SUMMARY OF THE POST-SYNODAL EXHORTATION CHRISTUS VIVIT OF POPE FRANCIS TO YOUNG PEOPLE AND TO THE ENTIRE PEOPLE OF GOD
The title of the exhortation is Christus vivit, Christ is alive. In this way, the Holy Father reminds all of the fact that Christ brings hope to the young people of the world. The exhortation neatly divides into nine chapters and is addressed in a particular way to Christian young people.
Chapter One What does the Word of God have to say about young people?
The Holy Father begins by recalling well known youthful characters in the Old Testament like Joseph who, even though being the youngest from among the sons of Jacob, becomes favored by God. Gideon is presented as a young person who speaks frankly to God. In this way, he expresses his youthfulness. Other important characters in the Old Testament are Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon, Ruth and the Jewish servant in the house of Namaan the Syrian. All these characters received their mission from God whilst in their youthful stage of life. In them, we see a God who takes a particular interest in issues of young people.
The New Testament continues the theme of youthfulness in a number of narratives. Among these can be recalled the famous parable of the younger son in Luke 15. He risks his life and when he realizes that he has done wrong is not afraid to change course and go back home. This character is contrasted with the older son who remains at home with a cold heart, unwilling to forgive and rejoice with the Father and his household. In his preaching, Jesus continually exalts being young. He speaks of the greatest among his disciples becoming like the youngest. Paul continues this thread when he exhorts Timothy that his youth be despised by no one (1 Tim 4:12).
The fact that young people are mentioned positively in the exhortation does not mean that elders should be disrespected. On the contrary, an exhortation to respect them is firmly upheld. “In the same way, younger people, be subject to the elders” (1 Pet 5:5). To be young is to be willing to change and at the same time to be wise like the young women who awaited the arrival of the bridegroom. Every young person should thus be ready to hear the words of Jesus as were uttered to the young man, “Young man, I say to you arise” (Luke 7:14).
Chapter two Jesus, ever young
The Holy Father speaks of a Jesus who is young and in this way sanctifying being young. As a child, he appears as a refugee in Egypt and later on is repatriated to Nazareth. He is seen among the crowds in the Jordan to be baptized and hears the words, “You are my beloved child”. Such words should ring in the ears of all young people today.
We also see Jesus being obedient to his parents after the episode of having remained behind in the Temple. Luke emphasizes that Jesus grew in wisdom, age and grace before God and man. As a sign of his obedience, we learn that he learned his father’s trade as a carpenter (Mk. 6:3). He was not a self-absorbed youth. The episode of him having been lost gives us an indication that he freely related to the crowds and his own relations. It was for this reason that his parents started off by looking for him from among their relations thinking that he was journeying with them. The use of the word synodia is thus important in observing the young Jesus.
Jesus’ youthful days teach us, especially young people, that it is important to have a correct relationship with the father and the importance of family. This requires openness to the Holy Spirit which in turn allows a young person to recognize his mission and personal vocation. Like Jesus, young people need to show compassion for the poor and the sick.
The message of a youthful Church is not only for young people but for the whole Church. The Church must always be open to renewal. She is young when she is open to God’s word, the Eucharist, constantly returning to her source which is Christ himself and being attentive to the signs of the times.
In this endeavor, the Church has in the first place Mary as a model of being young. Just like a young person she was not afraid to ask probing questions when she received the angel (Luke 1:34) and finally embracing her mission (Luke 1:38). Young people can learn from Mary who was not fearful. She embraced her mission totally without being overwhelmed by the sufferings of her son. She became an influencer through thick and thin.
The Church is littered with many models of sanctity who were young. Among these, we may recall Blessed Isidore Bakanja of Congo who was tortured for proposing Christianity to other young people and prior to his death forgave his executioner.
Chapter three You are the ‘now’ of God
The Holy Father emphasizes that young people are not simply the future of the Church. On the contrary, they are the present and should thus assume responsibilities proper to them in the Church and society in general. Being the ‘now’ of God therefore also requires that adults listen to young people and avoid giving pre-packaged answers to them. Adults need to be aware that young people themselves are bearing seeds of divine life within them.
The ‘now’ of young people shows that many young people are exposed to suffering and manipulation by various ideologies. These ideologies encourage young people to ridicule others on the basis of sexuality, race and otherwise. At times young people live in constant marginalization due to their religious affiliation, economic standing and or even ethnicity. The Church cannot remain indifferent to the problems of young people. As a mother, she must weep in the face of all these problems. Her weeping is a sign of her mercy and compassion.
