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Vatican City, October 11, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Fourteen small groups of members of the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment discussed the Instrumentum Laboris (IL), or working document, guiding the Synod’s deliberations this week.
Divided by language groups, there were four English-language conversations, three French, two Spanish, one German, and one Portuguese. For many of the participants, these were foreign, or second, languages.
The reports of these sessions were largely difficult to read; most were verbose and poorly organized. However, certain themes and tendencies were clear.
First, the English-speaking groups were concerned that the IL had underemphasized faith in Christ and the Church’s teaching office. One of the English-speaking groups noted that the IL did not mention chastity.
Second, of all the groups, only the one moderated by pro-LGBT Cardinal Cupich explicitly questioned the Church’s emphasis on the traditional nuclear family. Cupich’s group went so far as to suggest that the Church does not accompany young people in unusual familial circumstances.
Third, as expected, there were some rumblings about “updating” the Church’s teaching on sexuality, particularly from the French-speaking Group B, the German-speaking Group, and Cardinal Maradiaga’s Spanish-speaking Group A.
Maradiaga’s group posited that the young have the “right” to make “mistakes” and encouraged pastors to “accompany” the young without reproof, saying “an empathetic Church is one that accompanies despite errors, without imposing, prohibiting, or demanding…”
Fourth, most of the Groups were interested in the role the internet and social media play in the lives of youth people although two Groups pointed out that not all young people have access to the internet. Several were quite concerned about the “digitalization” of culture.
Fifth, at least one Group felt that the IL overemphasized Western concerns. A few Groups discussed the differing circumstances of young people in the developed and in the developing world. Migration concerned all the Groups. Many mentioned the rejection, not just of faith, but of ancestral and cultural traditions.
Sixth, several Groups mentioned the clerical sex abuse crisis and how it has hampered evangelization.
Seventh, some Groups were more optimistic than others about the role faith plays in the lives of the young today. The English-language and Italian-language groups mentioned the openness of the young to faith and their skill in evangelizing other young people. The French-language groups reflected that many young people no longer participate in Christian community life and that they are not looking for Christ.
Eighth, most of the Groups repeated the importance of “listening” to the young. The word “accompaniment” was also frequently employed.
Ninth, it appeared that the pleas of young Catholics who adhere to traditional Catholic liturgies and devotions to the Synod Fathers had fallen on deaf ears. Not only was there no mention of the new liturgical movement, neither the Blessed Mother of God, nor the saints, not even young contemporary saints who might best serve as models to young Catholics, were mentioned in the reports.
Summaries of group reports
English Group A (moderated by Cardinal Gracias)
Group A was concerned “the faith dimension”, “a Christological perspective”, and an emphasis on Christ’s relationships with people were not strong enough in the IL.
“Relationship is clearly the key to encounter with youth,” they reflected.
This was the only Group to mention one serious absence in the document: chastity.
“We noted that a proclamation of chastity, as achievable and good for our young people, is missing from the document, they wrote.
They recommended that the final synod document include quotations from young people at the Synod and pre-Synod to bring it “to life”, and include examples of youth movements around the world.
Group A also discussed social media, not only because it is important for young people, but also because some young people are exploited online.
They emphasized the Church as the teacher of the young, saying, “From the riches of her teaching, including from her ‘“treasure trove’ of social doctrine, the Church can offer them reasons for living and hoping.”
Regarding vocational discernment, this group also contrasted the good priests who had inspired them in their vocations with the current abuse crisis.
English Group B (Moderated by Cardinal Cupich)
This group suggested that the IL was weak in appreciating the openness of young people to faith. They also observed that young people are already active participants in ecumenism and religious dialogue.
Group B’s primary concern, however, seemed to be making the Final Report easily accessible to young people.
“Firstly, a series of small messages, updates, perhaps at the end of each week from the Commission for Information,” they proposed.
“To be accessible to youth, these should have a component which is in video format and is short (less than 3 minutes),” Group B continued.
“Any text should be less than 400 words and be accompanied by pictures. (‘If there isn’t a picture, it didn’t happen.’) These should be done in at least the major languages of the Synod.”
Group B also recommended serious participation by Youth Auditors, saying that they should prepare a text with two Synod Fathers, as a missionary message to the youth of the World.”
Group B objected to the defence of the traditional family. Citing “many other forms of family”, they asked: “Does leadership in the Church require bishops and priests to proclaim the Gospel truth by denying that these are families? Or does our leadership require us to accompany the young people in the reality in which they find themselves…? Is it possible for us to both accept and even honour the family unit that a young person finds herself in and to share the Gospel ideal to her?”
In underscoring the need of the young for friendship, Group B conflated the relationship with the family: “Friendship is yearned for by our young people. They find community through this and they find family in this way.”
