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A look at what the bishops will talk about at October’s synod

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100,000 young people offered their ideas to the hierarchy.

The Vatican press office last week presented the working document for the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will take place in October on the theme “Young people, the faith and vocational discernment.” Pope Francis has called on the Church to place herself at the service of young people.

The text urges discernment regarding the timely and timeless teachings of the Church as they relate to and are lived in daily life, as many young Catholics today do not follow the Church’s teachings on sexual morality. Young people want guidance on all matters related to “sexuality” – and would like to reflect without prejudice on the controversial issues. 

It is observed that young people today want a Church that can be an exemplary light for them and for the world, and they abhor the scandals of pedophilia and sexual abuse. They want the Church to address the role of young women in the Church, and vocations in general—not only to the priesthood or religious life—as well as the hot topics of homosexuality and gender, and the rights and care of migrants.

The bishops who will participate in the 15th Ordinary General Assembly this October will be guided by this working document, which includes the views expressed by young people from all the continents, collected through questionnaires submitted by approximately 100,000 young people, as well as the reflections shared by select young representatives , including non-Catholics and atheists, who recently gathered in Rome for a pre-synod meeting held on March 19-24, officially opened by Pope Francis himself.

To recognize, to interpret, and to choose

The text treats what are being presented as the dreams, the hopes, and the challenges of the almost 2 billion people of the world between the ages of 16 and 29, in three parts or steps based on three verbs and phases offered as a “method of discernment” by Pope Francis in his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, namely, to recognize, to interpret, and to choose – what, in essence, the Synod itself hopes to be: an exercise of discernment.

Sexuality 

The document specifically addresses, among other topics, the need for a re-discovery of and appreciation for the true “meaning of sexual difference,” even as it relates to vocations, including how one’s vocation relates to one’s body, affectivity, and sexuality. In chapter four, six “anthropological and cultural challenges” are named that the Church must face today in its pastoral care, especially of young people.

The document states that sociological studies show that many young Catholics do not follow the prescriptions of sexual morality taught by the Catholic Church. While no single bishops’ conference has final solutions or recipes, many state that “sexuality should be discussed” openly and without prejudice.

The pope in his pre-synod address asked the young people to be frank. They responded by showing that there are indeed many controversial issues being debated out in the open, both inside and outside the Church, including contraception, abortion, homosexuality, and cohabitation and sex before marriage.

There are young Catholics who find in the teachings of the Church a source of joy, and they desire that she “not only continue,” but that she be more vigorous in proclaiming her teachings, despite their unpopularity.

Young people seek and welcome greater clarity from the Church in all matters related to sexuality. Therefore, they demand ecclesial responsibility when it comes to facing issues such as homosexuality and gender issues because, they say, young people are already discussing these issues freely and openly.

What are they looking for in the Church? 

First of all, young people say they want a “genuine Church” that will be evermore “exemplary” and an example of true “competence, co-responsibility, and cultural weight”; a Church that offers relevance to “their life situation in the light of the Gospel” rather than simply pontificating; a Church that is “transparent, welcoming, honest, attractive, communicative, accessible, cheerful, and interactive.” In short, the document says, a Church that is “less institutional and more relational, capable of receiving people without judging in advance, friendly and close, welcoming and merciful.”

Youth abhor sexual and economic abuse

The preparatory phases to the upcoming Synod note how energetically young people reject “sexual and economic scandals” within the Church, and some representatives, which included non-Catholics and atheists, manifested that these are among the reasons they keep their distance from the Church. They exhort the Church to improve “her policy of zero tolerance against sexual abuse within the institutions themselves.”

They likewise are asking for greater preparation of and commitment from priests so that they might better understand youth and be equipped to make a greater effort to give reasons for the Church’s doctrinal and ethical teachings and how these apply even in contemporary society.

Youth: A time for holiness 

Young people aspire to holiness. Toward the end of the document, it is clear that holiness as a way of life can and should be proposed as a goal that is “accessible to all young people.”

Youth is a time of holiness, and given that all saints were once young, the telling of their stories can help boys and girls and young people of today to cultivate hope so that, with courage, they may pursue the most beautiful and deepest things life offers, and preserve a heart that is free for God, goodness, and truth.

Religious discrimination, racism, unemployment, precariousness

Young people invite bishops to be concrete about issues that affect them, such as religious discrimination, racism, forced migrations, and trafficking, as well as poverty and job insecurity, including unemployment and under-employment.

In the instrumentum laboris presented to the bishops, the young representatives also reject the “culture of waste” and its relationship to the new phenomena of exclusion through an improper use of new digital technologies. At the same time, they denounce the real dangers and harm that the “dark web” is generating.

All-around vocational discernment, family life, and work

Young people indicate that they live various forms of vocation, including their call to and their role in family life, their dedication to their studies, their call to a particular profession, and their involvement in social life and politics. Thus, they see the term “vocation” more broadly used to refer to all vocations and not solely or exclusively for the ministerial vocations of priests, deacons and religious.

They are likewise aware of the Church’s concern over a present-day decline in the number of seminarians and viable candidates for the priesthood. Thus, they urge a renewed reflection on the vocation to the ministerial priesthood – one that would allow men to truly experience the fascination of being called by Jesus to become shepherds of his flock – and to respond accordingly.

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