Fifteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
The 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops took place 3–28 October 2018 and had as its theme "Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment". Its aim was to "accompany young people on their way of life towards maturity so that, through a process of discernment, they can discover their life project and realize it with joy, opening the encounter with God and with men, and actively participating in the building up of the Church and society".
The theme was chosen by Pope Francis after consulting the members of the Synod Council chosen by the previous Ordinary Assembly, regional and national bishops' conferences, the Union of Superiors Generals, the leaders of the Eastern Catholic Churches, and others. The theme, according to Francis, would allow for consideration of the decline in priestly vocations along with the broader question of discerning one's vocation.
In January 2017, Pope Francis released a letter that invited "Young People" to contribute to the planning of the Synod. He wrote:
A better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity. Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposes bold choices; do not delay when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master. The Church also wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith; even your doubts and your criticism. Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls.
In June 2017, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, announced the launch of a website to present the Synod's planning document accompanied by a questionnaire in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and Italian to gather suggestions and feedback on it. He said he hoped to organize a gathering of youth in advance of the Synod. Its 53 questions, mostly multiple choice, were organized into seven sections and targeted at learning about local experiences specific to the younger generation.
The planning document said that its working definition of young people meant ages 16 to 29 and that it was prioritizing communication with them: "In pastoral activity, young people are not objects but agents. Oftentimes, society sees them as nonessential or inconvenient. The Church cannot reflect such an attitude, because all young people, without exception, have the right to be guided in life's journey." The Synod planning document posed another set of questions to bishops to assess how they minister to young people and included some questions targeted to specific geographic regions and asked, for example, about responding to "extreme violence" or working in a society that is "greatly secularized."
In early July, he reported that the questionnaire had received more than 60,000 responses and the website had generated 173,000 "contacts." He said he hoped to reach "all young people, not only active Catholic young people." In September, he hosted a seminar with about 20 teenagers and young adults to hear their ideas on the planned Synod. The participants were uninhibited in providing advice about topics and struggling to understand what the Synod proposed to accomplish.
Baldisseri announced in January 2017 that the Synod auditors, attendees without voting rights, would be young men and women selected to represent the entire world.
Prelates assigned particular roles were:
- Relator: Cardinal Sérgio da Rocha, Archbishop of Brasilia
- Secretaries: Giacomo Costa S.J. and Rossano Sala S.D.B
- Presidents: Cardinals Louis Raphael I Sako (Iraq), Désiré Tsarahazana (Madagascar), Charles Maung Bo SDB (Myanmar), John Ribat MSC (Papua New Guinea)
The presidents alternate in presiding over the synod assemblies in place of the Pope, making assignments and managing the proceedings as necessary.
Pope Francis appointed 29 prelates to supplement those elected by national and regional episcopal conferences.
The working document (instrumentum laboris) that guided the bishops' discussions was released in June 2018. It was intended to provide an overview of situations young people between 16 and 29 are facing around the world. It was developed after hearing from young people and bishops conferences. It states that "Young people feel a lack of harmony with the Church" and "It seems that we don’t understand the vocabulary, and therefore also the needs, of the young."
Throwaway culture, a special concern of Pope Francis, was discussed, as was death, corruption, war, and drug-trafficking. The document also lists friendship, fake news, and video games as topics along with migration and disabilities. Ecumenism and interreligious dialogue will also be discussed. The document discusses the challenges and opportunities the internet presents. The Church can reach young people through social media, it states, but it is also critical of video games and they way they "mold in young people a debatable vision of the human being and the world, nourishing a relational style based on violence." It also highlights many of their positive features, including a desire to be involved in civic life, protection of the environment, and a desire to root out corruption and discrimination.
The Synod took up young people's sexuality, including precocious sexuality, sexual promiscuity, digital pornography, the exhibition of one's body online, and sexual tourism, as "risk disfiguring the beauty and depth of emotional and sexual life". The concerns of gay youth "who, above all, want to remain close to the Church," was a special concern. In the responses to the surveys, many LBGT youth said they wish to "‘benefit from a greater closeness’ and experience greater care from the Church." The document also insisted that the Church must be open and welcoming to all, including LGBT Catholics, those of other faiths, and those of no faith at all. Secretary General Lorenzo Baldisseri said at the release of the instrumentum that the Church is making an effort to engage the LGBT community because "we are open. We don't want to be closed in on ourselves." The working document also acknowledges that “controversial issues,” such as contraception, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation, and marriage, are a “source of debate among youth, both inside the Church and in society.” While some find the Church's teaching to be a "source of joy," those who differ from Church teaching's on these issues "still want to continue to be part of the Church and demand more clarity on it." As a result, the synod fathers were asked to “confront, in a concrete way, controversial arguments such as homosexuality and the issues of gender, over which the young already argue with freedom and with no taboo.” The Synod will also discuss the challenges the Church sometimes has in explaining the Church's teaching on sexuality to contemporary society. Saying that "No bishops' conference offers solutions or recipes", the document says that "the question of sexuality must be discussed more openly and without prejudice."
