Editor’s note: The following transcription is from an interview we conducted with Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport about the ongoing Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. To watch the entire interview, please click here or view below. This transcription has been lightly edited for clarity.
Brian Rhude: Bishop Caggiano, thank you for joining us here, for taking time out of your busy day to talk with us.
Bishop Caggiano: My pleasure, my pleasure.
Brian Rhude: We're very happy to have you. So, we are about half way through the Synod at this point.
Bishop Caggiano: Mmhm.
Brian Rhude: So, it started October 3rd, it’s now October 16th. So, what is it like inside the hall? What is the energy? We hear reports about the applause that just burst in the Synod Hall.
Bishop Caggiano: Oh the young people!
Brian Rhude: What's the energy like in the Synod Hall?
Bishop Caggiano: Well, they bring a tremendous amount of energy, and they're very expressive. So when they're happy, it's obvious, and when they're polite, it's obvious too. But that, I think is new in the Synodal process, that sort of interaction. And, there was an initiative to have a pilgrimage, a one day, basically it's turned out to be a half day, pilgrimage, which the young people are absolutely enthusiastic about. So that sort of sense, that sort of interplay, gives me great hope.
Brian Rhude: So what are some of the topics that you think are the most important, that have been covered so far?
Bishop Caggiano: Well I think, initially, the elephant in the room was the sexual abuse crisis. That was ventilated very well. I think there's a general consensus that we need to address that in this document. And the young people spoke very directly about that. But now there are other things that are corrupt. Accompaniment is a huge thing in what that means, which is part of that second section of the document. Listening, which is more than just listening with your ears, it's acceptance of the value of the person with you, it's the appreciation of the person, the welcoming of the person, we're unpacking that. And then it’s just the basic questions that the young people have about their faith, that's coming up, in part three, that has not happened yet, but I'm sure that's gonna be an animated discussion as well.
Brian Rhude: So, where have you seen, out of those topics, where have you seen the most unity between the bishops, between the bishops and the auditors, the young people in the room, where have you seen the most unity?
Bishop Caggiano: Well, one of them certainly is the need to address the elephant in the room, we're all on the same page, and rightfully so. I think also there's a general consensus that the young people who are here, as much want to listen as they want to be listened to. What strikes me is they want to hear what the church has to say. It's not just "you don't listen to me". And that also is something where there seems to be great unanimity, that it's a mutual process, it's a mutual information one of the other. And therefore, that's dialogue, right? That's the definition of dialogue. So, in many ways, what I see coming out of this is perhaps a permanent call for that dialogue to happen on every level of the Church.
Brian Rhude: That's great. And I think it's obvious when you talk to young people, anyone really, within the church, I mean you know hearing your name, knowing that you're being heard is so important and so vital and it makes people feel at home in the Church. So you said that the young people have been very clear with the need to address the “elephant in the room” as you call it, what else have they been vocal about? What are the other things, I mean, in accompaniment of being listened to?
Bishop Caggiano: Social engagement. You know it’s a trendy value among young adults to be socially aware, socially engaged, and address some of the injustices in the world. To make a positive difference, to be a force of charity, a force of mercy. That rings through in many different ways. My sense is, if I were to summarize it, it's “I want to make a difference in the world.” So, my faith is not a personal possession, my faith has to make a difference, not just to me, but the people around me. And that is a healthy corrective to an over-privatization of faith by a lot of Catholics. You know, I do my thing, I go to Mass, I give my collection, and then life goes on, but they say no. It's gotta permeate your entire life. So, that is, again, a take-away from the Synod, that could change the whole church not just our relationship with young people.
Brian Rhude: Yeah, that's great. So, it's kind of a two-part question. What specifically, and you kinda talked about a little bit, but what can young people expect to come out of this Synod?
