Pope Francis writes to each one of us about striving for holiness in today’s world

Below are some questions and answers on the Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate.

Why did the Pope write this Exhortation, and why now?

Helping people to be holy is one of the Church’s main tasks, in every era. The Second Vatican Council spoke of the “universal call to holiness”. Pope Francis has written not an academic or doctrinal text, but an apostolic exhortation whose goal is “to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time.” It is an invitation to a journey that takes place in the concrete here and now of our daily lives, in small gestures and little things, in which we are led more and more by God’s grace.

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis spoke of the call to all the faithful to be missionary disciples; Gaudete et Exsultate is about the mission at the heart of that call, which is to be in relationship with Jesus Christ, who stirs our desire for holiness and enables us, by his power rather than ours, to get there. Holiness is for all of us, not a select few. He wants us to know that it is our destiny; it’s what God has planned for us; and yet there is nothing intimidating or overpowering about it; rather it is a liberation, a way of becoming who we really are.

What is new about Gaudete et Exsultate?

St John Paul II and Benedict XVI spoke often about the universal call to holiness, with the former in Novo Millennio Ineunte, 30-31 inviting the Church’s pastoral planning to include a “training in holiness”, above all in the art of prayer.

Gaudete et Exsultate is addressed personally to each and every one of us, whatever our state in life or level of education or development. Pope Francis often uses the informal singular expression tu (in Latin languages), which is how we speak one at a time to friends and family. So Francis is extending a personal invitation to follow Christ.

Second, it is deliberately lay in its language and invitation, aimed at people who live in the world, who have jobs and families and busy lives with many different pressures. Pope Francis wants people to know that they need no special education or qualifications, nor to take religious vows: just an open heart and a desire to spend some time with the Lord in prayer and by reading the Gospel. He also wants people to know that the Church has everything they need to become holy, and it is all available to them.

Third, the pope shows us, in very practical ways, how the journey to holiness is undertaken, and how it makes us more alive and more human.

How does he suggest people will become holy?

Much of what Pope Francis suggests is well known in Catholic life: to make time for prayer, to frequent the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession, to do a daily examination of conscience, and to read the Gospel regularly, so that Christ’s life and ours become ever more closely identified. But he makes a very strong connection between these “spiritual” activities and actions rooted in mercy. In fact, he says they cannot be separated, and the authenticity of our prayer will be shown in how we become and act more humbly and more mercifully. This is rooted in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus offers a very clear path to holiness in the Beatitudes in Chapter 5. Then in Chapter 25 we find the “one clear criterion on which we will be judged” at the end of time, namely how we have responded to the concrete needs of others, especially the poor. There is no holiness without this. It involves believing, praying and doing in ways that can’t be separated.

The document has an entire chapter about two ancient heresies. Why does Pope Francis seem so preoccupied with them?

Pope Francis has referred frequently to the dangers of the modern-day versions of Gnosticism and Pelagianism, and a February document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called Placuit Deo explains them in detail. They are temptations, false paths to salvation that might look superficially like Christianity but  are ways of seeking salvation not through the power of Christ but through the power of ideas or human effort. Pope Francis explains this in everyday language so that everyone can be aware of these dangers. In effect, he’s telling us how to spot and therefore avoid these “false forms of holiness”, which try to make human beings, not Christ, the agent of our salvation. Because these false forms appear to be very Catholic, they can take us in.

He tells us, for example, to be aware of beautiful ideas that seem to explain everything in a complex logical system, or of an excessive emphasis on rules and methods. He warns us about a “punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige”, for example. Reason, liturgy, laws – these are all good, but means to an end, to open us to Grace, not ends in themselves.

The key point is that we are saved – we become holy – not by our own sophisticated ideas or strong efforts but by being constantly open to the assistance God offers us, in our weakness. This help, or Grace, is not a reward for the righteous, but a way of assisting those who turn to God in need. Equally, the most important thing, says Pope Francis, is the way we respond to the least of our brothers and sisters. We are justified not by our works and efforts but by the grace of God, who always takes the initiative. Grace is God’s free gift to us – including our own desire to be holy. So becoming holy is about a progressive transformation in response to God’s free gift freely accepted and received by us.

No. 58 warns against the Church becoming “a museum piece or the possession of a select few”. Who is he talking about?

The “new Pelagians” in the Church: he does not name particular groups, but warns against “groups of Christians” who “give excessive importance to certain rules, customs or ways of acting”. This “may well be a subtle form of Pelagianism, for it appears to subject the life of grace to certain human structures”. This explains, he says, why certain groups or movements start with an intense life in the Spirit but end up “fossilized … or corrupt.”

Why does the Pope insist so much on the dangers of gossip? (No. 87)

The pope has often talked before about gossip, and has referred to it as a form of violence that destroys communities, sowing division and suspicion. Early in the document (no. 16) he gives an example of “everyday” holiness when a person meets someone out shopping and decides to refrain from engaging in gossip.  Speaking about the Beatitudes in no. 87 he gives the opposite example of hearing something about someone, repeating it and embellishing it, “and the more harm it does, the more satisfaction I seem to derive from it.  The world of gossip, inhabited by negative and destructive people, does not bring peace.  Such people are really the enemies of peace; in no way are they ‘blessed’.”

He sees the destructive power of gossip amplified by social media. In no. 115  he warns that Christians “can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums of digital communication” and that “even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned.”  He says it is striking how, at times Catholics who claim to uphold the other commandments completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying, and ruthlessly vilify others.

In No. 98, Pope Francis gives the example of encountering a homeless person on a cold night. Does he mean to suggest that I am obliged to help that person there and then?

He is not offering a precept, but illustrating how holiness changes the way we view the world, and especially our fellow human beings. If I see this person not as a problem but as a brother or sister in need, then I am seeing them, as it were, through the eyes of Christ. What action flows from this will rightly depend on various factors. In the following paragraph he mentions the way we suffer “a constant and unhealthy unease” when we look at the world this way. It’s a sign of our growth in holiness.

Without using the word abortion, the Pope seems to argue in No. 101 that there is a moral equivalency between abortion and a number of other practices that destroy human dignity. Is this the case?

Pope Francis is here criticising an unholy attitude which separates off one area of ethical concern from all the rest and absolutizes it. And he offers the very common example of a Catholic who believes passionately in the pro-life cause while dismissing the social engagement of other Catholics as in some way ‘political’. The call to holiness requires a larger view, so that loving your neighbour means being concerned for anyone whose human dignity is under threat. Two of many examples are a family forced to flee their home because of bloodshed, or someone who has been trafficked into prostitution. Because we can’t be equally concerned all the time with every threat to human dignity, we should be grateful that others are responding where we cannot. He’s not getting it into the relative weight these issues have in moral theology but talking about the attitudes that holiness brings.

The pope appears to suggest that to be a Christian you have to care about migrants and receive anyone in need who comes to your border.

The Pope has never said that all migrants have to be received or welcomed. He has encouraged wealthier countries to be generous, and to see that immigrants can be integrated into the societies into which they come. He has always talked about building bridges, and against walls to keep people out. He has spoken of the importance of seeing migrants not as statistics but as people. Here he makes the point that the plight of migrants is not a ‘secondary’ or lesser ethical issue, and criticizes Catholics who “consider it a secondary issue compared to the “grave” bioethical questions”. The call to holiness is a call to put the Gospel into action, and that also means welcoming the foreigner (Mt 25:35).

“We may think that we give glory to God only by our worship and prayer, or simply by following certain ethical norms”, he says  in no. 104, but while “it is true that the primacy belongs to our relationship with God” we cannot forget that “the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others.” Our worship becomes pleasing to God “when we devote ourselves to living generously, and allow God’s gift, granted in prayer, to be shown in our concern for our brothers and sisters.” Similarly, “the best way to discern if our prayer is authentic is to judge to what extent our life is being transformed in the light of mercy” (no. 105).

In Nos. 160 and 161, the Pope pays a lot of attention to the devil. Given that, he presumably believes in hell as well?

Pope Francis has regularly referred elsewhere to hell, and reports that he in some way questions its existence were untrue. In his Lent message for 2016, for example, he described hell as the opposite destiny to the holiness he describes here – and for the same reason: “Yet the danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor, the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is Hell.” In March 2014 he warned mafia bosses to stop their lives of violence and extortion, telling them:  “There is still time to avoid ending up in hell. That is what is waiting for you if you continue on this path.”

