EDITOR’S NOTE: We asked Fr. Luke Hansen, S.J., contributing Editor, La Civiltà Cattolica and a doctoral student at the Pontifical Gregorian University, a few questions about the Synod and its impact.
From your work with the young people who attended the Synod as auditors, what was their impression of the proceedings, the sincerity of the Bishops and organizers, and their feeling about being listened to? What stands out as you reflect on their experience?
It is clear that the young auditors had a very strong presence at the Synod. Like the Synod Fathers, each young person was able to give a four-minute speech in the synod hall. At the encouragement of Pope Francis, they made noise in the synod hall when they heard something they strongly agreed with. They also made important contributions in the small group discussions. Many young people felt they were being listened to and that they were having an impact on the conversation.
In my interview with Yadira Vieyra, she spoke about the change she observed in the bishops over the course of the Synod. Some bishops, she said, moved from “more guarded” to “more relaxed” and showing increasing interest in hearing directly from young people about their experience and concerns.
What topics were they most passionate about? And, what were they most concerned to “tell the Church”?
In their floor speeches and at the brief briefings, the young auditors raised a number of issues important to them. Yadira Vieyra spoke powerfully about the challenges faced by immigrants in the United States and the important work of religious sisters which too often goes unrecognized or is even disrespected by some bishops. Others spoke about becoming a fearless church, unafraid to engage the most pressing issues of the day; being inclusive and without judgment, especially toward young people who identify as LGBT, reflecting the compassion of Jesus; and creating more spaces for women to lead and minister in the church.
This last concern was expressed powerfully in the final document of the Synod: "A Church that seeks to live a synodal style cannot but reflect on the condition and role of women within it, and consequently also in society. Young men and young women ask for it with great force" (No. 148). Indeed, it was a topic that came up repeatedly among young people at the Synod.
Luke Hansen, S.J., asking a question at the daily press conference at the Synod
Were there voices that they felt were missing, or which needed to be heard more forcefully or effectively?
I did not hear any of the young auditors express this particular concern. It is important to note that the Synod meeting in October was one important part of a longer process. In addition to a global survey of young people, and extensive discussion on social media, there were several preparatory meetings organized by the Synod office. The most significant one happened in March. Three hundred young people from around the world came to Rome to participate in a week-long meeting. They wrote their own document that later contributed significantly to the synod preparatory document, the basis for the conversations and discernment of the synod participants in October. I have the impression that the young auditors felt that a broad range of experiences and perspectives were represented in this process and the synod documents.
I have a particular concern, however, that some important voices were left out of the process, at least at the Synod in October. Once again the Synod Fathers discussed and wrote about homosexuality without hearing directly from any young Catholics who are openly gay. Thus there remains a distance between how church leaders talk about LGBT issues and what's actually happening in people's lives. Likewise, at the family synod, even though there was extensive discussion about divorced and remarried Catholics, I do not recall the bishops hearing directly from Catholics who have this experience.
You know college age young people. How representative were these voices in your estimation? Where they the voices of the involved and committed? Did they speak for the weary, the reticent, the unengaged, even the un-Churched?
As expected, many of the young auditors at the synod are very involved in the life of the church, often working for church organizations. But it was also clear that each of them knows many young people who feel disillusioned with the church and who struggle with faith. A young auditor from Chile said that many young people -- no longer connected to the church -- reached out to her before the synod and expressed their concerns and hopes. These young people said they wanted the church to be "more open," multicultural, not judgmental, more welcoming to the weaker and vulnerable. They also expressed the hope that young people could have "more paths for participation" in the life of the church.
Did you get a sense of where they would like to see change? How should the Church look and behave if it wants to meet young people where they are?
[I think I've already answered this question.]
Finally, is there any advice you might have anything you have for educators, especially those working in Catholic/Jesuit schools? (Also, will the final document take up how Catholic university education can play a role today in bringing young people to the Church?)
A theological insight that I walked away with is: God is young, Jesus is young, the church is young. It is never too early to invite young people into positions of responsibility. In fact, it's important for the life and health of the church. I hope that this Synod will help inspire more local initiatives, especially within dioceses, to have youth synods and to hear directly from young people and to involve them in the life of the church at every level, even governance. The "walking together" and "listening" -- the most repeated themes and practices of this Synod -- must continue in every part of the church's life. The vision of the final document must now be embodied and live