Bishop Caggiano: Ah. Well that's an interesting question, because I'm not exactly sure of how to answer the question. If a young person is expecting a very detailed document that can simply be implemented in his or her diocese, I hope they're not going to be disappointed, because when the Holy Father actually writes his Apostolic Exhortation, you do have to consider he's talking to the youth of the whole world. So a young person in Nairobi, and a young person in Caracas or San Francisco or Bridgeport, there's totally different experiences, when the bishops of the East, particularly from Asia, spoke about some of the issues that the young people are facing, it's just a different world. So, how do you speak to the whole world? So my sense is, the Holy Father is going to—he's been listening, been at all the general meetings, he's going to give a general direction. So my hope is that young people will hear a general direction that makes sense to them, but then the hard work begins. We have to take that general direction and say, "Okay, Bridgeport. How do we live that? Like, how do we make that concrete?" You know I mentioned to some people, it almost makes sense to me to have a diocesan level Synod, that involves young people just to do that. Okay we've heard the Holy Father, now how do we make it real in our dioceses. I'm still debating that, but I think that probably makes a lot of sense as the next step.
Brian Rhude: What was your preparation for the Synod like?
Bishop Caggiano: Well you know, I’m involved with a lot of young adult ministries because of my position as the Episcopal Advisor to the NFCYM (National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry) and in my diocese, I make it my business to be involved with a lot of the young people and the ministries we've created: Catholic Service Corps, the diocesan choir, a bunch of stuff. But I also had a listening session with, it was really kind of, a very eclectic group of young people—some very traditional, some very untraditional, some practicing, some not practicing—and it was fascinating to hear what they said, because it's echoed, I've heard, what they have said to me, I've heard from different Bishops and different young people, so their views are here. The one thing that was interesting is every single one of them in Bridgeport, raised the question of credibility of leadership, as a number one issue for them.
Brian Rhude: Wow. So I think when we're talking about applying what's going on I know, like you just said, it's so hard to take whatever Pope Francis writes, and just say we're gonna apply that. So maybe taking these topics, hard copying them, and saying these are things that can be universally applied, granted in different, maybe nuanced ways in different cultures and different individual people, but maybe looking toward these topics. You know what, what are ways, before the Synod even finishes, that we can take some of these concepts, some of these topics?
Bishop Caggiano: Okay I'll give you mine. For the last year, I have been animated by, challenged by, captivated by this idea, that you encounter God in three principle ways: truth, beauty and goodness, that's St. Thomas (Aquinas). I'm absolutely fascinated with that idea because I think Thomas is onto something fundamental in the ministry to young adults. In the end, you will have certain groups, certain movements, that focus primarily on one of those. So apologetics, truth. You know, music and music ministry and liturgy would be beauty. Service, mission projects, mission trips, you know, goodness. But in my mind, to have a complete ministry, you need to hold all three together. You can start with one, but you have to bring the others in. In my own diocese, I'd like to explore that further. And be able to say: “okay, you do this, you do that, you do the other. We can learn from each other, but are you doing all three of these, and if not, what do you need to add?” So that your ministry could look very different from mine, but when you sift out the details, we're all going in the same direction. I'm hoping that will come out of this document actually. That's going to be my fundamental direction, what are the elements we all need to be involved? Because then best practice willshow what's working and what's not. And what can work in your community may not work in mine. But it doesn't matter, as long as we're going in the same direction, that's all that matters.
Brian Rhude: That's great. So the Synod is on, “Young People, The Faith and Vocational Discernment. How has the idea, the concept, the reality of vocational discernment come up in the Synod Hall?
Bishop Caggiano: Its beginning now. Alright, because the second part was introducing vocation. And what's interesting, there has been a maturity developed in the notion of vocation, because, in the “old days,” which aren't all that old, vocation was meant specifically for the permanent states of life. So you make a permanent decision to marry or to be a priest or religious or a deacon. The Holy Father is broadening that concept out so that vocation is your concrete stance in any given moment in your realization of your mission as a disciple. So you, as a communicator, you as a youth minister, you as a lawyer, you as a doctor, you as having vocation. So that's new and it's intriguing, because there is truth to that, we don't want to lose the value of a permanent state of life, particularly married life, so we have to figure out a way to use the same word and nuance it in different ways, but to broaden it out because most young people are still single and there is value in what they do and who they are. So it may be permanent, it may not be permanent, but you have to say something positive because that is what young people are asking for: “what about us?” So that's an interesting conversation we're having. I’m not exactly sure where it's going to land, we'll have to see what the Holy Father says, but my guess is he is broadening the notion so that there is no one in the end who doesn't have a vocational expression of the call to holiness in Baptism.
