Afterward, Cardinal Tobin, along with Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, led a discussion about the upcoming synod, an international gathering of bishops which will focus on “young people, the faith, and vocational discernment.”
“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 released in January stated.
“The Church cannot, nor does she wish to, abandon them to the isolation and exclusion to which the world exposes them,” the document added.
Both Archbishop Chaput and Cardinal Tobin exhorted their brother bishops to promote a survey of youth available online at youth.synod2018.va. It is intended for those between the ages of 16 and 29, both active Catholics and “indifferent” Catholics. The feedback of those working with youth – like youth ministers – is also vital, they insisted.
“This is a time to learn from youth and young adults,” Cardinal Tobin said. “They must have as much at stake in this as we do.”
According to a 2015 Pew Research report, 35 percent of those in the Millennial generation (born 1981-1996) were religious “Nones.”
However, there are also positive trends among young people, which include a high interest in the liturgical seasons of Advent and Lent, he added, and positive results of parish outreach ministries.
Other bishops weighed in on issues pertinent to young people.
Bishop Felipe Estevez of St. Augustine, Fla. said that the youth have been drawn to Eucharistic Adoration and have a “renewed appreciation for silence and desire for silence which manifests a thirst for spiritual life, for growth in the knowledge of the Lord.”
“We need to develop more the theology of gift,” he added, in a culture of “pragmatism” and “functionality.” Meditation on the gift in the Cross “needs to be internalized in the discernment of a vocation,” he said.
Many young people are struggling with racism prevalent in society and are “angry and disconnected from the political process,” Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento added.
The Church should think of “how to engage” these disaffected youth, who “feel in many cases disowned by the more traditional institutions and organizations that were important to their parents and grandparents,” he said.
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Invitation needs to be a theme of evangelization at the synod, said Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services, USA. He insisted that active Catholics need to invite their peers to prayer and to the Mass.
Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and founder of Word on Fire ministry, pointed to intellectual objections or challenges to the faith among many young baptized Catholics, like struggles with believing in God and perceived conflicts between religion and science.
The language of missionary discipleship and the sacraments is “opaque” to them, he said, insisting that “we have to clear the ground in a significant way” through a “new apologetics.”
The bishops must “think through this issue of addressing some of these real intellectual difficulties young people have before we can plant the seed of effective evangelization,” he said.
Dr. John Cavadini, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, started the discussion by addressing the bishops on the centrality of the sacrament of Baptism to vocational discernment.
In addition to being a theology professor at Notre Dame, Cavadini is also the director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the university, and previously served on the International Theological Commission from 2009, when he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI, until 2014.