Archbishop Fisher Highlights Main Points of Small Groups, Sixth General Congregation

The archbishop of Sydney pulls together some of what he sees as the most salient points discussed in the latest meetings of the youth synod — and meets the two Chinese bishops.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP (photo: Edward Pentin photo)

The great need for young people today to have a “compass,” the need to give them an undiluted form of Christianity, and several criticisms of the synod working document were just some of the points raised during the most recent sessions of the youth synod, according to Archbishop Anthony Fisher. 

The Dominican archbishop of Sydney, Australia, has drawn together what he sees as the most important areas discussed, and has kindly shared them with the Register below.

After today's morning session, at a meeting of the synod's communications council of which he is a member, Archbishop Fisher also said he met the two Chinese bishops who are the first from mainland China to attend a Vatican synod.

Pope Francis invited two Chinese bishops to take part in the meeting after the Sept. 22 provisional agreement was signed between the Vatican and China. The two bishops, John Baptist Yang Xiaoting of Yan'an, and Joseph Guo Jincai of Chengde, are thought to have been chosen by the Chinese state authorities, and belong to the state-run church.  

“I told them my mother was born and grew up in Shanghai and so I am a bit Chinese!,” Archbishop Fisher said. “It turns out that despite the new ‘concordat’ with the Vatican and that these are government-approved delegates, the two bishops are only permitted to attend half the Synod. Sad, but better than nothing.”

Here below is his summary of the “various interventions from experts, youth auditors, and bishops at the sixth general congregation.

Amongst the points made: 

• in many contexts families and communities do not support young people in choosing particular vocations; education of families and communities regarding vocational discernment is needed

• “A Christian is either a militant or an apostate” (Pius XII); but those who rightly choose the former (= missionary discipleship) may feel very lonely, unprepared, unaccompanied, and may ultimately end ups disillusioned 

• importance of the new movements in supporting young people in faith and vocational discernment 

• young people must learn to be “contempl-active”

• in situations where Christians are a minority (e.g. Pakistan) the majority try to poach our young people, especially our young women; requires focused efforts to hold them close

• problems of depression and anxiety amongst many young people (happy on the outside but unhappy on the inside); as Jesus with the rich young man, we must help young people disencumber themselves and experience the freedom to follow Him

• is there a search-for-God engine? Not if we want fullness of life; the restlessness of youth is not addressed with one click answers; must aim for wounded healers with big hearts, not single-minded soldiers with big muscles; must accept that young people will experiment and may not follow Church teaching yet we still accompany them

• we should ask big things of the young, not acquiescing in a diluted Christianity; as JP2: “I am a friend, but a demanding friend... you must ask demanding things of yourself”; we must teach young people to engage in the gift of self

• we must help young people cultivate prayerfulness; we cannot assume they have seen their parents pray or even their priests; Ukrainians have established schools of prayer for young people in their monasteries and bishops’ houses

• We’ve failed to provide a Catechumenate for Marriage; love doesn’t come cheap

• need to reflect on single vocations as expressions of marriage, priesthood and consecration in the life of the baptised who are none of these; analogical thinking about vocations

• seminarians too easily dismissed as ignorant or traditionalist and needing to be tamed: we must receive them as gifts to the Church

• absence of direct attention in IL to disabled youth must be corrected in the second part: 77

• need for ecological awareness amongst the young: a sobriety that resists consumerism, a spirituality that generates deep joy without endless consumption, a liberation from waste


Some notes and impressions from the small group reports:

1. “Meaningful questions and sensible answers” rooted in Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life of young people - this was the call of the first circle. Intergenerational relationships are developed by one generation daring to trust the other. Accompaniment needed by young people with respect to affective-sexual life, media, education, family fragility, migration. Listening, empathy, integrative - a ‘Synodal Church’ - is needed. A final message to young people is recommended.

2. IL is inspiring but we need greater clarity about the goal of any document. We need to face up to abuse which damages our credibility among the young. Encounter, dialogue and self-criticism are better than plain ‘listening’. Some young people find the Church uninspiring and so any Synod document must be inspiring. Need to consider what is working in evangelising young people and with young people. Theology of Childhood as time of reception of faith and sacraments for which particular pedagogies are appropriate. Theology of Adolescence as time of discipleship, criticism, self-expression. Theology of Young Adulthood as time of mission and engagement with the world...

3. In some countries a large proportion of young people are disengaged from the Church. We must hear their implicit challenge and consider its implications for our perennial salvific mission. Need for modern witnesses. Pastors need formation in the situation of youth today and effective ways to engage. We must be willing to discuss sexuality with young people in a more open way and small group recommends a document on this. In other countries the focus will be more on the needs of migrant youth.

