Young People Clear the Synod Air

The clergy-abuse issue isn’t being ignored, but youth synod participants are focusing on its themes of faith and vocational discernment.

Young people gather in St. Peter's Square Oct. 3 to commence the youth synod with Pope Francis. 
Young people gather in St. Peter's Square Oct. 3 to commence the youth synod with Pope Francis.  (photo: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA)

Young adults in Rome this week, as the youth synod gets underway, are being frank about what the Church needs.

“The Church is an instrument of healing, but, right now, the Church needs healing,” said Aly Cox, a law student at the University of Notre Dame.

But persevering through the ongoing sex-abuse discussions and investigations, the theme of “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment” is not unforgotten.

At a separate event hosted by the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture Thursday, young people from seven countries shared their testimonies of faith.

“First, we need the Church — no matter how sick the body is — because we’re a part of this body,” said Wenxuan Yuan, a theology student at Notre Dame from Beijing, China. “We are not giving up.”

Yaun became Catholic when she was 14 years old and has been inviting her friends and peers to Mass ever since.

“The Church needs us because we are the future, so the Church should try to guide us on the right way from the beginning,” Yuan said.

That’s the consensus among many.

“This is a moment to reprioritize young people in the life of the Church,” said Jonathan Lewis, a synod auditor who works for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

Lewis, who is the archdiocese’s assistant secretary for pastoral ministry, will give a statement to the synod on mentorship and how to accompany young people in the Church by forming mentors of faith. By the end of the synod later this month, he hopes that something practical will come out of the discussions, in order to invest more resources in engaging young people in parishes, schools and movements that will include intellectual, spiritual, emotional and pastoral formation to mentors of all ages.

“This is not a programmatic response; it’s empowering and forming every Catholic in every church to mentor and build relationships with young people,” Lewis said.

The synod fathers have been open to listening to young people and engaging in dialogue.

“This does not mean adapting the practices of the Church to please the youth,” said Filipe Domingues, a collaborator of the special secretaries of the synod. “It means, perhaps, to be open to understand why they are where they are and then analyze in each situation how to approach them with the right language and method.”

Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles said that the Church puts too much time, energy and money into institutions rather than practically going out to greet people and invite them to meet Christ in a personal way.

“Now, so many young people aren’t coming to our institutions, and we have to go find them and move into their space,” Bishop Barron said.

Bishop Barron also mentioned that, although this is a meeting focused on young people, the scandals are massively affecting how the Church reaches out to youth.


Local Involvement

Locals in Rome are also getting involved in the synod atmosphere. Just a few steps away from the Synod Hall, the Church of St. Lawrence is hosting an extension of the synod.

“We need to focus not only on healing the wounds of the young people, but to get them involved in the mission of the Church,” said Father Christiano Pinheiro, international assistant of the Shalom Catholic Community and caretaker of the St. Lawrence Center.

The parish is inviting young people to come to adoration to pray for the synod’s intentions, Monday through Friday from 9am to 5:30pm, as well as a vigil Oct. 20 at St. Mary Major to pray “in the footsteps of the Virgin Mary.”

“The synod is a good starting point, but it’s not everything. We need to live in the Church, which includes the mission of young people,” Father Pinheiro said.

Keeping the future of the Church in mind, BBC created a series of faith-based community discussions called “Heart and Soul Gathering.”

For their second program, five young panelists from countries such as Nigeria, Brazil and Samoa will meet in the center of Rome Oct. 17 at the Teatro Flaiano to have an open dialogue on what young people want from the Catholic Church.

They will discuss their views on issues such as human sexuality, leadership in the Church, the role of women, and how the Church can help young people navigate the digital world.

“It’s about giving young people a voice,” said Louise Clarke-Rowbotham, the program’s producer. “The young people’s discussions are very different than what the Church is discussing.”

As the synod took off, attendees were ultimately looking for unity in action and a dialogue that speaks to the heart of all.

In addition, clergy are looking for common ground with youth and the laity at large.

As Bishop Godfrey Igwebuike Onah from Nigeria said to young people: “We are struggling with the same emotions … and rejoice in the little achievements we make on our road to holiness as you do.”

Rachel Lanz is a Register staff writer based in Rome.