English Group C (Moderated by Cardinal Coutts)
Group C found the IL lacking in its section on “Life Choices” because there was not enough there about God and listening to God.
This group emphasized the contemporary breakdown in family life and the growing problem of young people not knowing what “fatherhood” and “motherhood” mean. They stressed that society should support families, that the Church should be a family, and that flourishing new movements in the Church involve families coming together.
Group C said that the very young and very old should be brought together. They declared that the young and the elderly get along well; it is the 40-60 age group that the young have problems with.
Regarding education, there was concern that in Nigeria, for example, Catholic education is just for elites. The developing world needs funding for educating children or developing their skills. At the same time, the group is concerned that “education can be used to promote a form of manipulation”. They discussed the homeschooling model of the USA, but someone asked if parents are qualified to educate their children.
Group C definitely showed a mix of concerns. On the one hand, they cautioned that many young people still do not have access to the internet and social media. On the other, they said that “the psychological way of finding your self-actualization should also be included” in a section on spirituality and religion.
The Group also declared that “Secularization is not something we should be opposed to, that “transhumanism” should be mentioned in the Final Report, and that the Synod members “need to make sure we are clear that young people who don't agree with the church on sex are still members of the churches.”
English Group D (Moderated by Cardinal DiNardo)
Group D had the most clearly written report, following seven themes:
1. Group D said the Final Report should begin, not with sociology like the IL, but with the image of Christ. Group D felt that the perfect image would be that of Christ walking with the disciples to Emmaus.
2. The IL begins too gloomily; Group D thought its emphasis should be on “many examples of young people who are joyfully living out their Catholicism.”
3. The IL is “too Western in focus and tone”; Group D was concerned about western ideological colonization and the “throwaway culture” so particularly destructive in developing countries.
4. Group D stressed the importance of spiritual paternity and maternity.
5. The group was concerned about the “prevalence and influence of the digital culture” which leads to the rootlessness of young people who wander away from their parents’ heritage “into a world of privacy and self-invention”.
6. The group mentioned the sex abuse crisis. Group D observed that a “Church that cannot be trusted is simply incapable of reaching out to young people in an effective way”. It also called for an emphasis on chastity and virtue.
7. Group D asked if the IL’s strong emphasis on listening “compromise or underplays the Church’s authentic teaching mission”.
French Group A (Moderated by Archbishop Macaire)
French Group A said that the purpose of the Synod is “To help young people to meet the eyes of Christ, through the Church which is His body, so that they discover themselves loved by Him, listen to Him and commit to following Him.”
They identified a missionary need to bring Christ to young people, many of whom are not even looking for Him.
Group A thinks that there should be a re-emphasis on the importance of the family and the male-female bond.
They warn that although IL claims that digital media and social networking are ubiquitous, many young people are not connected to the internet.
Group A discussed the special problems of young Christians in Middle and Near East and those who are migrants or simply immigrants “seduced by the mirage of the West”. They interested in helping young people who stay in their countries of origin as well as those who travel westwards.
Group A also discussed current ecumenical and interreligious dialogue among the young in their day-to-day life, and said the young find it difficult to be welcomed into church movements and parishes and to journey spiritually with others.
French Group B (Moderated by Bishop Lacombe)
French Group B reflected that in many countries the young have largely abandoned Christian worship communities. The group believes the Church must both listen to young people and go out as missionaries to them, like the good shepherd who seeks the lost sheep.
They recommend that the Church should develop a new evangelization and a new style of Christian life; train pastors to hear, understand, and accompany the young; raise and educate young people in the faith and Christian life; address the issue of youth migration; and update Church teaching on sexuality:
“It now seems necessary to approach the issue of sexuality more openly with the young and to discuss all subjects related to it.” they wrote. “The Church is called to update her teaching on these matters being aware that she is the servant of the God's mercy. In this sense, it might be useful to elaborate and propose to specific Churches a document dealing with questions of sentiment and sexuality.”
French Group C (Moderated by Cardinal Nzapalainga)
French Group C sees that the problem of handing on the faith is part of a worldwide problem of transmission of the culture of the elders to the young.
This group called for communication between all the different movements and communities within the Church. It was concerned with social exclusion and other problems stemming from migration.
They think that the Final Document should be a conversational document, or “instrumentum conversationis”, engaging the young on the topics of the transmission of faith; response to cultural changes; migration; the body, emotional life and sexuality; the emotional life in ecclesial communities and houses of formation; and the “digital continent”.
Regarding sexuality, Group C wrote:
“The IL sheds light on another criterion of understanding: the insistence on the individual as a whole, while never ignoring the questions of sexuality and feelings. The use of these terms is sometimes a trap as their deeper meaning is not always understood and should be presented as positive. However, this must be done for a positive and beautiful revelation that is part of God's plan.”
