Listen, don’t lecture, if you want to engage young people in the life of the Church.
That’s the advice of bishops and others participating in the Synod of Bishops on “young people, the faith and vocational discernment” taking place this month at the Vatican.
And it’s a pretty good bit of advice, especially if listening is a step toward promoting the dialogue that the Church needs to employ if our young people are to become involved in the beliefs and practices of the Catholic faith.
Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, a synod member, said his work as founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries confirmed to him that a new approach is needed in outreach to under-30 Catholics.
Church teaching, he said, could be explained in a way that it does not seem to be “imposed from above but would rather emerge organically from below, a response to the yearning of the mind and the heart.”
The Church, he said, “must walk with young people, listen to them with attention and love, and then be ready intelligently to give a reason for the hope that is within us.”
Nigerian Bishop Godfrey Igwebuike Onah of Nsukka told participants it was important for bishops to listen to young men and women, otherwise the synod risks becoming a meeting of “only old people” talking about young people.
Although the traditional synod structure allows only bishops as official participants, young people from around the world were heavily involved during the months of planning and as delegates to the event itself.
They made clear, as outlined by a youth delegate from Chile, that they want a Church that’s more open to minorities; that’s aggressive in rooting out all forms of abuse by clergy and other Church personnel; and that strengthens the role of women in decision-making and participation in Church affairs.
A delegate from a youth council in Australia called for a Church where “young people can voice their opinions, their hopes, their needs and their struggles, without being judged.”
Sister Briana Santiago, a 27-year-old member of the Apostles of the Interior Life from San Antonio, who was the first person under 30 to address the synod, said that while growing up she was blessed with catechists who “didn’t speak only about rules, but also about their personal relationship with Christ” in a way that “changed my image of God from judge to Father.”
In college, she said, she met a religious sister “who took seriously everything I was experiencing and accompanied me, helping me to pray and develop my interior life.”
We think the thoughts expressed by these three young people offer a good prescription for the Church.
From what we’ve read of the synod bishops’ statements so far, and of the opening address by Pope Francis, who said “a Church that does not listen…cannot be credible” to young people, we’re hopeful that the Church is indeed listening and that a meaningful dialogue can begin.