Research cited in the document shows that young people face discrimination because of their gender, social class, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, geographical position, disability, or ethnicity. Young people also "report the persistence of religious discrimination, especially against Christians."
The instrumentum reported that the surveys called for a Church that is "committed to justice," willing to discuss the role of women, that has homilies that are more relevant to their lives and their discernment, and a liturgy that is “alive and close” to them. The church must accompany young people in their lives, the document states, as education and evangelization are an “ecclesial duty and a right of each young person.”
Young people reported that the Church can often seem distant, and desire a Church that is close, transparent, and up to date. The Church is also being called to listen to youth, according to the document, and to discuss difficult issues.
The working document stated that scandals in the Church and society, as well as a perception that "many times the Church seems to be too severe and often associated to an excessive moralism," are causing young people to leave the Church. The document acknowledges these "serious and respectable reasons," and that too often the young have been assigned a "passive role within the Christian community." Young people report wanting a more active role in the leadership of the church.
On 3 October, Synod members representing a wide range of views were elected to serve on the Synod's "Information Committee", which controls the release of information to the press and public. Each of five regions held its own election: America, Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania.[a] A second election on 9 October, again by region, chose members of the committee responsibile for drafting the Synod's concluding document. This election, again by region, produced a less diverse group more attuned to Francis in style and views, though when Francis made three additional appointments as the rules provided he avoided figures who are controversial for their espousal of less traditional views and instead used his selections to provide other kinds of diversity: the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, a Cuban priest, and a junior Vatican official.[b]
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Drawing on the Synod's document on discussions, Pope Francis authored an apostolic exhortation, Christus Vivit (Christ is living), which he signed on 25 March 2019. The text of the document was published on 2 April 2019, the anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II, who was "the first Pope to address a letter to young people in 1985 and he was the Pope who began the World Youth Days". The Vatican also provided a summary of Christus Vivit by Andrea Tornielli.
Francis acknowledged the church's history of promoting male domination and clerical protection of members of the Church who committed the abuse of power, the abuse of conscience, sexual and financial abuse against women and children. He wrote that the church had to repair its reputation with young people or risk becoming "a museum". He also acknowledged abuses committed "by some bishops, priests, religious and laypersons" and asked young people to hold priests accountable by reminding them of their vows and vocations.
- Members included: Paolo Ruffini, head of the Secretariat for Communications and Antonio Spadaro, Cardinal Gérald Lacroix, Wilfrid Fox Napier, Christoph Schönborn, Luis Antonio Tagle, and Anthony Fisher. Cardinal Robert Sarah was elected but declined for "personal reasons".
- Those elected were Cardinals Carlos Aguiar Retes, Peter Turkson, and Oswald Gracias, and Archbishops Bruno Forte and Peter Comensoli. Two more members served ex officio, Cardinals Baldisseri, and da Rocha, and others by papal appointments: Father Alexandre Awi Mello, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, and Father Eduardo Gonzalo Redondo.
- San Martín, Inés (6 October 2016). "Next Synod of Bishops to focus on youth and vocations". Crux. Retrieved 6 October 2016.
- "Theme for next Synod of Bishops in October 2018 will focus on young people". Vatican Radio. 6 October 2016. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
- O'Connell, Gerard (6 October 2016). "Next synod of bishops will focus on young people, the faith and the discernment of vocations". America. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
- "Next synod will discuss lack of vocations, says Pope Francis". Catholic Herald. 28 November 2016. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
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- "Pope appoints presidents-delegate for Synod on young people". Vatican News. 14 July 2018. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
- "Cupich, Tobin appointed by Pope Francis to October synod on young people". Catholic News Agency. 17 September 2018. Retrieved 5 May 2019.
- San Martín, Inés (19 June 2018). "Bishops' youth summit to deal with sex, war, porn, LGBT issues and more". Crux. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
- Harris, Elise (19 June 2018). "Questions on Sexuality Loom Large Ahead of Youth Synod". National Catholic Register. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
- Allen Jr., John L. (11 October 2018). "After early votes, it's clear Pope Francis has 'his' Synod of Bishops". Crux.
- Waters, John (25 March 2019). "Loreto: Pope signs Apostolic Exhortation to young people". Vatican News. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
- "'Christus Vivit' — Pope Francis' Post-Synodal Document on Young People, Published on April 2, the Memorial of the Death of Pope John Paul II". Zenit. 2 April 2019. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
- "Christ is alive: Synthesis of the Apostolic Exhortation". Vatican News. 2 April 2019. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
- Harris, Elise (2 April 2019). "Pope calls abuse crisis a 'scourge' in youth doc, omits 'zero tolerance'". Crux. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
- Spadaro, Antonio. "Keep the Fire Burning: The Apostolic Exhortation 'Christus Vivit'". La Civiltà Cattolica.
- "'When You See a Priest in Danger': The Mission that the Pope Entrusts to Young People". Zenit. 2 April 2019. Retrieved 3 April 2019.