VATICAN CITY — The Synod of Bishops will meet in October to view the world and the Catholic Church through the eyes of teenagers and young adults and find ways to encourage their enthusiasm and dreams, help them sift through the possibilities life offers them to serve others and resist the temptations along the way.
Pope Francis will preside over the synod, which is scheduled for Oct. 3-28 and will bring together more than 300 cardinals, bishops, priests, religious, lay expert and young adults.
Synod participants will have at their disposal a working document that was based on: input from bishops’ conferences, religious orders, offices of the Roman Curia and Catholic organizations; on online survey open to anyone 16-29 years old; and a document prepared by more than 300 young people who met in Rome in March at the invitation of the pope.
But just to make sure, young voices are still ringing in their ears, Pope Francis has invited hundreds of young people to join synod participants Oct. 6 in the Vatican audience hall for an evening of music and of young people talking about the search for their identity, hopes for their relationships and ideas for living a life of service and self-giving.
The theme for the synod is: “Young people, the faith and vocational discernment.”
The synod isn’t focused on increasing vocations to the priesthood and religious life, though the pope and participants will discuss this.
The real topic, however, is the Church, its present and its future.
Addressing the pre-synod gathering in March, Pope Francis said the Church and its members must reach out, ask what God wants of them and continually find new ways to respond to the hopes and needs of the world’s people.
Young people can help the Church fight “the logic of ‘it’s always been done this way,’” which he described as “a poison, a sweet poison that tranquilizes the heart and leaves you anesthetized so you can’t walk.”
But to equip young people to take their rightful place in the Church, Church leaders must listen to them, be as honest as possible in responding to their questions and pass on to them the art of discernment.
Discernment, according to the synod working document, is a prayerful process that “leads us to recognize — and become attuned with — the action of the Spirit in true spiritual obedience. In this way, it becomes openness to new things, courage to move outward and resistance to the temptation of reducing what is new to what we already know.”
“Discernment is listening, first and foremost, that can also become a driver for our actions, the ability to be creatively faithful to the one single mission the Church has always been entrusted with,” the document stated.
But reaching young people, educating them in the faith, preparing them for discernment and helping them live as Christians in the world involve addressing myriad issues, so the synod is expected to be broad.
The 300 young adults who met in Rome in March mentioned many issues. But underlying their concerns was a request that Church leaders recognize them as full members of the Catholic community, take their concerns and questions seriously and make a commitment to being real role models and mentors.
The young adults, most of whom work for the Church or are very active in their parishes or Catholic movements, said young Catholics need better education in what the Church teaches. But they also need patient answers when they have questions about Church teaching that don’t seem to coincide with the values and practices they absorb from their cultures.
At the same time, speaking for themselves and their peers, the young adults not only extended their hands asking for help but offered it, if Church leaders were willing to open space for them.
“The young Church also looks outward,” according to their statement. “Young people have a passion for political, civil and humanitarian activities. They want to act as Catholics in the public sphere for the betterment of society as a whole. In all these aspects of Church life, young people wish to be accompanied and to be taken seriously as fully responsible members of the Church.”