ROME—Following the lightening rods that were the last two Synods of Bishops in 2014 and 2015, which culminated with Pope Francis’s document on the family Amoris Laetitia, the engines are already revving for the next summit of Catholic prelates from around the world, this one dedicated to youth and vocations.
“Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment” is the theme of the next gathering of bishops, to be held in Rome in Oct. 2018, and judging from a preparatory document released Friday, the young won’t just be a topic at the gathering, but protagonists.
“Through every phase of this Synod, the Church wants again to state her desire to encounter, accompany and care for every young person, without exception,” a preparatory document released by the Vatican on Friday says.
“The Church cannot, nor does she wish to, abandon them to the isolation and exclusion to which the world exposes them.”
The lives of young people, struggling against losing themselves in violence or death, and hoping that disappointment doesn’t alienate them, are issues that should be of great concern for all those who have been “baptized in the faith,” the text says.
If the document is any indication, young people will be more than mere study subjects for the bishops.
“In pastoral activity, young people are not objects but agents,” it says. “Oftentimes, society sees them as nonessential or inconvenient. The Church cannot reflect such an attitude, because all young people, without exception, have the right to be guided in life’s journey.”
According to the document, by youth the synod means people aged 16 to 29, but it takes into consideration that in some regions the definition of “young” varies.
The text also says that the Church has decided to “examine herself on how she can lead young people to recognize and accept the call to the fullness of life and love,” but also to “ask young people to help her in identifying the most effective ways to announce the Good News today.
“By listening to young people, the Church will once again hear the Lord speaking in today’s world. Listening to their aspirations, the Church can glimpse the world which lies ahead and the paths the Church is called to follow.”
The document was presented in Rome on Friday with a press conference. It included the usual cast of Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, and Bishop Fabio Fabene Under-Secretary of the Synod of Bishops. But putting in evidence the intention to include youth in the process, two young people, a woman and a man, were also present.
Elvis Do Ceu Nicolaia Do Rosario, from Cape Verde, said that the fact that they had been included in the presentation also proved that “we’re willing to go out to the field, not in the future that hasn’t yet arrived but for a present that calls on us to build the civilization of love.
“We’re sure that the bishops will ‘lose their time’ with us the youth, not only to talk to us but to listen to us, with the objective of building a younger and fresher Church,” Do Rosario said.
Asked about the participation of the youth in the synod, Baldisseri said that “the synod is for bishops,” but the auditors, who participate but have no voting rights, will be young men and women from around the world.
Vocation: faith, conscience and discernment
The document presents some ideas regarding the accompaniment of young people, “beginning with the faith and listening to the tradition of the Church.” The goal is to support them in their vocational discernment and in their “making fundamental choices in life,” including creating awareness that “some of these choices are permanent.”
A key element of vocational discernment, as put forward by the document, is conscience.
“To discern the voice of the Spirit from other calls and decide how to respond is the task of each person. Others may accompany and affirm a person, but they can never take another person’s place in this regard.”
Vocational discernment itself is also explored in the text, saying that the synod will be focused on this “process by which a person makes fundamental choices, in dialogue with the Lord and listening to the voice of the Spirit.
“The question of how a person is not to waste the opportunities for self-realization is part-and-parcel of every man and woman,” it says. “For the believer, the question becomes even more intense and profound, namely, how does a person live the good news of the Gospel and respond to the call which the Lord addresses to all those he encounters, whether through marriage, the ordained ministry or the consecrated life?”
Discernment leads to a decision regarding one’s vocation and “every vocation is directed towards a mission undertaken with reluctance or enthusiasm.” The Church is called to accompany the youth in their path, accepting “her call to collaborate in the joy of young people rather than be tempted to take control of their faith.”
Understanding the subject
The document is divided into four sections, the first one of which speaks of “young people in today’s world,” and which begins by acknowledging that it’s in no way a complete representation of said reality.
However, it does say that to have a complete picture of the lay of the land, it’s imperative to see that there are differences among the world’s regions and that they determine the reality of the youth. For instance, situations change from countries with high birth-rates where young people make up a significant proportion of the population, from those where population is diminishing.
