Bishops welcome papal exhortation on youth

Pope Francis
A teenager looks on as Pope Francis smiles during his visit to the Sanctuary of the Holy House on the feast of the Annunciation in Loreto, Italy, March 25, 2019. PHOTO: CNS/Yara Nardi, Reuters

Australian Catholic leaders have welcomed Pope Francis’ fourth Apostolic Exhortation, Christus vivit.

Christus vivit, ‘Christ is alive’, is the title of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation penned by Pope Francis as the fruit of the 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.

Released on 2 April, it is the Pope’s fourth exhortation following Evangelii gaudium, Amoris laetitia and Gaudete et exsultate.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, who attended the synod last October as the then-Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference delegate for youth, said Pope Francis rightly identifies young people as the Church’s present, as well as its future in his latest letter.

Related article: Keep God’s love alive, pope tells young people at World Youth Day

“I am pleased that the Holy Father dedicates much of this letter encouraging young people to cultivate a friendship with Jesus Christ and to invest in family life, in building relationships within their community and to join with others to serve the poor,” the archbishop said.

“There are so many voices in society today promoting individualism and independence as a means of personal fulfilment, but this has left too many youth feeling increasingly isolated, even with the ease of present forms of communication.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis blesses a synod observer before a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican on 16 October. PHOTO: CNS/Vatican Media

“The Holy Father’s reminder that true fulfilment comes through serving God and His people is a timely message of hope.”

The archbishop said that even the name of the document proclaims that the reason for this hope is a “living and loving God who came to save us”.

“I encourage all the faithful in Australia to read and reflect on this letter as we prepare for Easter, and I look forward to working with you to being a better Church with and for our young people,” he said.

The archbishop was joined by Bishop Columba Macbeth-Green OSPPE, the current ACBC delegate for youth, who also said the Pope’s exhortation offers young people “the hope of Christ.”

“Pope Francis is not afraid to name the problems facing young people in our world, particularly exploitation in all its many forms, but he does not dwell on the negatives,” Bishop Macbeth-Green said.

“He invites young people to take their place as the ‘now of the Church’, work in solidarity to fight evil and live the gift of the ‘present’.”

Bishop Macbeth-Green said he was particularly heartened by the three “truths” Pope Francis offers to young people: “God loves you”; “Christ saves you”; and “Jesus is alive”.

“The challenge now for young people – and indeed for all the Church – is to bring the Pope’s words off the page and into our hearts,” he said.

Malcolm Hart, director of the ACBC Office for Youth, said it will take time to reflect upon the 68-page document, but some early messages speak loudly.

Christus Vivit acknowledges many of the challenges facing the young, including how older people sometimes dismiss them, but also the gifts and energy they bring to our world,” said Mr Hart, who also serves as a consultor to the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.

“Pope Francis calls the Church to become young again and embrace the opportunities presented by young people.

Christus Vivit highlights the need to accompany young people so they can answer the call to lead the Church in new ways, as did Mary and many other saints like St Francis of Assisi.”

In the long-awaited document Pope Francis calls upon the Church to reflect Jesus Christ and present him to young people “in an attractive and effective way” while acknowledging that some things in the Church “concretely need to change”.

In nine chapters which mirror the ‘listening’, ‘discernment’ and ‘decision’ phases of the Synod, the Pope first examines the treatment of young people in Scripture before drawing inspiration from Jesus Christ’s own youth which he says reveals many aspects typical of young hearts.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney leaves the closing Mass of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Oct. 28. The Mass was celebrated by Pope Francis. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring

Christ must be presented to young people, including those who are irritated by the Church for “serious and understandable reasons”, he writes.

These include “sexual and financial scandals; a clergy ill-prepared to engage effectively with the sensitivities of the young,…the passive role assigned to the young within the Christian community; the Church’s difficulty in explaining her doctrine and ethical positions to contemporary society”.

Meanwhile, the Church herself is also young, and must be freed “from those who would make her grow old, encase her in her past, hold her back or keep her at a standstill”.

In the third chapter the Pope address difficulties faced by youth in different parts of the world including war, organised crime, human trafficking, sexual exploitation and problems of digital technology, while the Church’s sexual morality instead of being an aid, tends to be a source of “incomprehension and alienation from the Church, inasmuch as she is viewed as a place of judgment and condemnation”.

About child abuse, he reiterates the Synod Father’s commitment to the adoption of rigourous measures of prevention and expressed gratitude for those who “had the courage to report the evil they experienced”.

Young people
Synod youth delegates arrive for a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican on 16 October. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring

The Pope also invites young people to commit themselves to authentic relationships and service, to deepen their faith and to be “protagonists of change”.

Chapter six centres on the importance of the relationship between youth, past generations, and the elderly, with the Pope stressing that “the world has never befitted, nor will it ever benefit, from a rupture between generations”.

In chapters seven and eight Pope Francis looks at youth ministry, advising that young people be supported as its primary agents, and at vocation as a call to missionary service to others.

Finally, the Pope discusses vocational discernment as a “very personal” decision that “requires a certain degree of solitude and silence”.

“A vocation, while a gift, will undoubtably also be demanding,” he writes, adding that “God’s gifts are interactive; to enjoy them we have to be ready to take risks”.

The full text of Christus Vivit can be downloaded from the ACBC website: www.catholic.org.au