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Pope Francis traveled to Lisbon, Portugal, this summer for his fourth World Youth Day, where he engaged with over one million young Catholics from around the world. The pope met with sexual abuse survivors, Ukrainian pilgrims, university students, and young people suffering from illness. He challenged them to work towards a “hope-filled future.” In a historic move, the upcoming Synod on Synodality in Rome will grant laypeople, including college students and young adults, the right to vote for the first time.
Young People are Diverse
Young people within the Catholic Church cannot be seen as a monolith. It is important to acknowledge that they have diverse perspectives and experiences. The church should avoid generalizing and assuming that all young people share the same views or encounter the same challenges. Some young Catholics are drawn to traditional liturgies, while others find meaning in more progressive expressions of faith. Understanding and respecting this diversity is essential when listening to and walking with young people.
A Church that Listens
Truly listening to young people goes beyond conducting surveys or holding Vatican meetings. It requires a fundamental shift in how the church functions. The church must accompany young people on their journey, be attentive to their hopes, doubts, and lived experiences. This entails creating a church that is receptive to their needs and actively works towards building a sense of community and belonging. It is crucial for the church to acknowledge its failures, particularly regarding the sexual abuse scandal, and demonstrate transparency in addressing these issues. Young people need to trust that the adults in the church have their best interests at heart.
Offering Something Different
The church has failed young people in various ways. While it is easy to blame secular culture or the young people themselves for their disengagement from the church, it is important to introspect and consider if the church has provided something different. Studies show that young people, especially Generation Z, struggle with loneliness. If they do not find community within the church, it is essential to explore new models of relationship-building. In a polarized society, Catholics should strive to be agents of reconciliation rather than indulging in divisions. Young people today long for authentic communion, both with others and with God. The church should be honest about its shortcomings while remaining steadfast in its countercultural witness.
Listening without Idolizing
Listening to young people does not mean idolizing youth. Pope Francis emphasizes the importance of questioning everything and seeking answers. However, the church cannot simply conform to the world’s values and lose its distinct message. Many young people, both within and outside the church, desire a better alignment between church teaching and more modern values, particularly concerning women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and divorced Catholics. These voices should be listened to genuinely, recognizing the potential work of the Holy Spirit through them. Discernment and the wisdom of the church throughout history are necessary to navigate these complex issues.
Asking for More from Young People
The upcoming synod should not overlook the young people who are already actively involved in the church. They should not be seen solely as the future of the church but recognized as valuable contributors in the present. Small steps, such as inviting young people to serve on parish councils and accommodating their schedules in parish meetings, can foster greater involvement. As the synod considers structural reforms to church governance, it is crucial not to underestimate the skills, energy, and dedication that young people can offer to the church. Harnessing their creativity and passion can serve the kingdom and bring about positive change.
Young people play a significant role in the Catholic Church, and it is vital for the church to listen and walk with them. Acknowledging their diversity, admitting failures, and offering something different are essential steps in building a church that resonates with young people. The church should not idolize youth but listen to their voices without compromising its core message. Asking for more from young people and recognizing their present contributions will strengthen the church and enable it to better serve the kingdom.