By Elise Harris
VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News)—The importance of youth to both the present and future of the Church will be probed in the next world-wide Synod of Bishops.
The theme for the 2018 50th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, “Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation,” was announced in October of last year. The preparatory document for the synod has been released, indicating that young people will play an active role in both the preparation and the discussion.
“By listening to young people, the Church will once again hear the Lord speaking in today’s world. Listening to their aspirations, the Church can glimpse the world which lies ahead and the paths the Church is called to follow.”
Edgardo Juarez, Director of the Diocesan Office of Ministry with Young Catholics, is greeting the Synod with great anticipation.
“This will be an important platform for our young people to voice their opinions and to engage in their faith, to fulfill their baptismal role,” he said.
As with the recent Synod on the Family, the Vatican has called all dioceses to gather information on the topic of youth from young people, themselves, as well as those who serve them. Beginning in May, the Diocese of San Bernardino offered a 20-question survey available both online and in print. The survey period began this monthand ends July 21. The information will then be collated and summarized in a report to the Vatican that will be submitted in mid September.
The Diocesan survey can be found at http://www.sbdiocese.org/synod-on-youth/index.html
Beyond giving youth a voice in how they see their role in the Church, Juarez said he hopes that the Synod will yield concrete benefits.
“It’s a validation. We put value in who they are and what are their experiences,” he said. “But I also think this Synod will lead us into action, to better serve our youth and young adults.”
The peparatory document for the Synod is divided into three parts focusing on the themes of “Young People in Today’s World,” “Faith, Discernment and Vocation” and “Pastoral Action.”
While some of the questions are more general, others are divided by continent in order to grasp the differing realities of youth around the world, as well as to go outside of the “Western, European, even an Italian” lens through which the reality of the Church is often read, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri said.
He said the Synod of Bishops is taking time to ensure the language used for the questionnaire is more attractive and appealing than the “high, technical” speech frequently used by Church hierarchy.
Answers to both questionnaires will form the basis for the eventual drafting of the “Instrumentum Laboris,” or “working document” of the 2018 synod, which Baldisseri said ought to be ready at the beginning of next year.
“Young People in Today’s World”
The preparatory document defines youth as being individuals 16-29 years old, but also takes into account that the definition of “young” is different depending on where you’re from.
The text also covers several difficulties youth can face, including: unemployment, poverty, a lack of education, gang and drug violence, child soldiers, various forms of slavery and exploitation, globalization, environmental degradation as well as the differing causes of the increased number of migrants and refugees.
It also touches on the benefits and dangers of technology and the problem of child brides and women forced to marry against their will, noting that obstacles surrounding work and education specifically are “even more difficult for young women to overcome.”
Multiculturalism is another point emphasized, since societies are increasingly more intercultural and interreligious. From the faith perspective, the document says, “the situation is seen as a sign of our times, requiring greater listening, respect and dialogue.”
“Faith, Discernment and Vocation”
The second section of the text begins by saying that to respond to the challenges faced by today’s youth, “the Church, beginning with her Pastors, is called to make a self- examination and to rediscover her vocation of caring for others.”
It offered different ideas for accompanying youth, “beginning with the faith and listening to the tradition of the Church.” The ultimate goal is to support youth in their vocational discernment and in making “fundamental choices in life, starting from an awareness that some of these choices are permanent.”
It then posed the question: “how does a person live the good news of the Gospel and respond to the call which the Lord addresses to all those he encounters, whether through marriage, the ordained ministry or the consecrated life? Where can a person’s talents be put to good use: a professional life, volunteer work, service to the needy or involvement in civil and political life?”
Proper discernment is needed if these questions are to be answered, the text said, providing a three-step plan to discernment outlined by Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “to recognize” one’s thoughts and feelings, “to interpret” them and then “to choose.”
The document’s third section begins with a question: “How does the Church help young people accept their call to the joy of the Gospel, especially in these times of uncertainty, volatility and insecurity?”
A broad overview of pastoral activity is then given focusing on the different roles of those involved in the caring for the vocational discernment of young people.
When it comes to walking with youth, the document offers three tips for adopting a pastoral style similar to that of Jesus: “going out,” “seeing” and “calling.”
In a letter from Pope Francis coinciding with the document’s publication, the Pope told youth that “I wanted you to be the center of attention, because you are in my heart.”
He recalled how when he was in Krakow for World Youth Day over the summer, he had asked the youth on several occasions “Can we change things?” to which they responded with a loud, resounding “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 in to the globalization of indifference,” Francis said, urging young people to “listen to the cry arising from your inner selves!”
Pointing to the example of how St. Benedict urged his abbots “to consult, even the young, before any important decision” since “the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best,” Francis said that this is also the case for the upcoming synod.
“My brother bishops and I want even more to work with you for your joy,” he said, and prayed that Mary would “take your hand and guide you to the joy of fully and generously responding to God’s call with the words: ‘Here I am.’”