When I worked as a reporter covering young people in the Diocese of Brooklyn for The Tablet newspaper, my favorite feature was “Youth Views.” I would visit schools and ask a handful of teenagers three questions and give them time to reflect and answer on paper.
The only thing I asked was for them to be honest. Their answers were always insightful, faith-filled and creative. Reading their answers was a chance to learn more about their actual experiences instead of relying on generalizations made about young people.
That is why I was excited to read Pope Francis’ letter asking youth to let their voices resonate in their communities and “be heard by your shepherds of souls.”
Teens and young adults from around the world will have a chance to share their authentic and diverse experiences with church leaders.
And young people will be the center of discussion at the next world Synod of Bishops, which will focus on how the church can accompany young people today as they discover their life’s vocation. This vocational discernment refers to the vocations of marriage, ordained ministry, consecrated life, etc. — and how to fulfill it joyfully.
To aid in the process, youth ages 16 to 29 can submit reflections on their expectations and their life experiences using the website www.sinodogiovani.va. This website will be launched on March 1. The synod will take place in October 2018.
When I shared this news with friends who are not involved in the life of the church, most agreed that this consultation step in the synod process shows a willingness to listen, understand and work alongside young people.
It also shows an understanding that — while united by a belief in God and a desire to be loved and to help others — young men and women in different parts of the world face different realities that affect the ways they can discover their call and pursue it.
A preparatory document for the synod released early this year focused on some of the difficulties young people around the globe face today, such as unemployment, poverty, lack of education, violence, exploitation, as well as the refugee crisis. The document also assures people that the church wants to “encounter, accompany and care for every young person, without exception.”
After hearing about different studies on how the religiously unaffiliated, or “nones,” are growing as a demographic and how many young people feel left behind by the church, this synod process gives me hope. It can enlighten both youth and the church to move forward, while recognizing the vibrancy and gifts young people can contribute to the church.
Echoing the words of the pope, Australian Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne spoke of young people’s “great capacity to address injustice and create new opportunities for joy and hope.”
“A better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity,” the pope said in his letter.
Starting with the opportunity of making their voices heard, this process leading to the Synod of Bishops can make young people feel more involved in the church and more empowered and energized to participate in a church that cares for them. As the pope said, it is a chance to have our views resonate in our communities.
Maria-Pia Negro Chin is bilingual associate editor at Maryknoll Magazine.