The Synod of Bishops on Young People is now underway at the Vatican. This as young people in growing numbers are stepping away from the Catholic Church (and institutional religion in general), with many characterizing the church as outdated, patriarchal, unscientific, hypocritical, and even abusive.
For some, early photographs coming out of the synod reinforce such stereotypes. One online reader reacted this way to a news headline and photographs reporting the opening synod Mass:
“’Pope Francis urged bishops to reject conformism’ And yet look at the two pictures. The bishops are all lined up and wearing the exact same uniforms. This is truly a case where a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Pope Francis’s message to the world’s bishops in his homily at the Oct. 3 Mass urged anything but such lockstep cynicism, however. Speaking to the bishops, to the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square, and to the listening world, the pope urged the bishops to be empathetic, humble, listening, compassionate, and open to change. In his homily, as well as in other remarks made during the opening days of the synod, which runs Oct. 3–28 at the Vatican, the pope outlined requisites if the church wishes to be relevant, inviting, and inspiring to young people today. Following are excerpts from his Oct. 3 homily.
• Be a memory “that is diligent, living and effective, that does not allow itself from one generation to the next to be extinguished or crushed by the prophets of doom and misfortune, by our own shortcomings, mistakes and sins.”
• “Be a memory capable of enkindling our hearts and of discerning the ways of the Spirit.”
• Preserve “the memory of the Lord and rekindle in us his words that have made our hearts burn.” (cf. Lk 24:32)
• Dream: “Our young people will be capable of prophesy and vision to the extent that we, who are already adult or elderly, can dream and thus be infectious in sharing those dreams and hope that we carry in our hearts.”
• Hope, for hope can “broaden our horizons, expand our hearts and transform those frames of mind that today paralyze, separate and alienate us from young people. . . . Hope challenges us, moves us and shatters that conformism which says ‘it’s always been done like this. . . .’ Hope asks us to get up and look directly into the eyes of young people and see their situations. This same hope asks us to make efforts to reverse situations of uncertainty, exclusion and violence to which our young people are exposed.”
• Anoint “our young people with the gift of prophecy and vision.”
• “Cultivate one specific attitude: ‘Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others’” (Phi. 2:4).
• “Aim even higher, humbly considering others to be better than ourselves.”
• “Be really careful against succumbing to a self-preservation and self-centeredness which gives importance to what is secondary yet makes secondary what is important. . . . Aim for an even greater good that will benefit all of us.”
• “Accompany and encourage our young people to always continue prophesying.”
• Join “young people in facing the present with greater commitment and to work against whatever prevents their lives from growing in a dignified way.”
• Listen “to our people, so that we can breathe in with them the desire to which God calls us.”
• Listen (to God) “so that with him we can listen to the cry of the people.”
• “Listen to one another, in order to discern together what the Lord is asking of his Church.”
• “Listen, sincerely and prayerfully, as free as possible from prejudice and conditioning.”
• “Be part of those situations which the People of God experience . . . listening to God . . . listening to our people.”
During separate opening remarks to the bishops, Pope Francis reinforced again this mandate to listen: “This Synod has the opportunity, the task and the duty to be a sign of a Church that really listens, that allows herself to be questioned by the experiences of those she meets, and who does not always have a ready-made answer.
“A Church that does not listen shows herself closed to newness, closed to God’s surprises, and cannot be credible, especially for the young who will inevitably turn away rather than approach.”
Jerry Ruff, Senior Writer and Editor
Saint Mary’s Press Research
What advice would you offer the leadership of the Catholic Church, and especially the bishops, regarding its ministry with young people? Please contribute comments in the space provided below.