Here he does not mention hell but the devil, warning that any journey to holiness will involve being assailed by the enemy of holiness. This is a constant struggle, not just a one-off event, and knowing this is key: Holiness is a series of victories over the devil’s temptations.

He warns that if we think of the devil as merely a symbol or an idea, we will let down our guard. But in the Church the Lord has given us many powerful weapons against the devil’s efforts, particularly the gift of discernment, which is particularly necessary today when there is much to distract us that seems superficially good.

* * *

Pope Francis notes that while the Lord speaks to us “in a variety of ways, at work, through others and at every moment”,  we cannot do without the silence of prolonged prayer, which allows us “to see the whole of our existence afresh in his own light” and allows “the birth of a new synthesis that springs from a life inspired by the Spirit.”

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Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation on holiness: a summary

This summary of the Apostolic Exhortation GAUDETE ET EXSULTATE of the Holy Father Pope Francis on the call to holiness in today’s world has been distributed to journalists today by the Holy See.

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This is not an academic or doctrinal text. Its goal is “to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time.”

CHAPTER 1: THE CALL TO HOLINESS

There are many kinds of saints. Besides the Church’s officially recognized saints, many more ordinary people have been hidden from history books yet have been decisive in changing the world. They include many Christian witnesses whose martyrdom is a feature of our time. “Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel.” Holiness is experiencing the mysteries of Christ’s life, “constantly dying and rising anew with him”, and reproducing aspects of his earthly life: his closeness to the outcast, his poverty, his self-sacrificing love. “Allow the Spirit to forge in you the personal mystery that can reflect Jesus Christ in today’s world”, in a mission to build the kingdom of love, justice and universal peace.

Holiness is as diverse as humanity; the Lord has in mind a particular path for each believer, not just the clergy, the consecrated, or those who live a contemplative life. We are all called to holiness, whatever our role, “by living our lives with love and bearing witness”, and in the everyday turning to God. Among ways of bearing witness are “feminine styles of holiness”, of famous women saints and the “unknown and forgotten” women who daily transform their communities. As well as through big challenges, holiness grows through small gestures: refusing to gossip, listening with patience and love, saying a kind word to a poor person.

Holiness keeps you faithful to your deepest self, free from every form of enslavement, and bearing fruit for our world. Holiness does not make you less human, since it is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God’s grace. But we need moments of solitude and silence before God, to face our true selves and let the Lord enter.

CHAPTER 2: TWO SUBTLE ENEMIES OF HOLINESS

Gnosticism and Pelagianism, two “false forms of holiness” from early Church history, still lead us astray. These heresies propose “an anthropocentric immanentism disguised as Catholic truth” by exaggerating human perfection without grace.

Gnostics fail to realize that our perfection is measured by the depth of our charity, not by information or knowledge. Separating intellect from the flesh, they reduce Jesus’s teaching to a cold and harsh logic that seeks to dominate everything. But doctrine “is not a closed system, devoid of the dynamic capacity to pose questions, doubts, inquiries”. Christian experience is not a set of intellectual exercises; true Christian wisdom can never be separated from mercy towards our neighbour.

The same power that Gnosticism attributed to the intellect, Pelagianism attributed to the human will, to personal effort. Though modern Pelagians speak warmly of God’s grace, they suggest that human will is something pure, perfect, all-powerful, to which grace is then added. They fail to realize that in this life human weaknesses are not healed completely and once for all by grace.

Grace builds on nature. It does not make us superhuman but takes hold of us and transforms us progressively. If we reject this historical and progressive reality, we can actually refuse and block the grace of the Lord. His friendship infinitely transcends us: we cannot buy it with our works, it can only be a gift born of his loving initiative. Only this permits us to cooperate by our own efforts in our progressive transformation.

Whenthey overvalue human will and their own abilities, some Christians can tend towards obsession with the law; an absorption with social and political advantages; punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige; vanity about the ability to manage practical matters; and an excessive concern with programmes of self-help and personal fulfilment as well as certain rules, customs or ways of acting. The life of the Church can become a museum piece or the possession of a select few.  This deprives the Gospel of its simplicity, allure and savour, and reduces it to a blueprint that leaves few openings for the working of grace.

CHAPTER 3: IN THE LIGHT OF THE MASTER

The Beatitudes are Jesus’s portrayal of what it means to be holy in our daily lives. Here “happy” and “blessed” become synonymous with “holy”. We gain true happiness by faithful practice of the Beatitudes. We can only practice them if the Holy Spirit fills us with his power and frees us from our weakness, selfishness, complacency and pride.

Pope Francis describes each of the Beatitudes and their invitation, concluding each section

  • “Being poor of heart: that is holiness.”
  • “Reacting with meekness and humility: that is holiness.”
  • “Knowing how to mourn with others: that is holiness.”
  • “Hungering and thirsting for righteousness: that is holiness.”
  • “Seeing and acting with mercy: that is holiness.”
  • “Keeping a heart free of all that tarnishes love: that is holiness.”
  • “Sowing peace all around us: that is holiness.”
  • “Accepting daily the path of the Gospel, even though it may cause us problems: that is holiness.”

In the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (vv. 31-46), Jesus expands on the Beatitude about mercy. “If we seek the holiness pleasing to God’s eyes, this text offers us one clear criterion on which we will be judged.” When we recognize Christ in the poor and the suffering, we see into the very heart of Christ, his deepest feelings and choices. “Our Lord made it very clear that holiness cannot be understood or lived apart from these demands”.

Misleading ideologies can lead us on the one hand to separate these Gospel demands from their personal relationship with the Lord, so that Christianity becomes a sort of NGO stripped of the luminous mysticism so evident in the lives of saints. On the other hand, there are those who dismiss the social engagement of others as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist; their own particular ethical preoccupation outweighs all others.

Our defence of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development.  But “equally sacred” are the lives of the poor, the destitute, the abandoned and underprivileged; the infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia; victims of human trafficking and new forms of slavery. Nor should the situation of migrants be a lesser issue compared to “grave” bioethical questions. For a Christian “the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children.”

CHAPTER 4: SIGNS OF HOLINESS IN TODAY’S WORLD

The Pope speaks next about “certain aspects of the call to holiness that I hope will prove especially meaningful”, in the form of “five great expressions of love for God and neighbour that I consider of particular importance in the light of certain dangers and limitations present in today’s culture.”

1) Perseverance, patience and meekness.

This describes the inner strength, grounded in God, that makes it possible to give a witness of constancy in doing good. We need to recognize and combat our aggressive and selfish inclinations. Christians “can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums of digital communication.” Even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace. “It is striking that at times, in claiming to uphold the other commandments, they completely ignore the eighth, which forbids bearing false witness or lying, and ruthlessly vilify others.”

It is not good when we look down on others like heartless judges, lording it over them and always trying to teach them lessons. That is itself a subtle form of violence.

Being on the path to holiness means enduring “daily humiliations”, e.g. “those who keep silent to save their families, who prefer to praise others rather than boast about themselves, or who choose the less welcome tasks, at times even choosing to bear an injustice so as to offer it to the Lord.” To act in this way “presumes a heart set at peace by Christ, freed from the aggressiveness born of overweening egotism.”

2) Joy and a sense of humour

The saints are joyful and full of good humour.  They radiate a positive and hopeful spirit, even in hard times. Ill humour is no sign of holiness.  Sadness can be a sign of ingratitude for God’s gifts. Today’s individualistic and consumerist culture does not dispense real joy; consumerism only bloats the heart.

3) Boldness and passion

Holiness is also parrhesía: boldness, an impulse to evangelize and to leave a mark in this world. “Boldness and apostolic courage are an essential part of mission.” If we dare to go to the fringes, we will find Jesus already there, in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, in their wounded flesh, their troubles and their profound desolation.

More than bureaucrats and functionaries, the Church needs passionate missionaries, enthusiastic about sharing true life. The saints surprise us, they confound us, because by their lives they urge us to abandon a dull and dreary mediocrity. The Holy Spirit allows us to contemplate history in the light of the risen Jesus.  In this way, the Church will not stand still, but constantly welcome the Lord’s surprises.

4) In community

Growth in holiness is a journey of living and working in community with others. Sharing the word and celebrating the Eucharist together fosters fraternity and makes us a holy and missionary community.  It also gives rise to authentic and shared mystical experiences.

Such experiences, however, are less frequent and important than small everyday things. Jesus asked his disciples to pay attention to small details: wine running out at a party, a missing sheep, a widow’s two small coins. Sometimes we are granted, amid these little details, consoling experiences of God.

