Youth to be protagonists in upcoming synod of bishops

Pope Francis arrives to meet with youth at Kasarani stadium in Kenya on Nov 27 2015 Credit Martha Caldaron CNA Pope Francis arrives to meet with youth at Kasarani stadium in Kenya on Nov. 27, 2015. | Martha Caldaron/CNA.

With the 2014-2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family barely falling out of sight, the preparatory document for the next synod dedicated to youth has been released, indicating that young people will play an active role in both the preparation and the discussion.

"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 for the 2018 synod read.

"The Church cannot, nor does she wish to, abandon them to the isolation and exclusion to which the world exposes them."

The theme for the 2018 50th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, "Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation," was announced Oct. 6, 2016.

According to the document, in choosing this specific theme, the Church wanted to not only ask herself "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."

Released Friday, the document for synod is divided into three parts focusing on the themes of "Young People in Today's World," "Faith, Discernment and Vocation" and "Pastoral Action."

It concludes with a series of questions directed at the synods and councils of patriarchs of the Eastern Catholic Churches, episcopal conferences, dicasteries of the Roman Curia and the Union of Superiors General.

While some of the questions are more general, others are divided by continent in order grasp the differing realities of youth around the world, as well as to go outside of the "Western, European, even an Italian" lens through which the reality of the Church is often read, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri said.

Cardinal Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, presented the text at a Jan. 13 news conference alongside Bishop Fabio Fabene, Undersecretary of the Synod, as well as two youth, a man and woman pursuing university degrees and who are actively involved in their parish life, as a sign of the synod's interest in making youth more than just observers in the discussion.

In addition to the questions included in the text, a separate questionnaire specifically aimed at youth and "their expectations and their lives" will be available online. Though it's not active yet, Cardinal Baldisseri said the site is expected to be ready by March 1, and will be

He said the Synod of Bishops is taking time to ensure the language used for the questionnaire is more attractive and appealing than the "high, technical" speech frequently used by Church hierarchy.

When asked about the participation of youth in the synod discussions, Baldisseri said "the synod is a synod of bishops," but the auditors, who participate in the meeting but can't vote, will include young men and women with different vocations from around the world.

Answers to both questionnaires will form the basis for the eventual drafting of the "Instrumentum Laboris," or "working document" of the 2018 synod, which Baldisseri said ought to be ready at the beginning of next year.

"Young People in Today's World"

The preparatory document defines youth as being individuals 16-29 years old, but also takes into account that the definition of "young" is different depending on where you're from.

While the text clarifies that in no way does it provide a complete reading of the situation of youth today, it does say that in order to get an accurate perspective, certain factors need to be taken into consideration, such as how countries with high birth-rates where young people make up the majority of the population differ from those where population is diminishing.

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Also important to keep in mind is the history that separates countries or continents where Christianity is an ancient part of their tradition and culture, versus others where "Christianity is the minority and oftentimes only recently present."

Special attention is also given to the growing differences related to gender, "masculine and feminine." While gender on one hand "determines different perceptions of reality," on the other it is often the basis "of various forms of domination, exclusion and discrimination, all of which societies need to overcome."

The text also covers several difficulties youth can face, including: unemployment, poverty, a lack of education, gang and drug violence, child soldiers, various forms of slavery and exploitation, globalization, environmental degradation as well as the differing causes of the increased number of migrants and refugees.

It also touches on the benefits and dangers of technology and the problem of child brides and women forced to marry against their will, noting that obstacles surrounding work and education specifically are "even more difficult for young women to overcome."

Multiculturalism is another point emphasized, since societies are increasingly more intercultural and interreligious. From the faith perspective, the document says, "the situation is seen as a sign of our times, requiring greater listening, respect and dialogue."

The document also points out that youth need both personal and institutional points 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."

However, it also notes that youth can be "cautious by nature" when it comes to those outside their realm of relationships, leading them to "nourish mistrust, indifference or anger toward institutions," including the Church.

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The skills of youth are needed in order to overcome these challenges, the document says, explaining that "it is significant that young people - often withdrawn into a stereotype of passivity and inexperience - propose and practice alternatives which show how the world or the Church could be."

"If society or the Christian community want to make something new happen again, they have to leave room for new people to take action."

"Faith, Discernment and Vocation"

The second section of the text begins by saying that to respond to the challenges faced by today's youth, "the Church, beginning with her Pastors, is called to make a self- examination and to rediscover her vocation of caring for others."

It offered different ideas for accompanying youth, "beginning with the faith and listening to the tradition of the Church." The ultimate goal is to support youth in their vocational discernment and in making "fundamental choices in life, starting from an awareness that some of these choices are permanent."

It then posed the question: "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? Where can a person's talents be put to good use: a professional life, volunteer work, service to the needy or involvement in civil and political life?"

Proper discernment is needed if these questions are to be answered, the text said, providing a three-step plan to discernment outlined by Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: "to recognize" one's thoughts and feelings, "to interpret" them and then "to choose."

As with all important things in life, "vocational discernment is a long process unfolding over time," during which the different signs given by the Lord "to indicate and specify a vocation that is very personal and unique" must be monitored.

"Pastoral Action"

The document's third section 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?"

A broad overview of pastoral activity is then given focusing on the different roles of those involved in the caring for the vocational discernment of young people.

When it comes to walking with youth, the document offers three tips for adopting a pastoral style similar to that of Jesus: "going out," "seeing" and "calling."

Pope Francis has often voiced his desire for "a Church that goes out," but when it comes to vocational discernment, the synod's preparatory document says that accepting this invitation from the Pope first of all means "abandoning the rigid attitudes which make the proclamation of the joy of the Gospel less credible" and tossing out a way of "acting as Church which at times is out-dated."

When it comes to accompanying youth on the path of discernment, the text emphasizes that parents, educators and priests all have primary roles in forming youth and walking with them as they discover what God wants for their lives, beginning with how they are called to serve him.

It also distinguishes between spiritual accompaniment and psychological support, which often "has a basic importance."

Pope Francis

In a letter from Pope Francis coinciding with the document's publication, the Pope told youth that "I wanted you to be the center of attention, because you are in my heart."

He recalled how when he was in Krakow for World Youth Day over the summer, he had asked the youth on several occasions "Can we change things?" to which they responded with a loud, resounding "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 said, urging young people to "listen to the cry arising from your inner selves!"

"A better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity," he said, telling them not to be afraid of the "bold choices" proposed to them by the Holy Spirit and to not delay "when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master."

"The Church also wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith; even your doubts and your criticism," he said, telling youth not to be shy in making their voices heard, even to their priests.

Pointing to the example of how St. Benedict urged his abbots "to consult, even the young, before any important decision" since "the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best," Francis said that this is also the case for the upcoming synod.

"My brother bishops and I want even more to work with you for your joy," he said, and prayed that Mary would "take your hand and guide you to the joy of fully and generously responding to God's call with the words: 'Here I am.'"