The Final Document of the Synod of Bishops on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment contains the thoughts and plans of the Church as she ministers to young people. The document is divided into three parts with part one titled, “He walked with them”, part two titled “Their eyes were opened” and part three titled “They set off without delay”. Worth mentioning is the methodology used at the Synod itself and so part one can be labelled “recognizing”, part two “interpreting” and part three, “choosing”.
PART I HE WALKED WITH THEM
Part one of the document, which aims at recognizing the situation of young people today, is divided into four chapters.
Chapter one deals with a Church that is listening. The Synod Fathers begin by valuing listening as that which transforms the hearts of those who do it, especially if it be done in harmony and docility to the Holy Spirit. Added to the task of listening is that it is of God especially in seeing him intervening in the wretchedness of his people (Ex 3:7-8). As the Church proceeds with listening to young people it is also important that there be awareness of the plurality of contexts and cultures in which young people find themselves. Young people are divided as to demographic situations, Christian traditions and economic situations. This awareness of different contexts should not just aid cultural beliefs which at times may be contrary to the gospel but should be based on the well-known teachings of the Church, upholding the equality of men and women and avoiding any semblance of cultural colonization.
The Synod Fathers express some appreciation on what is happening in the Church today especially as can be seen with the Church’s educational centres. These remain privileged spaces for listening to young people. The Church’s educational institutions work well because by and large they are alive and engaging, accepting young people irrespective of religious choices, cultural origins, personal, family or social situation. Worth noting though is the burden of administration which creates a hindrance, especially for clergy (both priests and bishops) to accompany young people. There is thus a need to rethink concrete ways in which ministry is exercised. Parishes need to rethink their missionary vocation so as to accompany young people better.
Chapter two speaks of three crucial elements:
a. The digital environment which remains a daily experience for young people. The Synod fathers see this as an opportunity for evangelization and dialogue as well as being aware of the dark side of it especially as it may bring about isolation, violence, pornography, prejudice, hate and other associated evils.
b. Migration, especially on occasions when young people flee war, violence, persecution and other social and natural ills. One of the causes of migration is a fascination that young people have for Western culture and the attendant unrealistic expectations associated with this. Worth noting is that the Synod Fathers deplore this fascination with Western culture. As part of the issues around migration is human trafficking which remains a problem to be attended to and the attendant problems of fragmentation in families. The positives of migration though should also be recognized as it brings about a meeting of cultures. Therefore, a sense of welcome should always be present in the Church.
c. The recognition of all types of abuse. It is acknowledged that some of the abuse has been perpetrated by clergy and religious and this has become an obstacle to the Church’s evangelizing efforts. The Synod Fathers denounce this evil and commit themselves to avoid future occurrences as well as denouncing the evils of clericalism.
Chapter three speaks of identity and relations underlining the importance of the family. The Synod Fathers appreciate the presence of the extended family in the life of young people as this fosters intergenerational relations. It is important that young people have strong cultural roots even though it can be observed that often they are not interested in their family traditions. Whilst family is important, young people also need to foster friendships among themselves as they grow up. The important matter of the body and affectivity leading to sexuality needs to be accepted as a gift. There is thus a need to be critical of various technocratic, economic and political approaches that negate life as a gift. The Church’s moral teaching should assist young people to discover sexuality as a gift and that it should be lived according to the logic of the Gospel.
In chapter four the Synod Fathers, speaking of being young today, are also deeply aware of the vulnerability of young people which leads to some forms of marginalization and exclusion. This is especially seen in youth unemployment. Moreover, young people in war zones and other situations are exposed to violence and at times are recruited as child soldiers and part of criminal gangs, involved in drug trafficking, terrorism. They become drug dependent, suffer from physical and psychological illnesses leading to depression and even suicide. In many ways, this is caused by the throwaway culture so prevalent in the world today. Young people want to be accepted and respected in their originality. Most of them seem to have a certain social commitment as can be seen in their interest in art, music and sport. Furthermore, they have a certain spirituality and religiosity as most are searching for the meaning of life. A good number see Jesus as a Saviour and relate to him through Mary his Mother whilst others only see him as a good and ethical man. It is noted that young people have a strong desire for a living liturgy and hunger for active involvement in the affairs of the Church, though some, for various reasons, wish to maintain a distance from the church.
PART II THEIR EYES WERE OPENED
Part two of the document is theological, focusing on Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit who opens the eyes of the disciples. It is also divided into four chapters.