5) In constant prayer

Trust-filled prayer of any length is a response of a heart open to encountering God face to face, where the quiet voice of the Lord can be heard. In that silence, we can discern the paths of holiness to which the Lord is calling us. For each disciple, it is essential to spend time with the Master, to listen to his words, and to learn from him always.

God enters our history, and so our prayer is interwoven with memories. Think of your own history when you pray, and there you will find much mercy.

Prayer of supplicationis an expression of a heart that trusts in God and realizes that it can do nothing of itself. Prayer of petitionoften calms our hearts and helps us persevere in hope.  Prayer of intercessionis an act of trust in God and, at the same time, an expression of love for our neighbour.

In the Eucharist, the written word attains its greatest efficacy, for there the living Word is truly present.

CHAPTER 5: SPIRITUAL COMBAT, VIGILANCE AND DISCERNMENT

Evil is present from the very first pages of the Scriptures. We should not dismiss the devil as a myth, a figure of speech or an idea, lest we let down our guard and end up more vulnerable.

Our path towards holiness is a constant battle for which the Lord equips us with prayer, the word of God, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration, sacramental Reconciliation, works of charity, etc.

The path of holiness is a source of peace and joy, given to us by the Spirit. How can we know if something comes from the Holy Spirit, not from the spirit of the world or the devil? By discernment, which differs from intelligence and common sense. The gift of discernment is all the more necessary today because contemporary life proclaims so many distractions as equally valid and good.

Discernment is a grace. It is not only for the more intelligent or better educated. It requires no special abilities, but it does require listening: to the Lord and to others, and to reality itself, which always challenges us in new ways.  Listening frees us to set aside our own partial or insufficient ideas, our usual ways of seeing things. We need to discern God’s timetable, lest we disregard his invitation to grow. For this reason, I ask all Christians to examine their conscience daily in sincere dialogue with the Lord.

We need the silence of prolonged prayer to better perceive God’s language, interpret the real meaning of the inspirations we believe we have received, calm our anxieties and see the whole of our existence afresh in God’s own light.

Our attentive discernment entails obedience to the Gospel as the ultimate standard, but also to the Magisterium that guards it, as we seek in the treasury of the Church for whatever is most fruitful for the “today” of salvation; for rigidity has no place before the perennial “today” of the risen Lord.

God asks everything of us, yet he also gives everything to us.  He does not want to enter our lives to diminish them but to bring them to fulfilment. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us a fervent longing to be saints for God’s greater glory, and let us encourage one another in this effort. In this way, we will share a happiness that the world will not be able to take from us.

Rome, 19 March 2018

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The Same Truths, New Methods: capturing the conversation at the Pre-Synod Meeting of Young People

[Isaac Withers]

If I can impress upon you one thing about the pre-Synod meeting of young people, it would be that the organisers of this event entirely trusted the young people present to lead it. It was my joy to be there representing England and Wales. The three hundred of us at the meeting were divided into language groups of about a dozen members that produced amazing international conversations. My group had representatives from everywhere from Austria to Iran, and from Sierra Leone to Thailand and every relevant topic you can imagine was discussed. As the Pope had invited atheists and members of other faiths, it meant that outside perspectives on the Church were also present.

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After discussion the time came to create something to represent that dialogue, a document. I was fortunate to be selected to be on the writing team. We hunkered down in a library, surrounded ourselves with the minutes from these meetings, and tried to write something that represented everybody. You can read the resulting document here.

What was key to the writing of the document was the ability to state that people disagreed on things. This gave us the freedom to give some nuance and be true to the dialogues that had taken place. Given that there are so many different approaches, including some from outside the faith, it was fascinating to attempt to give them all a voice, including the secular. I cannot properly convey the energy of that writing room, how suddenly this impossible task became possible to us as we watched young people from all over the world say the same things to us on the page.

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Here are a few key points that were repeated by many, and how they appear in the document.

  • Dissatisfaction at the parish level: Many expressed that the parish, and its potential lack of community or understanding, is a reason why some young people leave the Church. The document records that many young people ‘leave after experiencing indifference, judgment and rejection. One could attend, participate in, and leave Mass without experiencing a sense of community or family as the Body of Christ.’
  • Initiatives outside of the parish: Many also spoke of the life they had found outside of the Parish, which both engaged them in the faith and explained it to them. ‘We respond to initiatives that offer us an understanding of the Sacraments, prayer and the liturgy, in order to properly share and defend our faith in the secular world’ stating that many movements ‘have developed fruitful ways to not only evangelize young people, but also their peers.’ In my experience, and it seemed in the lives of others present, this energy often bursts out separate from the parish into these great lay initiatives.
  • Breakdown of the family: discussing the formation of the young person, the family came up a lot, all seemingly noting the modern struggles of family life. The document reports that ‘traditional family models in other places are in decline. This leads to young people suffering as well.’ It goes on to suggest that the Church can model ‘healing for our families’.
  • The role of women in the Church and the world: there was a big conversation around women during the Synod, with a general feeling that women were not being given enough substantive roles in the Church. The document speaks of women four times, partly because it was written in three sections by three separate writing teams, which shows how prevalent this issue is. The document states that there is, ‘a general problem in society in that women are still not given an equal place’but also that whilst there are, ‘great examples of women serving in consecrated religious communities and in lay leadership roles… for some young women, these examples are not always visible.’ The question, ‘what are the places where women can flourish within the Church and society?’ is posed, with the document asking for the Church to ‘deepen its understanding of the role of women’.
  • A humble Church: in regard to the Church’s manner, the scandals of the Church’s history were discussed a lot. ‘…Scandals attributed to the Church – both real and perceived – affect the confidence of young people’, ‘A credible Church is one which is not too afraid to allow itself to be seen as vulnerable.’
  • Engaging new ways of communicating: Surprisingly, it was not just western countries that spoke of struggling with ‘an increasingly secular society’, and there was a general feeling that the Church was not communicating well in this new context and with new media. The document represents this by saying ‘we desire that the Church spread this message through modern means of communication and expression’ especially through ‘social media as well as other digital spaces, to more easily and effectively offer information about the Church and its teachings’. Many recognised that social media can be dangerous in ways that manifest, ‘through isolation, laziness, desolation and boredom’ which can also create ‘a delusional parallel reality’ but there was consensus that ‘the internet offers the Church an unprecedented evangelical opportunity’.
  • A willingness to lead: the section first written about young leaders was barely edited over the drafts. It states that young people in the Church feel that they‘are ready to be leaders, who can grow and be taught by older members of the Church, by religious and lay women and men’ asking for this support in the form of ‘leadership programmes for the formation and continued development of young leaders.’ Creativity surfaced a lot too, with many feeling that the creative side of the Church was, ‘often dominated by older Church members.’

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What is common to these points is that young people want to know why the Church says what it does, and for it to express it in modern ways, accessible to young people of today.

My hope for the future of this Synod is that these concerns are taken seriously and are not dismissed either by the inaccurate idea that this event was stage-managed from above, or that our voices do not matter because we are young.

The document gives a picture of where young people are. If we hope to understand and evangelise young people, then talking to them is an obvious and yet ground-breaking thing for the Church to have done.

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US Catholic Bishops support March for Our Lives

[Christopher White]

Addressing the United States Congress in September 2015, Pope Francis asked: “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?”

He continued: “Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.”

On Saturday, March 24, protest over innocent blood being spilt materialized in the first ever March for Our Lives — which drew over 200,000 young protestors to Washington, D.C., cities in all 50 states, and places such as London and Sydney — in response to the Parkland school massacre, where 17 students and teachers were killed in Florida this past February.

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Since 2010, there have been over 150 school shootings in the United States, and the March for Our Lives was a direct response, calling for stricter gun control legislation in the U.S. — a plea that has been echoed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

In a statement released in early March, the U.S. bishops called on Congress to find “concrete proposals” in response to the “crisis of gun violence.”

The bishops also said that President Donald Trump’s proposal to arm teachers in the classroom “seems to raise more concerns than it addresses” and instead advocated for raising the age of gun ownership, banning bump stocks, and requiring universal background checks as solutions that offer “more promise.”

These petitions, among others, were among the proposals being supported by attendees at Saturday’s March for Our Lives, which included a number of U.S. Catholic student groups who participated in the historic event (see here and here for accounts).

While the March for Our Lives was student driven, much of the financial support came from gun safety organizations and celebrity donors. Although it did not have the official backing of the USCCB, many individual bishops offered their support for the event, often taking to social media to offer their endorsement and prayers.

