Just over one year ago, we launched the “In Light of Faith” series with hope of providing a platform for young voices ahead of October’s synod on “Young people, faith and vocational discernment” convened by Pope Francis.
We wrote at the time that we hoped the column would highlight the specific contributions young people have to offer the church, but also that it would showcase “what the church can offer to young people at a time and in a culture characterized by skepticism of institutional religion, saturation with identity politics, and changes in communication and commitment.”
Much has changed since we first penned those words.
For starters, who could have predicted this summer’s long and devastating revelations of sexual abuse, which have challenged the faith of so many and introduced a new generation to the pain felt by Catholics around the world back in 2002 when the crisis first surfaced?
Or, reflecting on the past year, how can one not recall the destruction caused by natural disasters like Hurricane Maria, which killed nearly 3,000 Puerto Ricans and devastated the island? Who can forget the ugly displays of racism in Charlottesville, Virginia, that reminded us of America’s original sin, or the devastating scenes from the aftermath of the shootings in Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida?
For many individuals — but especially young people — it has been hard to watch the news without asking if it’s possible to maintain faith.
Yet along with such wreckage, we’ve been offered moments that strengthen beliefs and commitments.
Take, for instance, Pope Francis’ proclamation earlier this summer that the death penalty is no longer admissible — a reminder to the world that all human life is sacred and an affirmation of what so many people of our generation desperately seek: a consistent ethic for preaching and teaching that truth.
Consider, too, the unified response of our own bishops when the Trump administration enacted policies that separated families at the border. Here, the Catholic Church not only served as one of the country’s loudest and most prophetic voices that such a policy was unjust — but folks like Sister Norma Pimentel also spearheaded the boots-on-the-ground effort of helping reunite families when the government failed to do so.
These moments, when we see the Gospel being lived out on the streets, are when the church’s message is offered with a credibility and force that makes living in light of faith seem not only possible, but attractive.
It’s true that in this information age young Catholics closely watch how their church leaders respond to global events. But in some ways, they are even more concerned with experiencing their closeness and accompaniment.
Our columnists consistently asked for credible mentors and witnesses who will help them with their daily struggles and decision-making, who walk with them as they navigate their own pressures and anxieties. They are looking for examples of people who live meaningful and joyful lives so that they can imitate them. They still want to know how to be saints.
On the eve of the synod of bishops, we think back to Pope Francis’ great hope that “by listening to young people, the church will once again hear the Lord speaking in today’s world.”
The synod fathers and their brother bishops have many serious challenges to confront — both from within and without. There is a real danger that they could lose focus on the topic at hand, or succumb to ecclesial infighting, as has been the pattern this summer. If so, they could fumble one of the biggest opportunities they have to attend to an often-overlooked demographic, one that is critical for the church’s future.
Young people around the world have asked that “the hierarchy of the church … should be a transparent, welcoming, honest, inviting, communicative, accessible, joyful and interactive community.”
As this marks our final column in this series, we add our voices to that great hope, knowing that “a credible church is one which is not afraid to allow itself be seen as vulnerable.”
Now, the real work begins.
Italiano is the founding executive director of The Given Institute.
White is national correspondent for Crux. Follow him on Twitter @CWWhite212.
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