Chapter one encourages young people to contemplate the life of Jesus as a youth (Lk 2:41-52) and to have unconditional trust in the Father as Jesus had amidst challenges in his own life. Even those with have various disabilities should be aware that they can still make a positive contribution in the world and in the Church. It is in this section that the Synod Fathers, in acknowledging a healthy restlessness of young people, realize that young people are at times a step ahead of their pastors. A youthful dynamism is thus most welcome in the Church and yet it is still important that they wait for the elderly as seen in the action of the beloved disciple who waits for the elderly Peter when running to the tomb at the resurrection. With all these gifts, it is also acknowledged that young people have wounds. These wounds may be physical, psychological and even moral and young people need to reconcile with their own wounds. Reconciliation will allow for a proper movement to the adult phase of life as youth is a transitory phase and indeed a time too for making life choices. Making life choices allows one to live for mission. Jesus invites us to live for his mission and to be daring for it. It is in making life choices that young people are in need of authoritative adults who can be of assistance. Learning from Jesus (Lk. 2:41-52) can assist young people in realizing how Jesus stayed at home under his parents without abandoning his vocation. Life choices require that one be free and have faith as well.
Chapter two speaks of the mystery of a vocation acknowledging that a proper vocation needs listening and recognition of the divine initiative (1 Sam 2:1-21) as seen in the call of Samuel. Authoritative adults can thus help young people piece together their experiences indicating that a vocation is primarily a quest to follow Jesus who remains attractive. It is also important that young people contemplate Mary who by her “Yes” created the conditions for every other ecclesial vocation. A vocation is primarily a call to holiness, enabling one to have communion with all people whether this is through his/her profession, family, consecrated life and even ordained ministry.
In the third chapter the Synod Fathers place particular emphasis on the fact that the Church is called to take seriously the area of accompanying young people. This accompaniment is to be done through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation, without neglecting those human and social aspects provided by the human sciences. Whilst the whole community is called upon to exercise a certain accompaniment, nevertheless, quality accompaniers who have been prepared are necessary.
The fourth chapter speaks of the need for discernment. Discernment requires familiarity with the Lord, especially his word and sacraments and a spiritual guide.
PART III THEY SET OFF WITHOUT DELAY
The third part of the document, also divided into four chapters, speaks of the choices that the Church must make. These choices require energy that is oriented towards the mission to the community and the whole world. Such energy is typical of a young Church and remains the icon of the resurrection leading to proclamation and mission. The example of Mary Magdalene who went in search of her Lord in the Gospel of John is worth mentioning given that her seeking was motivated by love having herself been healed of her wounds (Lk 8:2). The participation of young people in the proclamation of the Gospel should not be seen as optional. On the contrary, it should be seen as a demand stemming from their baptismal commitment. All youths, including those outside the Church, are in the heart of God. Pastors are thus exhorted to move out of their comfprt zones and reach out to youths everywhere.
Chapter one speaks of the missionary synodality of the Church. The Synod Fathers wish that synodality be exercised at all levels in the Church including Episcopal Conferences and Diocesan life. Synodality is a constitutive element of the Church and becomes visible in the valuing of charisms. The practice of synodality can assist in the fight against clericalism.
The second chapter emphasizes the importance of forming good relationships in the Church. The renewal of the parish, which should serve as an environment for spearheading the mission towards the lowliest of society, is thus important. Also, pastors should be more accessible to young people so that they can be made to feel part of the community. More importantly, pastoral activity should recall the saying, “it takes a village to rear a child”. This pastoral activity, accompaniment, should keep in mind that youth ministry should be vocational. In addition to parishes, the Synod Fathers also appreciate occasions where young people meet at the international, national and diocesan level. These events, like World Youth Days, allow them to meet and share their experiences. There is also an appreciation of Oratories and Youth Centres which need to be promoted or established where they do not yet exist.
The third chapter speaks of the renewed missionary vigour which should characterize synodality. Five matters are presented in this regard:
a. The importance of using digital means of communication. These should have a Gospel flavour and the need to combat fake news.
b. The need to focus on migrants in a spirit of building bridges. Migrants need to be welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated where they find themselves, noting that their presence in a particular place also enriches the community of reception.
c. The importance of having women participate at all levels of Church life, respecting ordained ministry, should be promoted.
d. The need to communicate better the beauty of the Christian vision of the body and sexuality. Those struggling with particular sexual inclinations should be made aware that God loves all human beings. The pastoral accompaniment of homosexual persons remains important.
e. The Church should be committed to the promotion of the social, economic and political life of society especially in being the voice of the voiceless. The Church should herself be exemplary especially on how she handles financial and environmental issues.
Chapter four speaks of the need for the formation of young people especially as offered in educational institutions like schools and universities. These should aim at forming missionary disciples. There is also a need to develop programs for accompaniment for marriage as well as for young families. The formation of seminarians and consecrated men and women should assist in avoiding clericalism and foster sensitivity for the poor and a transparent lifestyle. Three things are clearly established for formation:
a. The formation of lay people, religious and priests should be in touch with the daily life of families and communities.
b. The curriculum of preparation for ordained ministry and consecrated life should include pastoral care of young people.
c. The formation journey should be backed up with a community context.
Fr. Dumisani Vilakati
Pastoral Department- IMBISA