The Synod on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment begins Oct. 3, 2018, in Rome. Bishops and experts from around the world will gather to discuss how the Catholic Church can best meet the needs of the young faithful.
Ave Maria Press posed several questions on the synod to Katie Prejean McGrady, who was appointed a US delegate to the pre-synod meeting in March by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Leonard J. DeLorenzo, who works in the McGrath Institute for Church Life and teaches theology at the University of Notre Dame.
Ave Maria Press: Why should the average Catholic care what happens in the synod?
Katie Prejean McGrady: “This is the most important questions that can be asked. At first glance, a synod on youth seems relevant to only to youth and those who work with them. For far too long, we’ve relegated youth to the “cheap seats” in the Church. We’ve thought of youth as the future of the Church rather than part of the Church from the moment they are baptized. This synod is a gathering to address how to accompany young people on their journey to meet and fall in love with Jesus. All of us—young or old, church employee or parishioner, family member, acquaintance, friend, teacher, youth minister, or volunteer—are meant to engage with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of those are young people and this conversation about how to keep the youth in the Church, help them be active in the Church, and help them fall in love with Jesus is one we all need to have. What will come out of this synod is going to shape a lot of things for future generations of Catholics. I think it will have an effect on not only youth and young adult ministry, but the entire life of the Church. We would all be served by paying attention, engaging in the discussions, offering our insights, and praying for the movement of the Spirit in this work.”
Ave: You were one of three young adults appointed by the USCCB to attend the pre-synod meeting in Rome. What is your biggest take away from that meeting and how do you think it will impact the work of the bishops in the synod?
Prejean McGrady: “I arrived at the pre-synod meeting in March thinking I knew quite a lot about youth and young adult ministry, and while I do think that’s true, I was immediately struck by how unique young people are all around the world. There’s a lot that unites us even in our differences and discovering how people from Europe, the United States, Asia, Africa, and everywhere else are evangelizing and living their faith was inspiring. I walked away with a truly global perspective on the Church. The way we do things here in the United States is not the only way. In fact, we’d probably greatly benefit from looking at how other countries work to share Jesus. With that global perspective, the participants were able to write a pre-synod document (a letter to the bishops) that was comprehensive, wide-ranging, and offered insights that are both valuable and challenging. My hope, then, is that the bishops gathering in October will gain a global perspective on how to minister to youth and young adults as well, and that in their discussions they will think ‘big picture’ when they propose new ideas, encourage certain initiatives, and advocate for specific programs.”
Ave: What message do the bishops need to send to young people in the Church?
Leonard DeLorenzo: “The bishops must present a clear, compelling, and compassionate image of Christianity maturity, holiness, and a life of grace. The bishops must listen to young people, but at the same time the Church must proclaim the fullness of the Gospel to young people. We must show the beauty of the Gospel and challenge young people to bear the cost of love in their lives. If we do not invest in our young people then we, as the Church, are failing in our divine mission to be a sign and instrument of God’s communion with us in Christ and the hope of our unity with one another. The messages that young people do not need to hear are messages born of or reinforcing factionalism in the Church, where some bishops or others try to advance their own preferred agendas over and against other factions’ agendas. Young people need a Eucharistic vision of unity, one that spills over into charitable works by which we make the sacramental grace of the Eucharist present in the world, in our communities, and in our lives. And in terms of presenting a vision of Christian maturity—in answer to the really critical question of ‘What are we accompanying young people towards?’—I am of the firm conviction that the bishops of the synod must both present the Blessed Mother as the image of discipleship into which we are all called and entrust young people and the whole Church to her care. The Holy Father has dedicated this synod to Mary, and now it is time to make good on that pledge.”
Prejean McGrady: “I think a lot of youth and young adults are looking at bishops and thinking one of two things, either ‘you’re really out of touch’ or ‘you don’t really care.’ I’ve spent time with a number of bishops, worked for them at events and retreats, and shared meals and good conversations with them. That’s not the reality for a lot of young people, though, and so from the outside looking in, it can seem as if bishops live in ivory towers, manage things instead of do real ministry, and are out of touch with their people. I hope that this synod is a chance for bishops to proclaim boldly and without hesitation that they want to hear from, talk with, pray with, and walk alongside youth and young adults. The message is really simple: ‘We’re all the Church and together we can meet Jesus and fall in love with him.’ That’s what I want to hear. That’s what I want to see in the document, along with practical ways that we can all make that happen.”
