By Junno Esteves
Pope Francis has invited Christian and non-Christian young people from around the world to a meeting in preparation for the Synod of Bishops on Youth in 2018.
Before concluding his weekly general audience, the pope said the 19th -24th March 2018 synod meeting will be an opportunity for the Church to listen to the hopes and concerns of young men and women.
“Through this journey, the Church wants to listen to the voices, the sensibilities, the faith as well as the doubts and criticisms of young people. We must listen to young people,” he said last month.
The theme chosen by Francis for the Synod of Bishops, which will be held in October 2018, is: Young people, faith and vocational discernment.
The general secretariat of the synod said the initiative “will allow young people to express their expectations and desires as well as their uncertainties and concerns in the complex affairs of today’s world”.
Young people attending the meeting will represent bishops’ conferences, the Eastern Catholic churches, men and women in consecrated life and seminarians preparing for the priesthood, the general secretariat said.
The gathering also will include representatives from other Christian communities and other religions and experts in the fields of education, culture, sports and arts, who “are involved in helping young people discern their choices in life.”
“The pre-synod meeting will enrich the consultation phase, which began with the publication of the preparatory document and its questionnaire, along with the launch of an online website containing a specific questionnaire for young people,” the synod office said.
Conclusions drawn from the meeting will be given to members of the Synod of Bishops “to encourage their reflection and in-depth study”.
Young people attending the meeting will also take part in the Palm Sunday Mass at the Vatican on 25th March, coinciding with World Youth Day.
Two young people share their thoughts on these issues.
Elise Italiano writes of her concern with solidarity between generations.
I can still feel the thick plastic cover over the checkered tablecloths under my fingers, still smell the faint aroma of almond extract mixed with something like mothballs in my nose. The week leading up to Christmas was the same every year of my childhood. In less than 24 hours, my brother and I made the rounds with my parents to the kitchen tables of every living great-aunt and great-uncle we had in New Jersey, and to the homes of a few paisanos, who I later learned were not actually of any blood relation to us.
I remember looking forward to the annual tradition. As soon as we stepped into each successive house, a fresh plate of biscuits was placed on the table. I will never forget the anticipation of my mother lifting the standard limit on sweets for a whole day.
Looking back now, I appreciate so much more. It was a dedicated time that my parents set aside for us to learn about our family’s history. It shaped our own sense of identity and what we learned to value as adults.
My relatives would laugh so hard with one another, reminiscing about their own youth. We still tell some of the stories that we heard around those tables, as if we had witnessed the events first hand. Looking at the ways in which the Church can hear the voices of young people is the primary focus of this column — but it’s also worthwhile to turn that question on its head. One such way is through a promotion of intergenerational solidarity.
It’s a challenging message for a culture that idolises youth, where older family members often live independently or in the care of people outside of a family.
One of Pope Francis’ favourite messages to young people has been to remember the elderly, to draw near to them and to learn from them. Earlier this year, Pope Francis pleaded with young people not to keep the elderly “in the closet” and encouraged them to foster intergenerational dialogue.
It’s for this reason that he has very often stressed the importance of grandparents — “Your grandparents have the wisdom, and furthermore, they have the need for you to knock on the door of their hearts to share their wisdom,” he said this September to the Shalom Catholic Community. He keeps a note from his grandmother in his breviary that he uses every day. Yet the pope has also said that young people should go out of their way to encounter and welcome the elderly who are not their family members. This will require proactive measures on our part, perhaps requiring us to go to the peripheries of our churches and communities to find them.
We should also ask our priests and pastoral staff where we can find them. Too often they go unnoticed but are beckoning for company and community. It will certainly require more listening than it does talking. It may involve awkward silences and patience and walking a little bit slower than usual. But isn’t the whole point of accompaniment to share in someone else’s journey, no matter its current direction or pace?
Pope Francis has reminded us that “the Church regards the elderly with affection, gratitude and high esteem. They are an essential part of the Christian community and of society.”
As the 2018 synod on vocational discernment aims to put the realities of young people front and centre for the Church, we’d also be wise to heed the wisdom of those who have prepared the way ahead of us.
Meanwhile, Jeanne Marie Hathway gives her perspective on the importance of social justice.
As a college student, I spend much of my time deliberating the great questions of our day, not least among them: the limp salad or the pizza? Shredded carrots and dressing could spruce up the former; the latter’s grease I could dab off.
But increasingly, the minimal effort required to render the inedible appealing is daunting enough that I choose not to eat at all. It’s a pathetic defeat. I’m not blind to the privilege of a cafeteria at my disposal, but I know that neither will satisfy my hunger.
Young Catholics today find ourselves in a similar type of political cafeteria of options ranging from unsavoury to utterly unfit-for-consumption. The preparatory document for the 2018 synod on youth discusses the despair that arises from this situation, naming young people’s “resignation or fatigue in their will to desire” in the face of causes they wish to champion. In my experience, this fatigue is traced to the fear that embracing one movement means abandoning others.
Our current political atmosphere forces us to choose which demographic plights we find most compelling: Will we vote to support the unborn, people of colour, women, people experiencing poverty or immigrants and refugees?
Suffering does not discriminate. But neither does the love of the cross. Poor options in the voting booth have blurred the line between the issues we feel passionate about and the people we give our compassion to.
My peers and I reject this equivocation. We are too sensitive to hypocrisy. Social media has afforded us interconnectedness and access to information. False dilemmas threaten our desire for consistency and truth.
Thankfully, there is an antidote: the whole-life perspective. Also known as the ‘consistent-life ethic’ or the ‘seamless garment approach,’ it is the belief that all life is inherently valuable and worthy of protection. Many consider it the natural progression of the pro-life movement because it points beyond the symptomatic issues of the culture of death to their causes: poverty, forced migration, and lack of education and health care.
When my peers and I look at the issue of abortion, we look to the underlying causes that might drive a woman to conclude that she has no other choice. What societal structures require reform (maternity leave, child care, education, health care) to make abortion not only illegal, but unthinkable?
The whole-life movement confirms our instinct that the preciousness of human life should be the starting point of policy, not an occasional by product. The whole-life perspective pulls us out of muddled party affiliations to ask:
Are these policies consistent with my respect for human dignity? Have I looked closely at their repercussions for the poor and marginalised? Am I settling for choices that degrade, rather than build up, the human family?
Potent as it is for young people, the whole-life perspective should be instinctive to Catholics of all ages. It is marked by intersectionality, the awareness that no issue can be authentically isolated because every aspect of life in society impacts on the others. The interconnectedness of all suffering and its proximity to the heart of Jesus is the great revelation of the cross.
How powerful it is, the realisation that the cruciform shape of our faith itself is an intersection, which by its nature drives us toward a central meeting place. In the intersection, we take the first step to healing the brokenness of suffering: encounter. The eternal cross outlasts every political platform. It is the best vantage point for the human condition.
Ultimately, this — the whole-life movement sprung from the heart of the cross — is the answer to every great question of our day. It pulls me out of the false dilemma to remember there are options beyond what I see before me: It is the realisation that, young as I might be, I still know how to cook.
Picture: Pope Francis with young people cross the Gate of Mercy at the Campus Misericordiae in Brzegi, Poland, 30th July 2016, during the evening vigil with pilgrims participating in the World Youth Day 2016.