(A series of columns focused on and written by millennials and young adults)
By Elise Italiano and Christopher White
Catholic News Service
The very fact that over 300 young people — joined by another 15,000 virtual participants via social media — came together to produce a document to be read and studied by bishops around the world in preparation for the Vatican’s 2018 synod on “Young people, the faith and vocational discernment” is no small feat.
The near-unanimous consensus on a range of issues facing young people in the church today also is a small miracle in itself and offers an example to the rest of the church at a time when some of its more established leaders, continuing to fight old battles, are adding to the climate of polarization rather than overcoming it.
There’s much to be gained from the document, clocking in at just over 7,000 words, that we and our fellow columnists will continue to unpack in the months leading up to the October synod, but for now we’ve identified three themes that we believe make this document — and the potential for this synod — a significant moment in the life of the church.
First, we couldn’t help but sympathize with the call for Christian companions, or mentors, who walk alongside young people to help shape our vocations.
For starters, this recognizes the essential role that many laypeople have in shaping the vocational calling of young people — something we both have been fortunate to benefit from in our own lives and something we believe makes for a deeper, more honest experience of faith that can be shared between generations.
“Mentors should not lead young people as passive followers but walk alongside them, allowing them to be active participants in the journey. They should respect the freedom that comes with a young person’s process of discernment and equip them with tools to do so well. A mentor should believe wholeheartedly in a young person’s ability to participate in the life of the church,” said the presynod document.
While the process of finding and identifying mentors is both personal and local, dioceses and parishes would do well to consider how they can better aid in this process. It’s a small but significant step that can strengthen both the local community and the church as a whole.
Second, the document calls for the church to confront the questions raised by secularism head-on and recognizes that the challenges posed by an age of unbelief are coming at an increasingly rapid pace.
“There is still an opportunity for the church to propose another ‘way’ for young people to live their lives, but this needs to be done so within often-complicated social frameworks,” stated the document.
The participants asked for the church to proclaim teachings that are difficult to understand and sometimes challenging to live “with greater depth of teaching.” Saying the same thing in the same way or more loudly isn’t moving young people toward a better understanding and appreciation of the church’s approach to polemical issues like homosexuality, contraception and cohabitation.
They were clear that the church can use a refresh in the language and methods it uses when engaging the culture and its own flock on these issues.
Finally, we think it’s a blessing to the entire church that the process engaged non-Catholics and nonbelievers in crafting the presynod document. This is precisely what Pope Francis talks about when he begs the church not to become self-referential.
If the church is serious about its evangelizing mission, it has to better understand the experience of those who are lost and searching, those who have been hurt, and the way that the church is perceived — both positively and negatively.
In the words of Katie Prejean-McGrady, a U.S. delegate, “To hear that there are young people who do not have your experience or worldview should not anger you but rather should inspire you to ask the bishops to work on winning their hearts and minds to the faith — and maybe inspire you to do the same.”
“Beyond institutional decision-making, we want to be a joyful, enthusiastic and missionary presence within the church,” wrote the participants in the presynodal process.
That creativity and vigor were on full display in Rome last month — something we believe the rest of the church would do well to emulate and embrace in preparation for the months ahead.
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Italiano is the founding executive director of The Given Institute.
White is national correspondent for Crux. Follow him on Twitter @CWWhite212.