Ave: Do you think that the sex abuse crisis in the Church, the Pennsylvania grand jury report, and the split caused by the letter of Archbishop Viganò implicating Pope Francis will overshadow the meetings?
DeLorenzo: “Absolutely. But has there ever been a more important time for the Church to dedicate itself to the health and wellbeing of young people? In that regard, the synod is an opportunity in an unspeakably painful time to begin to do something constructive, to exercise new forms of creativity, and to renew our mission to the Gospel. We need new models of lay leadership in the Church, so let this synod be a beginning of the renewal. We need to drive out abuse, exploitation, irresponsibility, failed authority, and corrosive cultures within the Church, so let’s make this synod the beginning of something true and beautiful. Evil is only ever driven out by the good; darkness by light. Let’s face the evil and the darkness; let’s get the whole truth out there; and then let’s recommit ourselves to our dependence on the Lord, under the patronage of the Blessed Mother, to become worthy of the call we have received to evangelize and especially to pass on the Gospel to our younger generations. The scandals in the Church are the work of the devil and rooted in sin, but perhaps part of the providence of God has to do with the timing of this synod, the V Encuentro in the US, and World Youth Day in Panama. These show us the way forward, to commit every last resource and every drop of energy in the Church to nourishing our young people. Let’s build up ‘cultures of formation’ where young people can thrive.”
Prejean McGrady: “Complicated question and complex answer: I sure hope not. I don’t mean to imply that discussing what has been said or how this crisis has been handled is unimportant. On the contrary, it certainly is something that needs to come up at the synod. But—and I mean this with all my heart—I hope we also discuss why young people are leaving the Church in droves, why young people find the Church irrelevant and how we can better answer their questions about big issues, why some young people are on fire for their faith and what got them there, and how we can accompany young people in their search for truth.”
Ave: What else should people know about the work ahead of the bishops in the Synod?
Prejean McGrady: “Synods need to be seen in context. What’s come before this synod? What could come next? Why is this particular topic relevant now? A few years ago, we had a Synod on the Family and Marriage that resulted in the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which addressed the nature of family life, marriage, the reality of love within our lives, and the domestic Church. Since then, Francis also has given us two encyclicals—Laudato Si on care for the environment, and Lumen Fidei on the light of faith—and the recent apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate on the call to holiness.
“What will come out of this Synod on Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment is another document that fits into the scheme of what Francis has written and said during his pontificate. The bishops will answer the big questions concerning young people and to see it all synthesize from both Francis’ pontificate and the centuries of tradition of the Church. The bishops are not walking into this blind—they have read extensively, written a ton, talked with youth and young adults and sought the counsel of experts in the fields of youth and young adult ministry. Their work to prepare and while at the Synod is critically important to ensure the conversation is not only fruitful, but works with the Holy Spirit to usher in a new age of engagement with young people.”
DeLorenzo: “There is a temptation to think that the work of committing to young people is work done ‘way over there’ by ‘those people’ who are gathered in some room the rest of us don’t enter at the synod. That’s false. They have a responsibility, under the charge of the Holy Father, to represent their national conferences, to consult with each other, and to faithfully imagine how to serve young people across the world today and for years to come. But the most important work will be done much closer to home. The work of parishes, Catholic schools, and especially within families is where the real renewal will take place. I can guarantee that during and right after the synod meeting, Twitter will be aflutter with critiques, accusations, analyses, and ‘so what this really means is’ kinds of summaries. All of that is a distraction. That’s the stuff that paralyzes us. That’s where factionalism divides the unity of the Church. We must commit ourselves personally, as disciples within our parishes, schools, and homes, to heed the mission of the Gospel and present its beauty to our young people in word and deed. We must become the witnesses who show them God’s love and testify to that love with our lives.
“In my book What Matters Most, I tried to anticipate this for the sake of the synodal process. If by this time next year we do not find ourselves involved in concrete activity, rededicated to the leadership each of us is called to by virtue of our Baptism, and actually sacrificing in significant ways for the sake of the Gospel and out of love for young people, then we should recognize that we—not they who gathered in Rome—are failing in our mission. What we really need to know is that this is our mission.”