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A wide range of U.S. prelates, spanning the ideological and geographical spectrum, chimed in:

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston spoke at a local Mass for Peace, Justice, and Healing where he praised the example of Parkland students who galvanized the nation into action.

“They have helped us to realize that these tragedies victimize people from all walks of life, from every class and ethnicity. We owe these students and those who will join them today our support and our gratitude,” he said.

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island — a strong pro-life voice among the U.S. bishops, who has publicly announced that he switched his party registration from the Democratic Party to Republicans over the issue of abortion — also took to Twitter on Saturday to voice his support of gun regulations.

“It seems to me that private citizens shouldn’t be permitted to own assault rifles any more than then they can own chemical weapons of mass destruction. How about a little common sense in this public debate?,” he wrote.

Bishop Bill Wack of the diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee in Florida also offered his support, making a direct connection to the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. in protest of abortion, which regularly draws crowds of nearly half a million individuals and enjoys widespread Catholic backing.

“It’s good to see so many young people raising their voices against gun violence, just as it is inspiring to see them at the March For Life every year. We must be pro-life in all of life’s beautiful forms and stages. God, give us the gift of peace,” Wack wrote on Twitter.

(For a full summary of responses from U.S. bishops, see my Crux wrap-up here.)

A series of high-profile incidents of gun violence over the past year have led to increasingly vocal responses from the U.S. bishops.

Last October, a gunman killed over 50 individuals and injured over 800 others at a concert in Las Vegas and one month later, a gunman opened fire in a Texas church in Sutherland Springs, killing 26 individuals and injuring 20 more.

Following these events, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. bishops, issued a statement where he said the violence confirmed a “fundamental problem” in America.

“This incomprehensibly tragic event joins an ever-growing list of mass shootings, some of which were also at churches while people were worshipping and at prayer,” DiNardo said after the Texas shooting.

“A Culture of Life cannot tolerate, and must prevent, senseless gun violence in all its forms.  May the Lord, who Himself is Peace, send us His Spirit of charity and nonviolence to nurture His peace among us all,” he added.

The U.S. bishops have had a long-standing policy that supports tighter gun control legislation that balances support for the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, which guarantees the right to bear arms.

In 1994, when the U.S. Congress passed a ban on assault weapons, the U.S. bishops supported it. The ban, which was up for renewal in 2004, failed to pass — despite continued support from the bishops’ conference.

In a 2000, the U.S. bishops released a major document, “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice,” in which they held that “in the long run and with few exceptions (i.e., police officers, military use), handguns should be eliminated from our society.”

Among the general policies advanced by the U.S. bishops’ include: “Measures that control the sale and use of firearms, such as universal background checks for all gun purchases; Limitations on civilian access to high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines; A federal law to criminalize gun trafficking; Improved access to and increased resources for mental health care and earlier interventions; Measures that make guns safer, such as locks that prevent children and anyone other than the owner from using the gun without permission and supervision; and an honest assessment of the toll of violent images and experiences which inundate people, particularly our youth.”

Following the Parkland school shooting, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who led the Denver archdiocese at the time of the 1997 Columbine High School massacre, lamented: “nothing seems to change, no matter how brutal the cost. Terrible things happen; pious statements are released and the nation goes back to its self-absorbed distractions.”

On the eve of the March for Our Lives, the Trump administration announced that it was moving to end the sale of bump stocks, devices that allow for automatic weapons to effectively function as a machine gun through continuous firing of ammunition.

Such a move is one that certainly falls within the parameters supported by the U.S. bishops, though it is largely viewed as only a first step toward pursuing more effective policies to reduce gun violence in a nation reeling from this “fundamental problem.”

Christopher White is the national correspondent for Crux. Follow him on Twitter @CWWhite212.

 

Posted in gun control, United States, weapons

Text written by young people following pre-synod meeting published by Vatican

300 hundred young people met in Rome 19-24 March to talk about the topics that they would like bishops to discuss during their meeting for the Synod on ‘Young people, faith and vocational discernment’ next October. Chosen by their respective bishops’ conferences, they were joined by 15,000 others who took part via Facebook groups.

As a result of the meeting, the young people have written a 16-page document in English which has been translated to the other major languages and published by the Vatican website. The English text follows.


INTRODUCTION

The young person of today is met with a host of external and internal challenges and opportunities, many of which are specific to their individual contexts and some of which are shared across continents. In light of this, it is necessary for the Church to examine the way in which it thinks about and engages with young people in order to be an effective, relevant and life-giving guide throughout their lives.

This document is a synthesized platform to express some of our thoughts and experiences. It is important to note that these are the reflections of young people of the 21st century from various religious and cultural backgrounds. With this in mind, the Church should view these reflections not as an empirical analysis of any other time in the past, but rather as an expression of where we are now, where we are headed and as an indicator of what she needs to do moving forward.

It is important at the outset to clarify the parameters of this document. It is neither to compose a theological treatise, nor is it to establish new Church teaching. Rather, it is a statement reflecting the specific realities, personalities, beliefs and experiences of the young people of the world. This document is destined for the Synodal Fathers. This is to give the Bishops a compass, pointing towards a clearer understanding of young people: a navigational aid for the upcoming Bishops’ Synod on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment” in October 2018. It is important that these experiences be viewed and understood according to the various contexts in which young people are situated.

These reflections were borne out of the meeting of more than 300 young representatives from around the world, convened in Rome March 19-24, 2018 at the inaugural Pre-Synodal Meeting of Young People and the participation of 15,000 young people engaged online through the Facebook groups.

The document is understood as a summary of all of our participants’ input based on the work of 20 language groups and 6 from social media. This will be one source, among others, that will contribute to the Instrumentum Laboris for the Synod of Bishops 2018. It is our hope that the Church and other institutions can learn from the process of this Pre-Synodal Meeting and listen to the voices of young people.

Understanding this, we can therefore move forward to explore with openness and faith where the young person is situated today, where the young person sees his or herself in relation to others, and how we as the Church can best accompany young people towards a deeper understanding of themselves and their place in the world.

Part One

The Challenges and Opportunities of Young People in the World Today

  1. The Formation of Personality

Young people look for a sense of self by seeking communities that are supportive, uplifting, authentic and accessible: communities that empower them. We recognize places that are helpful for the development of their personality, namely family, which occupies a privileged position. In many parts of the world, the role of elders and reverence for one’s ancestors are contributing factors to the formation of their identities. However, this is not shared universally, as traditional family models in other places are in decline. This leads to young people suffering as well. Some young people move away from their family traditions, hoping to be more original than what they see as “stuck in the past” and “old fashioned.” On the other hand, in some parts of the world, young people seek identity by remaining rooted within their family traditions and striving to stay true to the way they were raised.

The Church therefore needs to better support families and their formation. This is especially relevant in some countries without freedom of expression where young people – particularly minors – are prevented from attending church and as such, must be formed in the faith at home by their parents.

A sense of belonging is a significant factor to the shaping of one’s identity. Social exclusion is a contributing factor to the loss of self-worth and identity experienced by many. In the Middle East, many young people feel obliged to convert to other religions in order to be accepted by their peers and the surrounding dominant culture. This is also acutely felt by immigrant communities in Europe, who also feel the pressures of social exclusion and the pressure to shed their cultural identity and assimilate to the dominant culture. This is an area where the Church needs to model, and provide space for, healing for our families, responding to these issues by showing that there is room for everyone.

It is worth noting that the young person’s identity is also shaped by our external interaction and membership within specific groups, associations and movements which are also active outside of the Church. Sometimes, parishes are no longer places of connection. We also recognize the role of educators and friends, such as leaders of youth groups who can become good examples. We need to find attractive, coherent and authentic models. We need rational and critical explanations to complex issues – simplistic answers do not suffice.

For some, religion is now considered a private matter. Sometimes, we feel that the sacred appears to be something separated from our daily lives. The Church oftentimes appears as too severe and is often associated with excessive moralism. Sometimes, in the Church, it is hard to overcome the logic of “it has always been done this way”. We need a Church that is welcoming and merciful, which appreciates its roots and patrimony and which loves everyone, even those who are not following the perceived standards. Many of those who look for a peaceful life end up dedicating themselves to alternative philosophies or experiences.

Other key places of belonging are groups such as, social networks, friends and classmates as well as our social and natural environments. These are places where many of us spend most of our time. Often, our schools do not teach us to develop our critical thinking.

