Pope Francis has called for the Synod of Bishops, meeting in October 2018, to consider the lives of young people, their faith, and how the Church can support them.
The Synod of Bishops is a gathering of bishops from around the world who meet every few years to reflect on current issues and to advise the pope. Most recently, they met in 2015 to consider the Vocation and the Mission of the Family. Bishops are elected to attend by their national conferences or appointed by the Pope because of their particular expertise, and they are joined by other observers and experts invited to attend from around the world. In 2015, over 250 bishops from around the world were joined by more than 50 other experts.
Consultation has now begun for the meeting in 2018 and in January a preparatory document was published, setting out the key themes the bishops will consider and the questions they will address. Three key headings are:
1. What are the features of the world in which young people live?
2. How young people make decisions about their lives?
3. How can the Church help them?
For the purposes of the Synod, those aged 16 to 29 are considered young.
Of course, young people’s experiences of the world will be very different, depending on where in the world they are, their society, economic status, gender, faith, and many other factors, but some common themes are proposed in the preparatory document. The pace of change in life is high and the world in which young people find themselves is very different to that of their parents and grandparents. Increasing uncertainty leads to greater vulnerability. And globalisation means that young people around the world share much more than previous generations, but this is often in tension with their own local culture and the expectations of their society.
The theme given to the Synod includes Vocational Discernment. This does not refer just to vocations to priesthood or religious life, but more broadly considers the way in which young people make decisions about (i.e. discern) how they live their lives. Young people find it increasingly hard to make choices that cannot be changed, and the synod will look at what support the church gives to young people.
Accompanying young people on this journey can take many forms, but it will include going to meet them where they are, understanding them and calling them to Christ. This will require that we are open to new ways and creative ways of doing things. It will also rely on credible witnesses, adults who live their faith in a way that draws young people in, and the focus naturally falls on parents, families, clergy and teachers, but this is a responsibility for the whole church.
Creating spaces where this can happen is also to be considered. Events such as World Youth Day or pilgrimages can be significant moments when a young person may encounter Christ in a deeper way. But there can be many opportunities closer to home in parish communities, schools, universities, societies and volunteering opportunities. Meeting young people might also mean engaging with them in the environments where they feel comfortable, using their language and forms of expression.
To help with preparations for the meeting of the Synod a number of consultations are underway. The Bishops of England and Wales are running an online survey to help them answer questions about what it is like to be a young person in our country today. This can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/parish-youth-poll. The poll closes on the 5th of June and all young people are encouraged to complete this survey from all backgrounds to ensure a complete picture of the life of young people. A similar survey will be launched soon by the Vatican to gather opinions from around the world.
If you feel called to do so, then please fill out the survey, to ensure the opinions of young people in the Lancaster Diocese are represented. Thank you!