US pre-synod delegates: Youth need authentic Catholic witnesses

Young people listen to Pope Francis at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, April 8, 2017. Credit: Lucia Ballester/CNA.
Young people listen to Pope Francis at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, April 8, 2017. Credit: Lucia Ballester/CNA.

.- The United States delegates to a pre-synod gathering in Rome this week have said they think young Catholics in the nation need – and desire – faithful and authentic accompaniment in order to live the faith and to form a relationship with Christ.

“The common thread that we kept going back to… was the need for companionship for young people, and how there’s this real desire to meet authentic people who are authentic witnesses,” delegate Katie Prejean McGrady told CNA.

“That word [authentic] came up frequently. And then the whole concept that it didn’t matter where you were from, and it didn’t matter what the state of the Church was, young people respond far better to personal relationships and one-on-one interactions with people of faith.”

Prejean McGrady, a wife, mother, youth minister, and speaker from Louisiana, is one of four representatives – all in their 20s – who were chosen by the U.S. bishops as delegates to the Vatican’s pre-synod gathering happening ahead of the October Synod of Bishops on young people.

Prejean McGrady spoke to CNA March 21 alongside Br. Javier Hansen, FSC, a LaSallian Brother who teaches religion in El Paso; Nick López, a single young adult who is the director of campus ministry for the University of Dallas; and Chris Russo, a Byzantine Catholic who works as a research technologist at a hospital in Boston.

The pre-synod gathering has included discussion among young people from all over the world as they help to prepare and edit a document which will serve as a guide for bishops during the synod. The final document will be presented Saturday, and given to the Pope at Palm Sunday Mass.

Speaking to CNA, all four delegates said that the growing number of young Americans not practicing the faith they were given is one of the major concerns they brought to the meeting, and something they would like to see addressed.

Prejean McGrady said that she thinks one reason for the disaffiliation is that many Catholics in the US were catechized in a way that merely presented “bullet points to learn or these things to do”, rather than integrating these as part of the basis for a relationship with Christ.

She also noted that it is her belief that having “companions on the journey” makes it “much easier to build that relationship.”

Delegates also expressed frustration at feeling that older generations often place the blame of youths' disengagement from the faith on the young people themselves, and do not admit their own share in the responsibility.

Russo said that people to whom he’s spoken are “very distressed about disaffiliation in the Church,” but those “who ask why young people are no longer involved in the Church, are the same people who then criticize, saying, ‘oh, well, you’re too young to understand or to express an opinion.’”

Lopez agreed that it often feels like older generations think young people “don’t care” or are “too distracted,” but he takes hope in the fact that bishops are making an effort to listen to young people. He also expressed his desire that adults outside the hierarchy will also be inspired to listen more.

The four acknowledged that disaffiliation is also a problem in other parts of the world, and that it is not the only challenge young Americans have in common with youth in other parts of the globe.

They noted the increase in mental illness, the effects of media, and pornography use, in particular.

Because the meeting's participants come from different backgrounds, including different religions, Prejean McGrady said that not everyone in attendance has had a positive view of the Church. But in general, the discussions have been instructive and focused on cooperating with the Church, not tearing it down.

She said that she thinks there’s great hope “because we were already brought to the table. I think that’s the bishops appealing to us, saying we want to know how to meet you face-to-face.”

Br. Javier expressed the desire that the same sort of discussions happening at the pre-synod meeting could take place on a national or local level, creating a conduit for communication with young people.

In the end, the delegates all emphasized that young people are both the future of the Church and the Church now.

Russo also requested that the world continue to pray for everyone involved in the Synod. “This is only an initial step – this isn’t the be-all-end-all,” he said. “This isn’t ending, this is something so, so much bigger. We have to talk to our communities… we’re the Church.”

Tags: Synod of Bishops, Synod on Youth, Synod 2018