A couple of weekends ago I was invited to represent the Lancaster diocese at a meeting about the upcoming synod in Rome on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment.
Coincidently my Fiancé was chosen to represent the Salford diocese! So we were both speaking from the point of view of a young person in the Church, as well as being a young catholic couple journeying towards the vocation of marriage.
The meeting was a relatively small gathering of around 12 people who had come to represent their areas from around the UK. The focus and aim of the meeting was to give input based on our experience of being young people in the Church as well as what other young people experience in their own communities. It was no surprise that all of us there work with young people in one way or other and so we all had a well-rounded view on various experiences the youth of today are dealing with.
We discussed many aspects of youth culture in the Church and all had different things we felt were relevant to our specific diocese, however there were some crucial points that we all agreed were widespread and should be fed back at the synod: Identity, Social Media and Fear of Being Authentic.
Identity. We talked about many issues plaguing the youth and so many of these stem from some sort of issue with their identity. To know the Father, and to have a relationship with Him, we need to know ourselves as children of God.
But how can we do that if we are having so many issues with who we are physically, emotionally and psychologically? It’s proven that it’s impossible for humans to think of further fulfilment (that of their spiritual wellbeing) if their basic human needs aren’t being met. The church needs to find a balance of being able to support the fulfilment of these needs in order to properly evangelise and catechise young people. In my opinion a simple way of fulfilling some of these areas is to simply be more hospitable, welcoming and accommodating to those seeking out the Church. Many can be put off when they don’t feel wanted or loved by the community they are seeking to immerse themselves in, which is why we see young people especially seeking this acceptance elsewhere.
We as a church are more than capable of providing an environment to allow this to happen.
Social Media. Social media is what our existence has become. It has rapidly grown into a norm for everyone and we live in a society where our lives are being broadcast to the world by the nanosecond. We have started to seek our worth and affirmation through a screen, from people we may never encounter in our physical lives. This is where we are falling into dangerous territory with how this is affecting the human person, in particular youth and their self-worth, esteem and again, identity.
It also fuels a disposable and relative culture that is rapidly growing amongst the youth. Friendships and relationships are thrown away and ended via a text, or even worse a public declaration on Twitter! Unborn babies don’t matter and are thrown away daily, we are changing gender, having cosmetic procedures to alter our look, and we are using people for our own gain whether that is sex, money or affirmation.
But, that’s not to say that it can’t be a force for good and a positive tool to be used. Like it or not, social media is here to stay and the church needs to use it and be present on the platforms that reach billions of people far and wide at every minute of every day. Pope Francis recognises this and is well known to people outside of the church due to his efforts. It’s now time for us to reflect this across the wider church.
The third topic that we felt was important to share was Fear. It appears that the Church is fearful to really be who she is. We are worried of offending, scared to speak truth into the lives of those we encounter, and we seem terrified that we will cause any more ‘bad press’. But, by being timid we are doing a disservice to the future of the Church. By not being authentic we are not offering the world anything different than what they are already having shoved down their necks. We need to shed the fear and live out our first vocation and shared mission of holiness – and that’s not to just be from the Bishops, your parish priest, or youth minister. We ALL have an obligation to uphold the truth and share it with everyone we encounter!
These were just some areas we spoke about, but there is so much more the youth have to say. Even though we won’t be in the meeting with the Synod fathers and won’t get the chance to voice our individual opinions we must continue to make our voices heard.
So if you’ve got something you’d like to say, ideas you want to share, issues you want to raise, then start talking. To each other, to your priests, to your chaplains, youth ministers, anyone that will listen! Do not settle for what we have in front of us, do not settle for injustice, do not settle for a church that is doing the minimum. We, the youth, are the future generation that will carry the church forward, it is our responsibility to make sure it not only survives, but thrives.
Keep the Faith,
Pope Francis: “Can we change things?”
The youth shouted: “yes!”.
That shout came from your young and youthful hearts, which do not tolerate injustice and cannot bow to a “throw-away culture” nor give in to the globalization of indifference. Listen to the cry arising from your inner selves! Even when you feel, like the prophet Jeremiah, the inexperience of youth, God encourages you to go where He sends you: “Do not be afraid, [...], because I am with you to deliver you” (Jer 1:8).