Taking care of young people is not an optional task for the Church, but an integral part of
her vocation and mission in history.
(Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, 1)
Most of you alive in 1985-86 will remember Whitney Houston’s rendition of the grand ballad Greatest Love of All, which began with the words, “I believe the children are future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside.” It was truly a great song, but because CKCW-AM radio played the song so…very…often, the words began to sound schmaltzy to me, but I have mellowed with time and I believe these words contain some wisdom for us as Catholic Christians, particularly right now.
From October 3rd – 28th in Rome, Pope Francis is gathered with the XV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to talk about the theme of this Synod “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” The Synod is a group of select bishops from around the world who meet regularly to foster unity among the Pope and the bishops, to discuss with the Pope ways of preserving and growing our faith, and to discuss the activity of the global Church. (can. 342)
The Synod was created in 1965 by Pope Paul VI and I have spent a lot of time reflecting about what I know of the world in 1965, compared to what I know of the world in 2018. 53 years does not seem like a long time in the grand scheme of things, but those of you around in 1965 can speak to how dramatically the world has changed in those 53 years, just go watch a few episodes of Mad Men. I do not think all these differences are negative, and some even reflect how we have grown. Although God remains in 2018 as God was in 1965, or 1000, or 3000 BC, the way in which we understand God has grown as humans have developed.
Some say addressing the issue of youth faith engagement is simple; just do this (insert course of action) or that (insert different course of action), and the rest will fall into place. Being a person of faith in 2018 is not always easy, especially when parts of our culture and society do not value a living, growing faith. I sincerely wish there was an Easy Button we could bang on to instantly infuse our Church with the hope, energy and vibrance that young people bring with them, but I think the issue is somewhat more complex and ways of achieving this are varied and dependent on geographic location and local tradition. What I am certain of is that our service to young people must 1) Be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, even when that leads us into unfamiliar territory; 2) Grounded in Jesus Christ, especially when that leads us into unfamiliar territory and 3) Only ever bring them closer to our Creator, God.
One thing I try to keep in mind when working with young people is they are not only the future of our church like Ms. Houston suggested, but young people are as important a part of our present. Young people are the church of today as much as any of the rest of us. Present at our liturgies or not, they are a beloved part of our Christian family, and I am not convinced they are as separated from their faith as some of us believe them to be. I hope and pray that Youth Synod 2018 will help young people understand their valued place at our table, and that every diocese around the globe will echo this in their own unique way.
Archdiocese of Moncton Office of Youth Faith Development