4. Document should commence not with sociology but with icon of the Emmaus story. Only then will see-judge-act work. IL is too negative, focussing on problems, when we could and should give many examples of success with young people. IL very Western and does not sufficiently address youth if poorer countries. Need for spiritual maternity and paternity. Reflection on digital culture in IL should be better integrated; digital migration to the e-world creates rootlessness like that of those moving between continents. Child sexual abuse underestimated in IL as force undermining relationship with young and evangelising efforts. Strong emphasis on listening in IL might seem to diminish Church’s teaching role, but there is no necessary tension between listening and teaching. Restless heart of Emmaus story and St Augustine might be leitmotif for our document. 

5. Faith/Christological frame not just for moments of interpretation and choice but also in prior moment of recognition. Part I of IL was too negative. Ambivalent values of new media.  Our teaching on human person, body and chastity needs to be presented clearly to young people desperate for moorings. We cannot skim over child sexual abuse in a few sentences (as in IL) which has undermined so much of what we would like to do with young people; we must rebuild trust one person at a time by letting the Church be seen in her authenticity and fragility. Dichotomy between young people and the Church false as young people are members of the Church.

6. Great differences of context amongst young people of our world. Many pressures on young people compromise their ability to discern well and experience genuine joy. Meaning of corporeality, sexuality, intimacy in a digital world needs fuller treatment than presently in IL. Need for more penetrating critique of digital world.

7. IL too often speaks of young people as if they we outsiders to / rivals with the Church - “they” not “we”. Document must be more Scriptural, much shorter, more accessible and more positive than IL. Need for more on the positive experiences many have of family life and Catholic schools. Must be clearer about the difference between a job and a vocation. Many terms / sentences in IL are unclear or will confuse readers. Too much ecclesial self-flagellation in IL.

8. This group joined others in critiquing the lack of God/ Christ/ Holy Spirit in Part I of IL; the Joceist methodology need not mean being secular in the recognition moment of the process. Young people today need education in motherhood and fatherhood as their own experience may be limited or negative. Family ministry is one of the best ways to help youth. Our schools must be faithful and evangelical and pastoral. As other groups this group though 52-53 on body and affectivity needs major reworking. 

9. Value of World, National and Diocesan Youth Days very powerful. Parishes can use recreational and sporting opportunities to connect with young. Christian anthropology and sexuality needs fuller treatment. Some discussion of adaptation of liturgy to attract the young. Episcopal conferences might use the IL and final document as checklist.

Bruno Cadoré, the Master-General of the Dominicans, was rapporteur for one of the groups. 

10. An accessible message to young people is recommended alongside the major document. The Word of God - especially the Emmaus story - should frame the document. Young people are not outsiders to the Church (but IL regularly talks as if they were another religion with which we are in interfaith dialogue or from a country that has not yet heard the Gospel). Accompaniment not just about approval but about enabling conversion. Often the adults known to young people are not themselves credible witnesses to the Gospel. In individualistic cultures salvation too easily reduced to psychological therapy...

11. Sheer range of young people emphasised: they are not a homogeneous demographic. Overlap with previous Synods because quality of family so shapes youth. Final product of Synod should be a different kind of ‘document’ to that of other Synods - more accessible, visual, direct. Discussions of youth poverty, digitisation, enclosure in bubbles, false freedoms... Church as Mater et Magistra must confront languages and cultures highly resistant to the transcendent. Must address high tech developments, inequality and disability. 

12. Church’s seeing/hearing young people must be done as Christ looked and heard, through His eyes (not some supposedly ‘neutral’ eyes); the Church as Mater et Magistra listens and speaks. As with other groups, this one sought greater attention to the importance of the family (as the stable union of a man and a woman open to nurturing children) for formation and support of young people. Migrant youth need evangelical hospitality from us and should not be seen as a threat. Young people scandalised by divisions within the Church, yet we cannot even agree on when to celebrate Easter! Young people respond to powerful ecclesial moments, but there must be follow-up.

13. This group focused on how the Synod might better communicate its message (short reports, videos, a letter directly to young people, an apostolic exhortation with study Guide etc.). The IL is too negative and neglects the role of young people as protagonists in the new evangelisation not just passive recipients. The document needs a section on friendship. 

14. Young people need a compass today more than ever, and a basis for community integration. This group focused on needed principles of discernment, such as Christian joy, intergenerational relationship, integrity of person & affectivity, inclusion of outsiders, liturgical beauty...

+Anthony Fisher op”

Inset photo: Archbishop Fisher with one of the two Chinese bishops attending the synod. Credit: Archbishop Anthony Fisher