Italian Group A (Moderated by Cardinal De Donatis)
Italian Group A also believes that the Final Report should begin with the disciples’ encounter with Christ on the road to Emmaus. They are concerned that the IL does not adequately present the crisis of the transmission of faith to the young.
They emphasized that the young are part of the Church, not outside it, so the expression “young people AND the church” shouldn’t be used. In the same vein, they counselled that initiatives should be organized with, not for, young people.
They were also concerned that the loss of spiritual maternity and paternity in the church has orphaned the young. They reported In their discussion, members of Group A had often mentioned that damage had been done to the young’s spiritual growth by “the scandals in the field of sexuality, wealth and even the abuse of authority”.
Group A believes also that a spirit of individualism has infected the Christian community with a concept of salvation that is “a self-centered psychological well-being … detached from the communitarian and sacramental dimension.”
Italian Group B (Moderated by Cardinal Filoni)
Italian Group B emphasized the importance of listening to the young with empathy and openness to dialogue.
Group B feels it is important not to generalize about the young as all young people are different. They observed that young people in the West lack hope whereas youngsters elsewhere hope to better their circumstances.
Group B stressed the importance of supporting the young in being responsible and in their commitment to the good. Group B observed that the young often excel at catechesis and serving the poor, and thus, if trained, are excellent evangelizers of other young people.
They said that young people must be accompanied with faith, love and discretion, and that a lot of time should be spent with them. It is also necessary to accompany young people regarding emotional life and sexuality:
“A field in which this accompaniment is particularly important is that of the emotional life and of sexuality, where the young need someone to speak to them with clarity, deep humility and empathy, helping them to recognize the signs of God’s love present [in these areas] .”
Group B also voiced concerns for future employment, for migration and for creating better opportunities in young people’s countries of origin. They also counselled greater attention to Catholic schools and universities as places both for evangelizing and dialogue with diverse groups of people.
Italian Group C (Moderated by Cardinal Ravasi)
Of the Italian reports, this is the one that most deserves the phrase “word salad.” Nevertheless, some interesting points can be plucked from the bowl.
First, Italian Group C stressed that pastors and churches should be aware of the “concrete” realities of life lived by young people today brought about by globalization.
They contrasted the youth of the West who have many opportunities, to the young of countries where “food and freedom are lacking.” They voiced concerns about the internet which, far from bringing a democratization of freedom of expression, has led to an echo chamber and an exclusion of reality.
They proposed a catechism which, “without eliminating ‘private’ religiosity, would make people grow in the awareness of being a biblical people on the way”. They also called for a liturgy that would be always more attractive, “not in the exterior sense, but with participation full of the language of signs and with the richness of the content.”
Group C talked of accompanying young people into the work world, where they saw many “enslaving traps” and of migration.
Spanish Group A (Moderated by Cardinal Maradiaga)
Spanish Group A began with a discussion of the desires of young people regarding the Church.
“It is necessary to know what kind of Church young people think about and want, and to assume preventative attitudes and give signs of credibility, without which things won’t change,” they wrote.
There were three main points Group A thought should be emphasized in discussing ministry to the young:
“1) to listen more profoundly in freedom, empathy, without prejudices, in the style of Jesus, 2) abuses, apart from damaging the Church, go against being disciples of Jesus, 3) to give leadership to young people so that they may transform social and ecclesial structures.”
Interestingly, the group proposed a new way of defining who a young person is, saying, “Keeping in mind the increase in lifespan, it might seem more convenient to use sociological characteristics rather than chronological ones to classify youth.”
The group reported a rather negative view of the Church among young people:
“Young people see the Church as indifferent, incompetent, immovable. The final document should inspire the [Bishops’] Conferences to see the reality that they have before them and not be only judges who dictate laws.”
Strangely they posited a “right” of young people to make mistakes:
“The Working Document reflects what young people have said and they are asking us to open up a space for them in the Church, recognizing that our young people have great value and have the right to make mistakes. “
In response, they thought a “charismatic” theology should be introduced.
“It is necessary to have a theology that is more charismatic than institutional,” they wrote, “based on an a hopeful, welcoming, integrating anthropology, one that brings joy, since evangelization is the announcements of the beatitudes, and in the missionary going out that evangelizes through a Christian life and the service of others.”
Spanish Group A indicated that the IL’s section on Life Choices (Points 16, 17 and 18) was very important but that the Church should avoid giving negative precepts to the young. Curiously, they say the Church should simply “accompany” as the young make “mistakes”:
“… it is necessary to avoid saying to young people ‘that should not be done,’ but rather make them see the consequences of their acts, since an empathetic Church is one that accompanies despite errors, without imposing, prohibiting, nor demanding,” they wrote.
“Nonetheless, those same points are the least empathetic that there are and the importance of decisions must be emphasized and they must be encouraged to take risks and make decisions.”
