Young people want to find “peace, love, trust, equality, freedom and justice” in the Church. They also search for security, the capacity to listen, consideration, readiness to welcome the contribution of others. These are young people from every corner of the globe, belonging to different faiths, having different beliefs, coming from different social, economic and cultural backgrounds. Even young people who “do not follow traditional religions or say they are religious” but who are “open to spirituality” and want to work for others and for the common good are looking for a guide to provide direction and meaning in life.
The young people themselves shared these ideas at a meeting that took place in Rome from March 19th -24th: this meeting was a preparation for the XV Ordinary Synod of Bishops on “Young people, the faith and vocational discernment” that will take place in October 2018. It was Pope Francis himself who wanted this Synod. The 300 young people present for the preparatory meeting and another 15 thousand linked up by web told the Church – gathered to listen in this way for the first time ever – all about their hopes and challenges and what they would like to find in those who are God’s ministers. They also spoke of what they are looking for in society as a whole. They shared their experiences and offered their suggestions to help ensure that the message of the gospel reaches an increasing number of young people, that it is expressed in the right way and with an attitude that is humble and open to dialogue.
At the invitation of Pope Francis who asked the young people to speak openly and to be “cheeky” enough to ask difficult questions, they said very clearly that they wanted “attractive role models who are genuine and who do what they say”, “real witnesses who speak the gospel with their lives”, “men and women who can speak with passion about their faith and their relationship with Jesus and encourage others to draw close to him.” They want the Church to be welcoming, merciful, humble, human, inclusive, coherent, believable, “able to empathise with all the young people in the world” and show “tenderness” towards people to “don’t believe in following certain standards.” They are looking for “rational, critical responses to complex questions” such as sexuality, “addiction, marital and family breakdown” and to “the big social problems such as organised crime, human trafficking, violence, corruption, exploitation, murder of women and destruction of the natural environment.”
They admit to not having a single, unified vision about complex issues such as migration and welcoming refugees even though there is “a universal duty to care for the dignity of every human being.” They also feel that there is little agreement among young people – neither within the Church nor in the broader world – about controversial issues such as “contraception, abortion, homosexuality, living together, marriage and even how the priesthood is understood.” Nonetheless, even the young people who do not share in the Church’s teaching still “want to be part of it.”
Furthermore, they are shocked by the current “political, social and economic instability” and ask the Church to be “solid and with a preference for those who are struggling on the margins of society.” They want a sure guide because “simple answers are not enough.” They also expect the Church to acknowledge the mistakes it has made, all that it has failed to do and even its most painful wounds. This is the only way they can believe and trust the Church.
Young people ask to be more involved in decision making, to be given responsibility and leadership roles in a broader context such as parish groups. They also feel that women should be involved more, that there should be more possibility for them to use their talents. They want the Church to be present and to search for them in the social and virtual worlds that they inhabit – in the bar, on the sports field and in social media. They also want to know more about the sacraments and to attend both large-scale events such as the World Youth Day as well as small ones in the diocese and parish. They want to be included, to be part of a group – “even a small local group where we can ask questions and share our Christian life is so important in nurturing and preserving our faith.”
In conclusion, they are young people looking for their vocation in the world and for the meaning of life. They care for and cultivate their own spirituality – and almost always – see the Church as a great partner. Now it is up to the Church, as it has said itself, to take notice of what they are saying. The next appointment is in October at the Synod Assembly but, in the meantime, the Pope has said, “You will be taken seriously.”
Claudia Di Lorenzi