Crucial moments for the development of our identity include: deciding our course of study, choosing our profession, deciding our beliefs, discovering our sexuality and making life-changing commitments.

Other things that can both shape and affect the formation of our identities and personalities is our experiences with the Church. Young people are deeply vested in and concerned about topics such as sexuality, addiction, failed marriages, broken families as well as larger-scale social issues such as organized crime, human trafficking, violence, corruption, exploitation, femicide, all forms of persecution and the degradation of our natural environment. These are of grave concern in vulnerable communities around the world. We are afraid because in many of our countries there is social, political and economic instability.

As we grapple with these challenges, we need inclusion, welcome, mercy and tenderness from the Church – both as an institution and as a community of faith.

  1. Relationship with Other People

Young people are trying to make sense of a very complicated and diverse world. We have access to new possibilities to overcome differences and divisions in the world, but this is being realized in different realities and to varying degrees. Many young people are used to seeing diversity as a richness and find opportunity in the pluralistic world. Multiculturalism has the potential to facilitate an environment for dialogue and tolerance. We value the diversity of ideas in our globalized world, the respect for other’s thoughts and freedom of expression. Still, we want to preserve our cultural identity and avoid uniformity and a throwaway culture. We should not fear our diversity but celebrate our differences and what makes each one of us unique. Sometimes, we feel excluded for being Christians in a social environment that is adverse to religion. We are aware that we need to encounter ourselves and others to build up profound bonds.

In some countries, the Christian faith is a minority while another religion is dominant. Countries with Christian roots have a tendency today to gradually reject the Church and religion. Some young people are trying to make sense of faith in an increasingly secular society, where freedom of conscience and religion are under attack. Racism at different levels affects young people in different parts of the world. There is still an opportunity for the Church to propose another “way” for young people to live their lives, but this needs to be done so within often-complicated social frameworks.

In this way it is often hard for young people to even hear the message of the Gospel. This is accentuated in places where tensions between peoples might become very common, despite a general appreciation for diversity. Particular attention needs to be drawn to our Christian brothers and sisters who are persecuted around the world. We remember our Christian roots in the blood of the martyrs and while we pray for the end of all persecution, we are grateful for their witness of faith to the world. Moreover, there is still no binding consensus on the question of welcoming migrants and refugees, or on the issues which cause the phenomenon in the first place. This is despite the acknowledgement of the universal call to care for the dignity of every human person.

In a globalized and inter-religious world, the Church needs to not only model but also to elaborate on already existing theological guidelines for peaceful, constructive dialogue with people of other faiths and traditions.

  1. Young People and the Future

Young people dream of safety, stability and fulfilment. Many hope for a better life for their families. In many places of the world, this means looking for physical safety; for others this relates more specifically to finding a good job or a specific lifestyle. A common dream across continents and oceans is the desire to find a place where the young person can feel that he or she belongs.

We envision greater opportunities, of a society which is coherent and trusts us. We seek to be listened to and to not merely be spectators in society but active participants. We seek a Church that helps us find our vocation, in all of its senses. Furthermore, sadly not all of us believe sainthood is something achievable and that it is a path to happiness. We need to revitalize the sense of community that leads us to a sense of belonging.

Some practical concerns make our lives difficult. Many young people have experienced great traumas in a variety of ways. Many still suffer under the weight of mental illness and physical disabilities. The Church needs to better support us and provide avenues to assist us in our healing. In some parts of the world, the only way to attain a secure future is to receive higher education or work excessively. While this is a commonly held standard, it is not always possible due to a variety of circumstances young people find themselves in. This idea is a prevalent notion and has consequently affected our understanding of work. Despite this reality, young people wish to affirm the inherent dignity of work. Sometimes, we end up discarding our dreams. We are too afraid, and some of us have stopped dreaming. This is seen in the many socio-economic pressures that can severely drain the sense of hope among young people. At times, we have not even had the opportunities to keep dreaming.

For this reason, young people seek to engage with and address the social justice issues of our time. We seek the opportunity to work towards building a better world. In this regard, Catholic Social Teaching is a particularly informative tool for young Catholics who also want to pursue this vocation. We want a world of peace, one that harmonizes integral ecology with a sustainable global economy. For young people living in unstable and vulnerable regions of the world, there is a hope and expectation for concrete actions from governments and from society: the end of war and corruption, addressing climate change, social inequalities and security. What is important to note is that regardless of context, everyone shares the same innate desire for the higher ideals: peace, love, trust, equity, freedom and justice.

Young people dream of a better life, yet many are forced to emigrate in order to find a better economic and environmental situation. They hope for peace and are especially attracted to the “Western myth”, as depicted through media. Young Africans dream of a self-reliant local church, one that does not require aid that feeds into dependency, but one that is a life-giving contributor to its communities. Despite the many wars and intermittent outbreaks of violence, young people remain hopeful. In many Western countries, their dreams are centred on personal development and self-realization.

In many places there is a wide gap between the desires of young people and their capacity to make long-term decisions.

  1. Relationship with Technology

When referring to technology, one must understand the duality of its application. While modern advancements in technology have greatly improved our lives, one must be prudent with its usage. As with all things, reckless application can have negative consequences. While technology has, for some, augmented our relationships, for many others it has taken the form of an addiction, becoming a replacement for human relationship and even God. Regardless, technology is now a permanent part of the life of young people and must be understood as such. Paradoxically, in some countries technology and particularly internet is accessible while the most basic needs and services are still lacking.

The impact of social media in the lives of young people cannot be understated. Social media is a significant part of young people’s identity and way of life. Digital environments have a great potential to unite people across geographical distances like never before. The exchange of information, ideals, values and common interests is now more possible. Access to online learning tools has opened up educational opportunities for young people in remote areas and has brought the world’s knowledge to one’s finger tips.

The duplicity of technology however, becomes evident when it leads to the development of certain vices. This danger is manifested through isolation, laziness, desolation and boredom. It is evident that young people around the world are obsessively consuming media products. Despite living in a hyper-connected world, communication among young people remains limited to those who are similar to them. There is a lack of spaces and opportunities to encounter difference. Mass media culture still exercises a lot of influence over young people’s lives and ideals. With the advent of social media, this has led to new challenges over the extent to which new media companies have power over the lives of young people.

Often, young people tend to separate their behavior into online and offline environments. It is necessary to offer formation to young people on how to live their digital lives. Online relationships can become inhuman. Digital spaces blind us to the vulnerability of another human being and prevent us from our own self-reflection. Problems like pornography distort a young person’s perception of human sexuality. Technology used this way creates a delusional parallel reality that ignores human dignity.

Other risks include: the loss of identity linked to a misrepresentation of the person, a virtual construction of personality and the loss of grounded social presence. Furthermore, long-term risks include: the loss of memory, culture, and creativity before the immediacy of access to information and a loss of concentration linked to fragmentation. In addition, there exists a culture and dictatorship of appearances.

The conversation on technology is not limited to the internet. In the field of bioethics, technology poses new challenges and risks with regards to the safety of human life at all stages. The advent of artificial intelligence and new technologies such as robotics and automation poses risks to employment opportunities for working-class communities. Technology can be detrimental to human dignity if not used with conscience and caution and if human dignity is not at the center of its usage.

We offer two concrete proposals regarding technology. First, by engaging in a dialogue with young people, the Church should deepen her understanding of technology so as to assist us in discerning its usage. Moreover, the Church should view technology – particularly the internet – as a fertile place for the New Evangelization. The outcomes of these reflections should be formalized through an official Church document. Second, the Church should address the widespread crisis of pornography, including online child abuse, as well as cyber-bullying and the toll these take on our humanity.

  1. Search for Meaning in Life

Many young people, when asked the question “What is the meaning of your life?” do not know how to answer. They do not always make the connection between life and transcendence. Lots of young people, having lost trust in institutions, have become disaffiliated with organized religion and would not see themselves as “religious.” However, young people are open to the spiritual.

Many also lament how infrequently young people seek the answers to life’s meaning in the context of faith and church. In many places around the world, young people attach meaning to their lives through their job and personal success. The difficulty of finding stability in these areas produces insecurity and anxiety. Many have to migrate in order to find a good place to work. Others, due to economic instability, abandon family and culture.

Finally, others noted that while young people can ask questions about the meaning of life, this does not always mean that they are ready to commit themselves decisively to Jesus or to the Church. Today, religion is no longer seen as the main stream through which a young person searches for meaning, as they often turn to other modern currents and ideologies. Scandals attributed to the Church – both real and perceived – affect the confidence of young people in the Church and in the traditional institutions for which she stands.