The Holy Father goes on to emphasize three important matters currently affecting young people:
- The digital environment, which has both bright and dark spots. On the positive side, the digital environment allows young people to engage politically and thus engage actively in public affairs. Negatively though, the digital environment may lead to loneliness, manipulation, fake news and violence with the accompanying addictions and loss of contact with concrete reality.
- Migration, which remains the Church’s main concern especially on those fleeing war, violence, persecution, hunger, natural disasters and poverty. It may lead to a fragmentation of families. For many migrants the Church remains a point of reference. On the positive side, migration can be about the encounter and the meeting of cultures which should be appreciated. In this way, it becomes a source of enrichment for both migrants and the receiving societies.
- Abuse, especially sexual abuse, which has even been perpetrated by some leaders in the Church. The Holy Father condemns this evil and in the same breath applauds the courage of all those who have come out and spoken out openly against it.
As he concludes this chapter, the Holy Father invites young people to renew themselves with the hope that only Jesus gives. At the same time, he invites young people to stick together so that they can face their challenges as a united force.
Chapter four A great message for all young people
The Holy Father speaks of the demands of faith that young people need to know:
- God loves you: This explains the worth, significance and importance of young people before God.
- Christ saves you: He saves all young people out of love and no one is for sale. No ideology may save a young person.
- Christ is alive: He is not a distant figure of two thousand years ago but remains an influential and active presence today in the lives of young people.
- The Spirit gives life: All young people have to open themselves up to the Holy Spirit who is the only one that is able to keep alive the hope of salvation.
Chapter five Path of Youth
The Holy Father embarks on an analysis of what it means to live the years of youth in the light of the gospel. Youth is a time of dreams and decisions whence the young are called to move forward without cutting themselves off from their roots. Of course, temptations like complaining, giving up and anxiety are sure to come. For this reason, young people should be able to exercise patience and not expect instant results. They should not be afraid to try something new even not be afraid to make mistakes.
In living out their youth, young people are encouraged to enjoy the small everyday blessings and having a constant friend in Jesus. The key to maintaining this friendship is prayer. This friendship allows for growth in maturity as the young person remains cemented in the Lord, “being online” “being connected”.
Growing older requires cherishing and preserving the most precious things about youth but also having to purify those things that are not good and receiving new gifts from God so that one can develop the things that really matter. This requires that the young person grow up to be truly himself. A strong warning is stated here. “Do not be a photocopy of somebody else”. Be more of yourself, becoming what the Lord wished to dream and create.
The Holy Father then proceeds to give three ways as to how this growth to maturity may be achieved:
- Paths of fraternity, which find expression in the hidden beauty in others, their dignity as creatures of God and children of the Father. This fraternity is expressed beautifully in the African proverb which says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.
- To be young and committed allows one to go beyond small groups. This may find expression in assisting the elderly, the sick, poor neighborhoods, the homeless and the needy. It is important that young people see themselves as protagonists for change.
- To be courageous missionaries who are called to be witnesses of the gospel wherever they find themselves and be aware that there are no borders to missionary work. The Lord seeks all and all should participate in missionary work.
Chapter six Young people in the roots
This chapter seeks to encourage young people not to allow themselves to be uprooted from their culture and origins. Such an uprooting unfortunately, lends a young person to the danger of ideologies which encourage the young person to ignore history, rejecting the experience of his elders and look down on the past. The Holy Father calls these ideologies masters of manipulation who despise all that is not young. It finds expression in the so called so-called cult of youth which sees growing old as a problem. On occasion this cult also tends to homogenize young people, blurring out what is distinctive about their origins. The Holy Father makes a clear call that the young should reject this cult of youth as it promises a shallow life.
Having condemned the cult of youth, the Holy Father proceeds to emphasize the importance of a relationship with the elderly. “Helping young people to discover the living richness of the past, to treasure its memory and make use of it for their choices and opportunities is a genuine act of love towards them”. Even Scripture emphasizes this harmonious relationship as seen in the fourth commandment and wisdom literature. Elders, therefore, can assist or teach the young in the following ways:
- A life without love is an arid life.
- Anxiety about the future can be overcome.
- There is more joy in giving than receiving.
