that we gather young people together to encounter one another and to build intergenerational friendship,” he said. “That has been the fruit of this synod first and foremost, and I hope that it will be the fruit in each of our local communities.”
Several young people who spoke to Crux, including Lewis and Vieyra, said they believe that of all the topics discussed – including the clerical sexual abuse crisis, migration, persecution, issues related to sexuality and women – the biggest theme for them was synodality, a term that made waves among some prelates for its prominent inclusion in the final text despite the fact that it had not been a major talking point during the meeting.
Lucas Galhardo, a young delegate from Brazil, said big talking points for him were listening and accompaniment, but the most important “is synodality, this culture of dialogue, this culture of encounter, really working and walking together.”
“I really believe, and I said this in my (speech), that we have to be conscious that we are working together, and that if we are still working together, it would be easier to manage these issues, to find the best ways to follow together, to walk together through all of these issues,” he said.
Galhardo said young people have a lot to offer to the Church, “we just need a little bit more space, more opportunity, but I really believe that by walking together we can really help to also do a better mission, to live the love and joy of Jesus for everyone.”
According to Lewis, the entire synod, in his view, was one of synodality, which he said is “not a new invention, it’s not an Anglican spin-off, it’s a first millennium experience of the Church where institutionalized roles were less acute than they are now and getting back to seeing one another as brothers and sisters.”
Lewis said that when he first read a draft of the final text, while the term had not been as prominent in the actual discussions, it lined up with his own experience throughout the month-long meeting.
“My sense is that it was taking the culture of what was experienced and reflecting that. As one intervention said, young adults are looking for a synodal church, to have their voices heard and to be at the table,” he said.
Lewis, Vieyra and Galhardo each said they felt genuinely listened to and included in the discussion, and that their contributions were taken seriously.
For Galhardo, part of the listening came not only through the synod discussions, but also novelties to the process such as online participation through social media, and through the pre-synod meeting which took place in March.
For Vieyra, another important part of the discussion was the voice of the religious sisters who were attending. The joy and enthusiasm they brought, she said, was “one of the greatest moments.”
Overall, she said the discussion on the role of women in the Church was “very fruitful,” and bishops were generally receptive to the idea of giving women more forms of leadership.
Vieyra said she would be “elated” to have a synod dedicated just to women in the Church, and she’s hopeful of progress.
“I know that within the Church, change takes time, but I’m very excited,” she said. “I was very pleased by the way in which a lot of the bishops, even within the small groups, were very receptive.”