By Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
An apology for past failings and calls for a renewed Church that listens and offers the guidance young people seek were common themes from the Australian voices heard at the Synod currently unfolding in Rome.
More than 250 bishops from around the world joined Pope Francis, religious sisters, brothers, clergy, and lay youth representatives for the Vatican’s 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment from 3 October.
Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli, ACBC delegates Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and Melbourne Auxiliary Bishop Mark Edwards, and youth auditor Sebastian Duhau from Parramatta, all offered insightful interventions about issues of importance to young people and the future Church.
Archbishop Comensoli urged action to rediscover a young, outward looking Church.
“It is time to leave behind a Church that only sits around waiting. Our task is to rediscover a young Church that goes out; not to re-create a Church for the young to come to,” he said.
“My dear young friends: you live in a world that is often difficult for us older generations to comprehend, and sometimes you venture down paths that leave us concerned for you.
“Yet you are also seekers of a Gospel horizon within which to locate your lives. You hope for faithful witnesses in whom you can place your trust. You seek true guides who will welcome your abundant energies and accompany you on the journey,” Archbishop Comensoli continued.
“Friends, you yearn for this because you are horizon hunters! You are seekers of the fire of a new Pentecost, and pursuers of a young Church willing to start afresh from Christ. May we discover this horizon together.”
Archbishop Fisher apologised to young people for the ways the Church had failed them, but urged them to not give up on Jesus.
“For the shameful deeds of some priests, religious and lay people, perpetrated upon you or other young people just like you, and the terrible damage that has done; and for the failure of too many bishops and others to respond appropriately when abuse was identified, and to do all in their power to keep you safe and for the damage thus done to the Church’s credibility and to your trust: I apologise,” he said.
“For the times Catholic families, parishes and schools have failed to introduce you to the person of Jesus Christ, his saving word, and his plan for your life; and for the times we’ve seemed to you unwelcoming, distant or harsh, or have not demonstrated the sheer joy of being Christians; and for the times when you were searching for your sexual, ethnic or spiritual identity, and needed a moral compass, but found Church people unsympathetic or ambiguous: I apologise.
“For poor preaching, catechesis or spiritual direction that fails to convert, and for lack of imagination or enthusiasm for that new evangelisation to which the recent popes have called us; and for our failures to demonstrate God’s mercy, as Pope Francis has insisted we must, and to involve you in campaigns for justice and in works of mercy; and for families, dioceses and religious orders that, with a contraceptive mentality, have given up on generating new vocations and so have not nurtured yours: I apologise.
“But I say to young people also: never give up on Jesus because of our failures. Never give up on the Church that you can help make more faithful. Never give up on the world that, with Christ and the Church’s help, you can make a better place,” Archbishop Fisher concluded.
Bishop Edwards called the tense times in which we live an opportunity for fertile intergenerational encounters – a time to work out how to be missionary and pass on God’s message.
“This epoch, God’s gift to us, has its tension and makes compromises,” he said.
“Being Church, then, is to accompany the young in this new place and to lead them to and to support them to places where they can encounter Jesus. When they meet Jesus, he will change their hearts. And this will enable them to discover appropriate ways to live fruitfully and really humanly and as effective Church in the tensions of this new age.
“We stand at the edge of a new era. We knew how to be Church in the past, how to pass on the faith and how to be effective missionaries. At least some of what we did isn’t effective any more. How we are to be Church, how we are to be missionary and pass on the Good News in the new era, is not clear to us. We don’t know how to enter in,” Bishop Edwards added.
“Young people are closer to being natives in this new era than we are. They more instinctively grasp the lay of this land with its values of equality, inclusion, respect, authenticity and the integration of multiple aspects of life such as body and soul.
“My suggestion is that fertile intergenerational encounter, in my country at least, might involve us saying to our young people: ‘You show us the lay of this land, the way to the place where you dwell, and we will show you the way to God’.”
Mr Duhau was one of 20 young people selected from 40 countries to represent youth and advise Pope Francis at the Synod.
The 22-year-old, a retreat and programmes coordinator for Lasallian Mission Services, reflected on his own experience of the Church and how the Church needed to learn to listen to the world and the voices of young people who had much to offer.
“I was led and mentored by a young person, who had been empowered to do so by my grandfather. In this space, I was encouraged not only to learn, but to help lead the congregation through my music, and to lead other young musicians when I was capable,” he said.
“The Church must empower young people, giving them the opportunity and tools to lead at all levels. We young people bring with us a visible sense of joy, hope and enthusiasm, and it is these things that the Church currently needs. The Church must open its doors and become a Church that is led not only by the ordained, but by all of us, together and alongside one another.
“I say these things today as a reflection of my own experiences of the Church. I have been fortunate to experience a Church that has listened to me, where I have been accompanied and led by many people, religious and lay alike, and where I have been given countless opportunities to lead as a young person myself.
“This experience of the Church is one that should be shared by all young people, but it is often the exception, rather than the norm,” Mr Duhau explained.
“I stand here today asking you to see me as an example of what can be done when the Church enters into authentic relationship with young people, accompanies them through their lives, learns from them, allows them to use their God-given potential, and invites them to encounter and enter into personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”
The Synod of Bishops runs until 28 October.