Then there are differences based in history: there are regions of ancient Christian tradition and culture, “which should not be lost” and those whose culture is marked “by other religious traditions in which Christianity is the minority and oftentimes only recently present.”
Finally, the document says, there are differences that arise according to gender, “masculine and feminine.” Gender, it says, “determines different perceptions of reality,” but it’s also “the basis of various forms of domination, exclusion and discrimination, which all societies need to overcome.”
The text released on Friday also refers to “a rapidly-changing world” that can make long-term planning a challenge, with new previously unforeseen situations arising: from lack of job opportunities to increased migration.
“It should not be overlooked that many societies are increasingly multi-cultural and multi-religious,” the document says. “In particular, the presence of different religious traditions is a challenge and an opportunity.”
Another issue that comes up are the “new generations,” with young people living in a world different to that of their parents, with different obligations and opportunities, and the challenge of multi-culturalism.
The document uses unspecified studies “conducted at the international level” to identify characteristics common to today’s youth, such as their desire to belong and participate. From the Church’s perspective, this means for instance that they don’t want to be “passive recipients of pastoral programs.”
Youth these days, it says, also need to have personal and institutional points of reference.
“Young people look for persons of reference who are able to express empathy and offer them support, encouragement and help in recognizing their limits, but without making them feel they are being judged.”
Young people, the document argues, are “cautious by nature” of those outside their circle of personal relationships and “oftentimes nourish mistrust, indifference or anger towards institutions.” This can be directed toward society, but increasingly affects educational institutions and the Church.
Lastly, the first section of the document acknowledges young people are heading towards becoming a “hyper-connected generation.”
The third section of the document begins with a question: “How does the Church help young people accept their call to the joy of the Gospel, especially in these times of uncertainty, volatility and insecurity?”
Then an overview is given of the pastoral and vocational care of young people, taking into consideration those involved in these tasks, the places where this guidance takes place and the resources which are available.
Though it’s the preparatory document for the synod, it’s not the final one that will kick-start the discussions in 2018. This document proposes a pastoral style based on three principles: “going out,” “seeing” and “calling.”
A Church that “goes out” is something Pope Francis has often spoken about, and the document presents it as “abandoning the rigid attitudes which make the proclamation of the joy of the Gospel less credible” and “giving up a way of acting as Church which at times is out-dated.”
“The young will find the Church more attractive, when they see that their unique contribution is welcomed by the Christian community,” the document says.
“Seeing” as a pastoral strategy means spending time with the youth to understand their concerns, joys, hopes and anxieties. “Calling,” instead, means “awakening a desire and jarring people from what blocks them or from the complacency which slows them down.”
Homework, and a letter from Pope Francis
The document, which is addressed to the bishops of the world, episcopal conferences, the Roman Curia and the Union of Superior Generals, concludes with a series of questions, that they’ve been asked to submit before October, keeping in mind the length of the responses.
Young people around the world will also be asked to answer their own set of questions through a website that hasn’t yet been announced. In a letter addressed to the youth, the pope himself urged the youth to see the document released on Friday as a their “compass” in the synodal process. The site is not yet active, but Baldisseri said during the presentation that the address will be www.sinodogiovani2018.va.
Explaining why he chose this topic for the XV Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Francis said: “I wanted you to be the center of attention, because you are in my heart.”
The pope’s letter was released by the Vatican’s press office on Friday. In it, the pope also reminds the youth that when he opened World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland last summer, he had asked them several times “Can we change things?”
“And you shouted: ‘yes!’ That shout came from your young and youthful hearts, which do not tolerate injustice and cannot bow to a ‘throw-away culture’ nor give in to the globalization of indifference,” Francis wrote.
The questionnaire includes some basic statistics gathering, such as number of inhabitants, birth rate and percentage of young people. Then there are 15 questions, divided in three sections: “Young People, the Church and Society,” “Pastoral Vocational Programs for Young People” and “Pastoral Care Workers with Young People.”
There’s a fourth section in the questionnaire, titled “Specific Questions According to Geographic Areas,” which divides the responses into regions: Africa, America, Asia and Oceania and Europe.
The answers to both series of questions will be the basis for drafting the “work-document” or Instrumentum laboris, which will guide the discussion of the synod fathers in 2018.