Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP: Synod on Youth Blog Day 1

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Pope Francis addresses the opening session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican on 3 October. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring

In the opening Mass of the Synod on Youth the Holy Father took particular comfort in the Lord’s promise to accompany us in our missionary work with the gift of the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:26; Lk 24:32). He said that the dreams and hopes of young people can also be infectious and help renew the Church (cf. Joel 2:28).

So Pope Francis prayed that the Holy Spirit will anoint the Synod Fathers “with the gift of dreaming and of hoping” so “we will, in turn, be able to anoint our young people with prophecy and vision”.

Without the Church, the Holy Father said, young people are left “exposed to stormy seas, bereft of a faith community to sustain them, orphans devoid of a sense of direction and meaning in life”. There are all too “many peddlers of death who oppress their lives and darken their vision” the Holy Father said. So young people rely upon the Church to work for their dignity and fulfilment with “a creative dedication, an intelligent dynamism, an enthusiastic hope”.

The Pope recalled the Words to Youth addressed by soon-to-be Saint Paul VI at the end of the Second Vatican Council, concluding very encouragingly: “Dear Synod Fathers, the Church looks to you with confidence and love.”

A great beginning!

On arrival at the Synod Hall the Holy Father was at the door to meet us all and welcome us! We prayed together (singing the Divine Office). Then he addressed us, encouraging us to listen to each other and through each other to the Holy Spirit, to be open to the surprises God might have in store for us, to discern and be enriched.

The Pope was clearly troubled by the obstacles that can arise to dialogue between generations. He joked about how, even in ancient times, older people would say “Young people today are immoral and a danger to the culture” while youth said “Old people are out of date and have no wisdom to offer my generation”. Some things stay the same… and reach all the way to Australia!

He then explained how such attitudes impoverish both sides. He quoted an Egyptian proverb: “If you haven’t got any old people in your household go out and buy one!” A “tired and heart-burdened Church” needs reasons to hope from a genuine inter-generational encounter – “a vision of the future replenished with the youthful joy of the Gospel”.

Who is at this Synod?

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri just told us we are:

• 48 Ex officio Members Patriarchs or Major Archbishops of the Oriental Catholic Churches; Heads of Roman Dicasteries; and Members of the Synod Council)
• 182 Elected Members (Archbishops, Bishops, Superiors General) elected by the Episcopal Conferences of the world and by the Union of Superiors General
• 41 Papal Appointee Members
• 23 Experts in Youth Ministry etc.
• 49 Auditors
• 34 Young People
• And 1 youngish Pope…
The Romans like statistics!

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, speaks at the opening session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican on 3 October. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring

How does a Synod of Bishops work?

There has already been a long process of consultation of young people, youth ministers and bishops conferences. The pre-Synod gathering in March and its document, the Instrumentum Laboris (Working Text) was published in June.
We are meeting Monday to Saturday from 9am to 7.15pm. Each Synodal Father will make only one formal intervention of 4 minutes, but there will be times for interchange as well; some others will also be invited to speak. After every five interventions there will be a silent pause for reflection.

We will divide into smaller language groups, meet regularly through the month and give feedback to the Synod. Following this the texts will be drafted and revised on the advice of the organisers, auditors, small groups and the whole Synod. The final document will be debated and voted on by the Synod. Finally the group will also elect the new Synod Council. We will then need a good holiday…

Cardinal Baldisseri told us our Synodal method must be “riconoscere, interpretare, scegliere” – meaning ‘to recognise, interpret and choose.’ [More or less the see-judge-act paradigm of the Jocists /Young Christian Workers.]
We will follow the itinerary of the Instrumentum Laboris, recognising what young people are saying to us, interpreting this with a wisdom that is “biblical, anthropological, theological, ecclesiological, spiritual and pedagogical”, and choosing pastoral directions going forward.

“Realities are greater than ideas” and so we must focus on the socio-cultural realities of Youth rather than theories, the Cardinal said. Faith is the call to live by Christ’s intentions and so is always disquieting – a faith that does not shake us up needs to be shaken up, as Pope Francis has said. And we must assist young people in Vocational Discernment: to hear what Christ has chosen for them and respond generously. Vocation is the call of humanity to life, of Christians to holiness, and of individual young Christians to their own particular routes to life and holiness. We need a vocational culture, a culture of ways of service. Listening, accompaniment and formation are key.

For all updates on the Synod on Youth click here.