The Church can play a vital role in ensuring that these young people are not marginalized but feel accepted. This can happen when we seek to promote the dignity of women, both in the Church and in wider society. Today, there is a general problem in society in that women are still not given an equal place. This is also true in the Church. There are great examples of women serving in consecrated religious communities and in lay leadership roles. However, for some young women, these examples are not always visible. One key question arises from these reflections; what are the places where women can flourish within the Church and society? The Church can approach these problems with real discussion and open-mindedness to different ideas and experiences.

There is often great disagreement among young people, both within the Church and in the wider world, about some of her teachings which are especially controversial today. Examples of these include: contraception, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation, marriage, and how the priesthood is perceived in different realities in the Church. What is important to note is that irrespective of their level of understanding of Church teaching, there is still disagreement and ongoing discussion among young people on these polemical issues. As a result, they may want the Church to change her teaching or at least to have access to a better explanation and to more formation on these questions. Even though there is internal debate, young Catholics whose convictions are in conflict with official teaching still desire to be part of the Church. Many young Catholics accept these teachings and find in them a source of joy. They desire the Church to not only hold fast to them amid unpopularity but to also proclaim them with greater depth of teaching.

Throughout the world, the relationship to the sacred is complicated. Christianity is often seen as something which belonged to the past and its value or relevance to our lives is no longer understood. Meanwhile, in certain communities, priority is given to the sacred since daily life is structured around religion. In some Asian contexts, the meaning of life can be associated with Eastern philosophies.

Ultimately, many of us strongly want to know Jesus, yet often struggle to realize that He alone is the source of true self-discovery, for it is in a relationship with Him that the human person ultimately comes to discover him or herself. Thus, we have found that young people want authentic witnesses – men and women who vibrantly express their faith and relationship with Jesus while encouraging others to approach, meet, and fall in love with Jesus themselves.

Part Two

Faith and Vocation, Discernment and Accompaniment

It is both a joy and a sacred responsibility to accompany young people on their journey of faith and discernment. Young people are more receptive to a “literature of life” than an abstract theological discourse; are conscious and receptive and are also committed to being actively engaged in the world and in the Church. To that end, it is important to understand how young people perceive faith and vocation, and the challenges facing their discernment.

  1. Young People and Jesus

The relationship of young people with Jesus is as varied as the number of young people on this earth. There are many young people who know and have a relationship with Jesus as their Savior and the Son of God. In addition, young people often find closeness to Jesus through His Mother, Mary. Others may not have such a relationship with Jesus but see Him as a moral leader and a good man. Many young people perceive Jesus as a historical figure, one of a certain time and culture, who is not relevant to their lives. Still others perceive Him as distant from the human experience, which for them is a distance perpetuated by the Church. False images of Jesus that some young people possess often lead them to be unattracted to Him. Erroneous ideals of model Christians feel out of reach to the average person and thus so do the rules set by the Church. Therefore, for some, Christianity is perceived as an unreachable standard.

One way to reconcile the confusions that young people have regarding who Jesus is involves a return to Scripture to understand more deeply the person of Christ, His life, and His humanity. Young people need to encounter the mission of Christ, not what they may perceive as an impossible moral expectation. However, they feel uncertain about how to do so. This encounter needs to be fostered in young people, which needs to be addressed by the Church.

  1. Faith and the Church

For many young people, faith has become private rather than communal, and the negative experiences that some young people have had with the Church have contributed to this. There are many young people who relate to God solely on a personal level, who are “spiritual but not religious”, or focused only on a relationship with Jesus Christ. For some young people, the Church has developed a culture which focuses heavily on members engaging with the institutional aspect of herself, not the person of Christ. Other young people view religious leaders as disconnected and more focused on administration than community-building, and still others see the Church as irrelevant. It can seem that the Church forgets that the people are the Church, not the building. For other young people, they experience the Church as very close to them, in places such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America, as well as in different global movements; even some young people who do not live the Gospel feel connected to the Church. This sense of belonging and family sustains these young people on their journey. Without this anchor of community support and belonging, young people can feel isolated in the face of challenges. There are many young people who do not feel the need to be part of the Church community and who find meaning to their life outside of the Church.

Unfortunately, there is a phenomenon in some areas of the world where young people are leaving the Church in large quantities. Understanding why is crucial in moving forward. Young people who are disconnected from or who leave the Church do so after experiencing indifference, judgment and rejection. One could attend, participate in, and leave Mass without experiencing a sense of community or family as the Body of Christ. Christians profess a living God, but some attend Masses or belong to communities which seem dead. Young people are attracted to the joy which should be a hallmark of our faith. Young people express a desire to see a Church that is a living testimony to what it teaches and witnesses to authenticity on the path to holiness, which includes acknowledging mistakes and asking for forgiveness. Young people expect leaders of the Church – ordained, religious, and lay – to be the strongest example of this. Knowing that models of faith are authentic and vulnerable allows young people to freely be authentic and vulnerable themselves. It is not to destroy the sacredness of their ministry, but so that young people might be inspired by them on the path to holiness.

On many occasions, young people have difficulty finding a space in the Church where they can actively participate and lead. Young people interpret their experience of the Church as one where they are considered too young and inexperienced to lead or make decisions as they would only make mistakes. There is a need for trust in young people to lead and to be protagonists of their own spiritual journey. This is not just to imitate their elders, but to really take ownership of their mission and responsibility, lived out well. Movements and new communities in the Church have developed fruitful ways to not only evangelize young people, but also to empower them to be the primary ambassadors of the faith to their peers.

Another common perception that many young people have is an unclear role of women in the Church. If it is difficult for young people to feel a sense of belonging and leadership in the Church, it is much more so for young women. To that end, it would be helpful for young people if the Church not only clearly stated the role of women, but also helped young people to explore and understand it more clearly.

  1. The Vocational Sense of Life

There is a need for a simple and clear understanding of vocation to highlight the sense of call and mission, desire and aspiration, which makes it a concept more relatable to young people at this stage of their lives. “Vocation” has sometimes been presented as an abstract concept, perceived as too far out of the reach of the minds of many. Young people understand the general sense of bringing meaning to life and being alive for a purpose, but many do not know how to connect that to vocation as a gift and call from God.

The term “vocation” has become synonymous with the priesthood and religious life in the culture of the Church. While these are sacred calls that should be celebrated, it is important for young people to know that their vocation is by virtue of their life, and that each person has a responsibility to discern what it is that God calls them to be and to do. There is a fullness to each vocation which must be highlighted in order to open the hearts of young people to their possibilities.

Young people of various beliefs see vocation as inclusive of life, love, aspiration, place in and contribution to the world, and way to make an impact. The term vocation is not very clear to many young people; hence there is need for greater understanding of the Christian vocation (the priesthood and religious life, lay ministry, marriage and family, role in society, etc.) and the universal call to holiness.

  1. Vocational Discernment

Discerning one’s vocation can be a challenge, especially in light of misconceptions about the term. However, young people will rise to the challenge. Discerning one’s vocation can be an adventure along the journey of life. That being said, many young people do not know how to intentionally go about the process of discernment; this is an opportunity for the Church to accompany them.

Many factors influence the ability of young people to discern their vocations, such as: the Church, cultural differences, demands of work, digital media, family expectations, mental health and state of mind, noise, peer pressures, political scenarios, society, technology, etc. Spending time in silence, introspection and prayer, as well as reading the Scriptures and deepening self-knowledge are opportunities very few young people exercise. There is a need for a better introduction to these areas. Engaging with faith-based groups, movements, and like-minded communities can also assist young people in their discernment.

We recognize in particular the unique challenges faced by young women as they discern their vocation and place in the Church. Just as Mary’s “yes” to God’s call is fundamental to the Christian experience, young women today need space to give their own “yes” to their vocation. We encourage the Church to deepen its understanding of the role of women and to empower young women, both lay and consecrated, in the spirit of the Church’s love for Mary, the mother of Jesus.

  1. Young People and Accompaniment

Young people are looking for companions on the journey, to be embraced by faithful men and women who express the truth and allow young people to articulate their understanding of faith and their vocation. Such people do not need to be models of faith to imitate, but instead living testimonies to witness. Such a person should evangelize by their life. Whether they are familiar faces in the comfort of home, colleagues in the local community, or martyrs testifying to their faith with their very lives, there are many who could meet this expectation.