The group also believes that it is “becoming necessary” to reform the “whole subject of anthropological challenges” and to revise “very important subjects such as love, sexuality, women, and gender ideology”.
Meanwhile, Spanish Group A believes also that “neither secularization nor globalization are negative processes, but rather opportunities.”
Spanish Group B (Moderated by Cardinal Ladaria Ferrer)
The members of Spanish Group B concerned themselves mainly with the text of the Instrumentum Laboris. Their report contains various suggestions for modifications of wording and for clarifying minute points.
German Group (Moderated by Bishop Genn)
The members of the German Group pointed to the “world-wide, varied perspective,” where themes are often the same.
These include “the challenges of sexuality; the topic of abuse; the difficulty in communicating the Faith; digitalization; the question about an attractive liturgy and homily; flight and migration; the wish of the youth for freedom and at the same time for an authentic accompaniment; the question of active participation of the young; the question of equality for women in the Church, and much more.”
The German Group stressed the importance of listening to young people and proposed putting the IL’s fifth chapter, which is on this theme, at the top of the Final Document.
The German Group believes there should be a discussion of all the pressures to which young people are exposed: “pressure in school and formation; through the Church, through the expectations of parents, of families, society; to promote oneself in social media; of fashions and opinions of peer groups or also the pressure that comes when a young person confesses to being Catholic.”
It is harder for the young today “to become themselves,” they believe.
This group wants the Final Document to describe in greater detail the “digital reality” of the internet in both its positive and destructive, e.g. pornography, aspects.
They are also concerned for young people who aren’t keen on multiculturalism:
“We are grateful that many young people see pluralism and multiculturalism in a positive way, but we believe that there are also not few young people who close themselves to it out of fear for losing one's identity,” they wrote.
The German Group named three reasons why young people are alienated from the Catholic faith and the Catholic Church:
1) the seeming incongruence between the modern, scientific worldview and the faith
2) themes connected directly or indirectly with sexuality and relations between the sexes (sexual morality in general, assessment of divorce and remarriage, celibacy, the issue of women’s ordination, abuse scandals).
3) a real or apparent connection between religion and violence, including war.
The German group wishes to discuss more deeply the term “metamorphosis” of the human condition, proposing a deeper understanding of what “we mean when we speak of human beings?”
“We have to show the young people the faith as a way to a life that is also successful in human terms,” the German Group maintained.
One of them said that “If we do not have a clear diagnosis of the conditio humana, then we also have no therapy for it.”
They return to the subject of sexuality to say that “in light of the importance of the topic of sexuality for youth, it is not sufficient merely to describe the phenomenon and some problems in paragraphs 52 and 53.”
Thus, the German Group asked for “an anthropological deepening and orientation.”
Regarding technology’s “digitalization” of life, the German Group sounded rather gloomy:
“We do not yet know whether and how the digital world really makes societies better or whether it rather decays and radicalizes them,” they wrote. “We do not yet know, for example, how we can oppose the increasingly totalitarian characteristics of powerful internet giants.”
“Here we feel overwhelmed, as might also be the case not only for the Church, but for the whole of humanity.”
Portuguese Group (Moderated by Cardinal De Aviz)
The Portuguese-speaking Group identified the theme of “life choices” as a ‘guideline’ that should be present in the entire document.
They too mentioned that there are different kinds of young people and different circumstances that young people find themselves in.
The Portuguese Group believes the Church should “encounter” young people in all environments where they are to be found, particularly in the technological one:
“Another fundamental environment to be considered is the digital one, it being an intrinsic part of the youth's culture, in which the digital and face-to-face worlds live together simultaneously,” they wrote.
“The Church needs to be present in that environment through the young themselves,” they continued. “Finally, we also listed aspects of the positive dimension of that digital environment, which, to us, seems to have been given little attention by the 'Instrumentum Laboris'.”
The Portuguese Group reported also that they have “noticed the predominance of the feminine presence in ecclesial environments as well as the high growth of sects in our countries.”
They also said it is important to strengthen the Church’s dedication to and concern for the realities of indigenous people, minorities with African roots, and other local minorities.
The Portuguese Group also wrote that in Chapter 5 they felt a “certain negative undertone concerning the action of Episcopal Conferences towards the young”. In response to this, they noted “the value of World Youth Days” and similar events at the diocesan level.
Regarding sexuality, they wrote that they had noticed that, in some contexts, the Church struggles to correctly transmit the Christian anthropological view of the body and sexuality to young people.
“There are good practices of dialogue and formation in that field that could be better [realized],” they wrote.
The members also discussed the relationship of youth with the liturgy. They said that In some places there is a desire for “greater participation and involvement” in the liturgy, while in other places this “already happens”.
Editor's note: Matthew Cullinan Hoffman, Maike Hickson, and Ricardo German contributed to this report.