- Love is not only shown in words, but also in action.
As a parting shot in this chapter, the Holy Father exhorts young people as follows: “Steer clear of young people who think that adults represent a meaningless past and those adults who always think that they know how young people should act. Together let us seek a better world, assisted by the Holy Spirit”.
Chapter seven Youth Ministry
In advocating for an improved youth ministry the Holy Father encourages a synodal approach. Of course, it is important to make use of methods that have worked in the past be they labeled conservative or liberal, traditional or progressive. The important thing is to promote effective communication of the joy of the gospel. Such a synodal approach thus encourages a form of co-responsibility in such a way that no one is excluded. The unity of the Church should not be seen as monolithic as such but a network of varied gifts.
Two important approaches need to stand out in youth ministry. The first is outreach and the second is growth. Outreach refers to reaching out to those who are outside the Church through various means like social media, songs, video, songs and other means which are able to touch the hearts of young people. Growth refers to those already inside the Church who should experience all the more the love in the Christian life as they deepen too on Christian doctrine and morality. Christian doctrine should focus on the development of the kerygma with morality focusing on the importance of fraternal love.
Institutions play an important role in Youth Ministry. These should be welcoming and be like a real home and family for young people. They should be placed where young people can come and go. The preservation and or establishment of oratories and youth centers should thus be promoted. Also, educational institutions like schools and universities should be maintained and these should not only give academic formation but also cultivate the kerygma and be engaged in cultural formation. Whilst these institutions should engage in various activities like sports and art, nevertheless, the Word of the Lord, the Eucharist, Reconciliation and the importance of the lives of the saints should never be forgotten.
Youth Ministry should not be limited to what we are familiar with but should also go to the popular spaces where young people already are. This forms part of the outreach posture and it is in such spaces that the Church can be seen as keeping open doors. These popular spaces will allow for the welcoming of those with a different vision of life and those belonging to other religions or even out of religion. The important thing to keep before our eyes is that all young people are in God’s heart and thus in the heart of the Church.
Participation in popular piety like pilgrimages forms part of youth ministry. In all this, the importance of accompaniment by adults can never be overstated. Among the qualities of such adults, the following deserve special mention: A faithful Christian, seeking holiness, confident, not judging, listener, self-aware, recognizing own limits, acknowledging own humanity, makes mistakes and believing in young people.
Chapter eight Vocation
In this chapter, the Holy Father underlines the fact that God has a wonderful plan for us all and the importance of the call to holiness. God has called us to a friendship and Jesus wants to be a friend of every young person. Every vocation requires one to be there for others and engaging in missionary service. Being there for others may take two forms namely love/family and work.
Many young people feel intensely the call to love with the view of forming a family. The sacrament of matrimony envelops this love in the grace of God. God has created us as sexual beings and sex is a beautiful gift from the Lord. Its purpose is to love and generate life. Indeed, for many young people, the family continues to be a point of reference in spite of problems of divorce and the disintegration of families. When such happens it has been observed that on occasion grandparents have played a decisive and positive role. They should be treasured and appreciated as they have done a lot in holding families together, being helpful and crucial in affection and religious education.
Work allows young adults to meet their practical needs, to seek meaning and fulfillment of their dreams and visions. Yet, it is also in the area of work that some young people can experience exclusion and marginalization. This is certainly true of youth employment affecting many countries today. In spite of the pervasive unemployment, the Holy Father exhorts young people not to give up on their dreams and never to accept defeat.
Beyond family and work, the Holy Father goes on to indicate that some people might feel called to the priesthood and consecrated life. It is important that those who feel called to these states of life do so with confidence in the Lord.
Chapter nine Discernment
Discernment is fundamental in discovering one’s vocation in life without which we can easily become prey to passing trends. It has to do with seeking a glimpse of that unique and mysterious plan that God has for each of us, the meaning of one’s life before God who knows and loves every human being. Young people should make use of the many priests, religious, lay professionals and other qualified young people in the process of discernment.
As a parting shot, the Holy Father invites the young peoples of the world to keep running, attracted by the face of Christ who loves us so much, whom we adore in the Holy Eucharist and acknowledge in the flesh of our suffering brothers and sisters.
Fr. Dumisani Vilakati
IMBISA Pastoral Department
 The word synod derives from two Greek words, syn, “with” and hodos “way” and has come to mean together on the way.