Qualities of such a mentor include: a faithful Christian who engages with the Church and the world; someone who constantly seeks holiness; is a confidant without judgement; actively listens to the needs of young people and responds in kind; is deeply loving and self-aware; acknowledges their limits and knows the joys and sorrows of the spiritual journey.

An especially important quality in a mentor is acknowledgement of their humanity – that they are human beings who make mistakes: not perfect people but forgiven sinners. Sometimes mentors are put on a pedestal, and when they fall, the devastation may impact young people’s abilities to continue to engage with the Church.

Mentors should not lead young people as passive followers, but walk alongside them, allowing them to be active participants in the journey. They should respect the freedom that comes with a young person’s process of discernment and equip them with tools to do so well. A mentor should believe wholeheartedly in a young person’s ability to participate in the life of the Church. A mentor should nurture the seeds of faith in young people, without expecting to immediately see the fruits of the work of the Holy Spirit. This role is not and cannot be limited to priests and consecrated life, but the laity should also be empowered to take on such a role. All such mentors should benefit from being well-formed, and engage in ongoing formation.

Part Three

The Church’s Formative and Pastoral Activity

  1. The manner of the Church

Today’s young people are longing for an authentic Church. We want to say, especially to the hierarchy of the Church, that they should be a transparent, welcoming, honest, inviting, communicative, accessible, joyful and interactive community.

A credible Church is one which is not afraid to allow itself be seen as vulnerable. The Church should be sincere in admitting its past and present wrongs, that it is a Church made up of persons who are capable of error and misunderstanding. The Church should condemn actions such as sexual abuse and the mismanagement of power and wealth. The Church should continue to inforce her no-tolerance stance on sexual abuse within her institutions and her humility will undoubtedly raise its credibility among the world’s young people. If the Church acts in this way, then it will differentiate itself from other institutions and authorities which young people, for the most part, already mistrust.

All the more, the Church draws the attention of young people by being rooted in Jesus Christ. Christ is the Truth which makes the Church different from any other worldly group with which we may identify. Therefore, we ask that the Church continue to proclaim the joy of the Gospel with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

We desire that the Church spread this message through modern means of communication and expression. The young have many questions about the faith, but desire answers which are not watered-down, or which utilize pre-fabricated formulations. We, the young Church, ask that our leaders speak in practical terms about controversial subjects such as homosexuality and gender issues, about which young people are already freely discussing without taboo. Some perceive the Church to be “anti-science” so its dialogue with the scientific community is also important, as science can illuminate the beauty of creation. In this context, the Church should also care for environmental issues, especially pollution. We also desire to see a Church that is empathetic and reaches out to those struggling on the margins, the persecuted and the poor. An attractive Church is a relational Church.

  1. Young Leaders

The Church must involve young people in its decision-making processes and offer them more leadership roles. These positions need to be on a parish, diocesan, national and international level, even on a commission to the Vatican. We strongly feel that we are ready to be leaders, who can grow and be taught by the older members of the Church, by religious and lay women and men. We need young leadership programs for the formation and continued development of young leaders. Some young women feel that there is a lack of leading female role models within the Church and they too wish to give their intellectual and professional gifts to the Church. We also believe that seminarians and religious should have an even greater ability to accompany young leaders.

Beyond institutional decision-making, we want to be a joyful, enthusiastic and missionary presence within the Church. We also strongly express a wish for a prominent creative voice. This creativity often finds itself in music, liturgy and the arts but, at the moment, this is an untapped potential, with the creative side of the Church often dominated by the older Church members.

There is also a desire for strong communities in which young people share their struggles and testimonies with each other. In many places, this is already happening in lay initiatives, movements and associations, but they wish to be more supported, officially and financially.

The young Church also looks outward; 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.

  1. Preferred places

We would like the Church to meet us in the various places in which she currently has little or no presence. Above all, the place in which we wish to be met by the Church is the streets, where all people are found. The Church should try to find creative new ways to encounter people where they are comfortable and where they naturally socialize: bars, coffee shops, parks, gyms, stadiums and any other popular cultural centers. Consideration should also be given to less accessible spaces, like in the military, the workplace and rural areas. As well as these environments, we also need the light of faith in more difficult places such as orphanages, hospitals, marginal neighborhoods, war-torn regions, prisons, rehabilitation centers and red-light districts.

While the Church already meets many of us in schools and universities throughout the world, we want to see her presence in these places in a stronger and more effective way. Resources are not wasted when they are put into these areas as these are the places in which many young people spend most of their time and often engage with people of varied socioeconomic backgrounds. Many of us are already faithful members of parish communities or members of the various institutions, associations and organizations within the Church. It is imperative that those who are already engaged are supported in the Church community so that they can be strengthened and inspired to evangelize the outside world.

As well as the many physical places in which we can be encountered, the digital world is one that must be taken into account by the Church. We would like to see a Church that is accessible through social media as well as other digital spaces, to more easily and effectively offer information about the Church and its teachings, and to further the formation of the young person. In short, we should be met where we are – intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, socially and physically.

  1. The Initiatives to be Reinforced

We long for experiences that can deepen our relationship with Jesus in the real world. Initiatives that are successful offer us an experience of God. Therefore, we respond to initiatives that offer us an understanding of the Sacraments, prayer and the liturgy, in order to properly share and defend our faith in the secular world. The Sacraments are of great value to us who desire to develop a deeper sense of what they mean in our lives. This is true of marriage preparation, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, preparation for baptism of children and so forth. Because of the lack of clear and attractive presentation as to what the Sacraments truly offer, some of us go through the process of receiving but undervaluing them.

Some fruitful initiatives are: events such as World Youth Day; courses and programs that provide answers and formation, especially for those new to the faith; outreach ministries; youth catechisms; weekend retreats and spiritual exercises; Charismatic events, choirs and worship groups; pilgrimages; Christian sports leagues; parish or diocesan youth groups; Bible study groups; university Christian groups; different faith apps, and the immense variety of movements and associations within the Church.

We respond to well-organized, larger-scale events, but also hold that not all events need to be of this scale. Small, local groups where we can express questions and share in Christian fellowship are also paramount to maintaining the faith. These smaller events in social spaces can bridge the gap between larger Church events and the parish. Gathering in these ways is especially important to those in countries less accepting of Christians.

The social and the spiritual aspects of Church initiatives can be complimentary to each other. There is also a desire for social outreach and evangelization to people struggling with illnesses and addictions, while also engaging in dialogue with people of varied religious, cultural and socioeconomic contexts. The Church should reinforce initiatives that fight against human trafficking and forced migration, as well as narco-trafficking which is especially important in Latin America.

  1. Instruments to be used

The Church must adopt a language which engages the customs and cultures of the young so that all people have the opportunity to hear the message of the Gospel. However, we are passionate about the different expressions of the Church. Some of us have a passion for “the fire” of contemporary and charismatic movements that focus on the Holy Spirit; others are drawn towards silence, meditation and reverential traditional liturgies. All of these things are good as they help us to pray in different ways. Outside of the Church, many young people live a contented spirituality, but the Church could engage them with the right instruments.

  • Multimedia– The internet offers the Church an unprecedented evangelical opportunity, especially with social media and online video content. As young people, we are digital natives who could lead the way. It is also a great place to encounter and engage people of other faiths and none. Pope Francis’ regular video series is a good example of the use of the internet’s evangelical potential.
  • Gap Year Experiences– Years of service within movements and charities give young people an experience of mission and a space to discern. It also creates the opportunity for the Church to encounter non-believers and people of other faiths in the world.
  • The Arts and Beauty– Beauty is universally acknowledged and the Church has a history of engaging and evangelizing through the arts, such as music, visual art, architecture, design etc. Young people especially respond to and enjoy being creative and expressive.
  • Adoration, Meditation and Contemplation– We also appreciate the contrast of silence offered by the Church’s tradition of Eucharistic Adoration and contemplative prayer. It provides a space away from the constant noise of modern communication and it is here that we encounter Jesus. Silence is where we can hear the voice of God and discern His will for us. Many outside of the Church also appreciate meditation, and the Church’s rich culture of this could be a bridge to these secular but spiritual people. It can be counter-cultural, but effective.
  • Testimony– The personal stories of the Church are effective ways of evangelizing as true personal experiences that cannot be debated. Modern Christian witnesses and the witness of the persecuted Middle Eastern Christians are particularly strong testimonies to the fullness of life found in the Church. The stories of the Saints are still relevant to us as paths to holiness and fulfilment.
  • The Synodal Process– We have been thrilled to be taken seriously by the hierarchy of the Church and we feel that this dialogue between the young and the old Church is a vital and fruitful listening process. It would be a shame if this dialogue were not given the opportunity to continue and grow! This culture of openness is extremely healthy for us.

