“I want you to be the center of attention because you are in my heart” (Pope Francis, Letter to Young People, January 13, 2017). The 15th Ordinary Assembly of Bishops will be held in Rome this October. Pope Francis has focused the synod on the theme of Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.
Pope Francis envisions the theme as “an expression of the pastoral care of the Church for the young” and a follow-up to the recent Synod assemblies on the family and the post-synod apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). The synod’s aim is “to accompany the young on their journey to maturity so that, through a process of discernment, they discover their plan for life and realize it with joy,” leading to an encounter with God and others and to building up the Church and society (cf. Vatican Bulletin, October 6, 2016).
Who are “the young” that are the focus for the synod? Although we in the United States define “youth” as ages 12-18 and “young adult” as ages 18-39, the synod will focus on ages 16-29 and their pastoral needs. Reaching out to our young people “is not an optional task for the Church, but an integral part of her vocation and mission in history. Just as our Lord Jesus Christ walked alongside the disciples of Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-35), the Church is also urged to accompany all young people, without exception, toward the joy of love” (Instrumentum Laboris for 2018 Synod).
Pope Francis has a special love for young people and they for him. I witnessed this firsthand when I participated in World Youth Day held in Krakow in August 2016. At that time, the Holy Father encouraged the young people to change the world and to go forth and make a difference. In his letter to young people concerning the October synod, Pope Francis referenced the Krakow gathering.
“At the opening of World Youth Day in Krakow, I asked you several times: ‘Can you change things?’ And you shouted: ‘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 into the globalization of indifference. . . . A better world can be built as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity. Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposes bold choices; do 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. Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls” (Letter to Young People, January 13, 2017).
Pope Francis invited young people to share their input with him through social media before and during the pre-synod gathering. The online dialogue offered them a number of questions and the opportunity to communicate their hopes, fears, dreams, and grievances through the hashtag #TellItToFrancis. The questions covered a variety of topics ranging from formation of personality, relationships with other people, dreams for the future, relationship with technology, and encountering Christ and the Church to the search for meaning in life and vocational discernment. Their responses and the reflections of 300 young representatives from around the world, convened in Rome March 19-24, were synthesized and contributed to the working document for the synod of 2018.
Research confirms that our young people are disconnecting with the Church at greater rates than previous generations. There is a growing awareness of the challenges that young people face today, namely, economic struggles, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, isolation, anxiety, and societal pressures. Young people are looking for support and desire the Church to accompany them through these concerns. They want to be listened to and heard by the Church and invited to leadership roles. Moreover, regarding vocational promotion, more work needs to be done in the promotion of priesthood and the consecrated life for college students and young adults as well as vocations to marriage and family life and the call to holiness for all the baptized.
The 15th Ordinary Assembly of Bishops is a beacon of hope for our young people and the entire Church as it addresses the desires and challenges of young people to be disciples of Jesus and engaged actively in the Church and its mission. Please join me in prayer for the Synod:
“Lord Jesus, in journeying towards the Synod, your Church turns her attention to all the young people of the world. We pray that they might boldly take charge of their lives, aim for the most beautiful and profound things of life and always keep their hearts unencumbered. Accompanied by wise and generous guides, help them respond to the call you make to each of them, to realize a proper plan of life and achieve happiness.
“Keep their hearts open to dreaming great dreams and make them concerned for the good of others. Like the Beloved Disciple, may they stand at the foot of the Cross, to receive your Mother as a gift from you. May they be witnesses to your Resurrection and be aware that you are at their side as they joyously proclaim you as Lord. Amen” (Pope Francis, April 14, 2017).
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.