At the beginning of this Pre-Synodal Meeting and in the spirit of this dialogue, Pope Francis brought to the conversation this verse from the Bible: “And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel 3:1).

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Reaching young people who no longer pray or attend church

[Jack Valero] Look around any congregation at Mass in the UK and there’s one group that’s largely absent – young people. After Confirmation they simply disappear and may or may not return when they get married and have a family of their own.

This week 300 young people from across the world are in Rome to debate the issues and prepare a document that will be presented at the Synod of Bishops convoked by Pope Francis for next October on the topic of ‘Youth, faith and vocational discernment.’ On Monday 19th March the Pope spent the morning with them.

Pope Francis sits among the young people during the pre-synod meeting on 19 March

“Too often we talk about young people without asking what they think,” Pope Francis stated, adding that “even the best analysis on the world of youth, although useful, are no substitute for the need to meet face to face.” There are those who tend to “idolize youth, hoping it will never end,” and others who prefer to keep the young people “at a safe distance,” rather than allowing them to be protagonists of their own futures.

“In the Church this must not be the case,” he said, and “this pre-synod meeting should be a sign of something big: the desire of the Church to listen to many young people, where nobody is excluded.”

This is not just a problem for the UK – a report published today jointly by the Institut Catholique in Paris and the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion And Society based at St Mary’s University in Twickenham, uses European Social Survey data to explore rates of religious affiliation and practice among young adults (16-29 year olds) across 22 countries in Europe.

It is required reading for anyone concerned with the future of faith communities across Europe. Among its key findings are:

  • The proportion of young adults with no religious affiliation (‘nones’) is as high as 91% in the Czech Republic and as low as 17% in Poland. In the UK it is 70%.
  • Around 60% of British, Spanish, Dutch and Belgian young adults ‘never’ attend religious services. And around 65% of British young adults ‘never’ pray.
  • The percentage of 16-29 year-old identifying as Catholic varies between 82% for Poland, down to single digits for Scandinavian countries. In the UK it is 10%.
  • Only 2% of Catholic young adults in Belgium, 3% in Hungary and Austria and 6% in Germany say they attend Mass weekly. In the UK, it is 17%.
  • 21% of British young adults identify as Christian: 7% as Anglicans compared to 6% as Muslims.

Angela Markas an Australian delegate in Rome this week said, “Young people are not satisfied with simple answers, or with answers that their parents gave them. Young people are seeking depth. We want, and are able, to understand the complexity of it all and be able to have a voice.”

Prior to the meeting 150,000 young people answered a questionnaire about their hopes, needs and concerns about the Church and issues in their everyday lives.

The Pontiff mentioned that he had been able to read some of the emails answering the questionnaire sent by the young people for the meeting, and was moved “by the call of some of the young people to the adults to remain near them and help them with the important decisions in their lives.”

Inviting attendees to express themselves “frankly and freely” the Pope finished his address emphasizing, “That’s why we need you young people, living stones of a Church with a young face.”

 

Posted in Europe, Pope Francis, synod 2018, young people

Catholic Schools – Diverse or Divisive?

[Joe Ronan] In 2017 the 2,222 Catholic schools in England and Wales educated 854,827 students at all ages from primary to sixth form. One in ten schools in England and Wales are Catholic schools.   The Catholic presence in education is not new, or even recent. It can be traced back to the monastic and cathedral schools in the late sixth century onwards which provided the first schools and universities in England.   The Reformation saw Catholic education forced underground or abroad, but in around 1850 schools were re-established and became an important part of the education of the poor and immigrant communities of the new industrial age.

The key part played by church schools, Anglican, Catholic and Jewish, in educating large numbers of children – whose families could not afford private education – was recognised in the 1944 Education Act which saw most of those existing faith schools becoming Voluntary Aided schools, a status which they have to the current day.

The Voluntary Aided schools form an important part of the state school system but are managed separately by their sponsors, and are expected to make a contribution to their capital costs which for Catholic schools today amounts to tens of millions of pounds a year that comes from the Catholic parishes and dioceses across the country. If there were no Catholic schools, this additional money would need to be funded by the state. (Of course Catholics also contribute financially in the same way as the general population in paying taxes which partly go to funding education.)

The schools operate inside exactly the same educational structure as any other state school, but in recognition of the contribution they make are able to manage those parts of the curriculum related to religious education, reflecting the particular ethos of their faith. They also have flexibility in the setting of their admission criteria which allows them to cater particularly for the Catholic population that part funds them.

The Catholic schools are successful and popular with parents. They outperform the national averages for Key Stage 2 by 5% and GSCE results by 4%.

The schools are not however Catholic-only communities. Over 300,000 non-Catholic students attend the schools, some 35% of the total. Nor is the teaching staff exclusively Catholic – 49% are from other faiths or none.

Catholic schools are amongst the most ethnically diverse in the country; some 22% more pupils come from minority ethnic backgrounds than the national average.   Diversity of faith is found too. There were over 27,000 Muslim students in Catholic schools in 2017, as well as Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu and Jewish. The schools will often also reflect the cultural diversity of Catholicism which is present across the world.   They also have larger catchment areas than similar sized non-faith schools, often covering whole towns or districts which again increases the diversity of those attending.

It is against this background that the current controversy on the ‘Faith school cap’ plays out.

In 2010 the then Schools Minister David Laws introduced a cap of 50% on admissions to new academy schools on the basis of the faith of the student. This effectively prevented new Catholic Schools being opened; since a school would normally be proposed to serve areas of large Catholic population, and Catholic canon law forbids Bishops from turning away Catholic pupils solely on the basis of their faith, then the Church felt unable to propose new schools.

For the 2017 General Election, the Conservative manifesto included a promise to “replace the unfair and ineffective inclusivity rules that prevent the establishment of new Roman Catholic schools.” The current Education Secretary Damian Hinds has indicated that this manifesto promise is likely to be put into effect.

This has prompted the recent letter to the Telegraph from 70 signatories including humanists, atheists and some religious groups including the retired Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. In this they argue that scrapping the cap would be “deleterious to social cohesion and respect” and “allows schools to label children…and then divide them up”.

In fact the very popularity of Catholic schools with non-Catholic (and with non-Christian) parents would indicate that the fears for social cohesion and respect, whilst understandable, are not grounded in any reality. If they were, then such effects would have become evident over the last 160 years or so over which Catholic schools have been opened and operated with no such cap. On the contrary, the evidence, both statistical and anecdotal, is that the schools produce excellent results both on educational attainment and in the pastoral provision for all pupils, Catholic and otherwise. If this were not the case then the Ofsted inspection structure would highlight this and direct it to be corrected, since Catholic schools have to meet the same criteria in these respects as all state schools.

The only discrimination that the cap has produced is a discrimination against Catholics – it prevents them making use of schools that they fund both in general taxation and in specific giving and effectively denies them the freedom of choosing to attend a school with a Catholic ethos.   The diversity that the cap was intended to produce has never materialised. This may be due to the fact that the minority faith schools also in theory subject to the cap are only popular with their own communities. The Catholic schools however are already diverse because they are extremely popular with parents of all faiths and none.

The cap in short has been counter-productive. It has prevented the opening of well proven and diverse provision for children of all communities.

A letter from Catholic MPs in response to the Telegraph letter puts the issue in a unique perspective: ‘To argue that the operator of the most diverse existing schools cannot be allowed to open new ones for fears they will not be diverse is entirely illogical.’

Catholic provision has been at the heart of education in Britain for many centuries. It flourishes because it is recognised as an integral and valued part of British life. Catholics are not recognisable in the street as such, we have no distinctive dress or ethnicity, but we take a full part in civic life and contribute to social and economic development wholeheartedly. If you were to ask the average passer-by in what ways they were aware of a Catholic presence in the country it would likely be through the Catholic Schools.

The cap has been a well-intended but flawed attempt to promote diversity. It has had the opposite effect, and it is high time it was consigned to history.

 

Statistics on Catholic Education are taken from the Catholic Education Service Digest of 2017 Census Data for Schools and Colleges in England, and the similar document for Wales.

http://catholiceducation.org.uk/images/CensusDigestEngland2017.pdf

http://catholiceducation.org.uk/images/CensusDigestWales2017EnglishText.pdf

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