Brian Rhude: So this idea of this universal call to holiness that Pope Francis, like you said, is so, he is bringing this to the forefront of a lot of our discussions.
Bishop Caggiano: Yes.
Brian Rhude: And I think a lot of people don't know that this concept isn't new to the Church it's just we're kind of seeing it..
Bishop Caggiano: Lumen Gentium! It was in [the Second] Vatican Council..
Brian Rhude: Vatican II. It was St. Vincent Pallotti, St. Francis De Sales..
Bishop Caggiano: Mmhmm.
Brian Rhude: It kind of goes back..
Bishop Caggiano: Jesus!
Brian Rhude: Jesus, the main one. But thinking about these great saints that we have that, that have really lived a life of calling people to holiness or, you know, or expressions of accompaniment or mentorship. What, let's talk about briefly, Sunday. And we have seven new saints in the Church. What does, are there any of them specifically who have stood out to you as models as you prepare for this process and for your ministry? What does it mean to have these saints be canonized during this Synod?
Bishop Caggiano: Well, of the seven, I know a bit of really, of three of the seven, to be very honest. Paul VI, I was, I came of age in Paul VI. I was a child. I was born in 1959, so when he became pope, I was about five or six. So he was the first one I actually remember. And a man of tremendous courage. To publish Humanae Vitae was a very lonely act for him, but he was true to what he believed and what the Church believes. You have Oscar Romero who is the firebrand. Deeply courageous and a martyr, right, who was not worried about the consequences of faith. And then you have a nineteen-year-old, who just in the quiet his life, is a tremendous inspiration. So, what's the takeaway? The takeaway is we all excuse ourselves in the great mire of mediocrity. We're very comfortable giving the baseline in every state of life. But Jesus is calling us to greatness, right? He is calling us realize our destiny. And the [Second] Vatican Council clearly said that. It's just echoing the Master. So now, perhaps, young people and young adults who are somewhat disillusioned with the world around them, this could be the moment, this Synod could be the moment to say: You have a choice. You either go into the mediocrity that's out there and just survive or you strive for something better. That “something better” is a life of holiness. That's being courageous like Oscar Romero, it's being faithful like Paul VI. It's like being like Frances de Sales: in the ordinariness of life is your call to greatness, to courage, to holiness. Imagine if we could unlock that in the Church, in the world. So, Francis, I think Pope Francis is getting us back to the basics. And in a world that wants to lose itself in the trees, we have to remember there's a forest. Perhaps hopefully that the Synod will help us do to that.
Brian Rhude: You kind of answered it, but this will be the last question. If you could just, if you had a group of young people in front of your right now with the two weeks that you've had here and your experience in the ministry, what would you say to them?
Bishop Caggiano: Hold on. Hold on. Be patient. Because in the end the change you seek is not going to happen on the dime. If you really want it, you're going to have to fight for it. You're going to have to give of yourself for it, and you're going to have to get to the trenches and make it a reality. So, this is not a short-term, this is a long-term commitment. And if you're in, I think the majority of the adults and ecclesial leaders who are here, particularly the bishops, are willing to learn. (Had to do this because I'm not sure they all know how to, including myself) to accompany you to do it, but you gotta be in it to do it. That would be my message.
Brian Rhude: Okay. Bishop Caggiano, thank you.
Bishop Caggiano: Pleasure.
For more resources on the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
Throughout the month of October, the Church gathers in Rome for the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. For generations, young people have heard that they are the future of the Church, and now Pope Francis, bishops from all over the world, auditors from various fields including youth and young adult ministry, and even some young people gather within the Synod hall to discuss this future and the young people that will help move the Church forward.
On October 6, 2018, the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture hosted an event in Rome titled, “’Behold, I make all things new’: A Conversation on Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” The event kicked off with a reception where members of the media, members of the audience, and Synod participants spent time talking and getting to know one another. Seemingly always talking with someone new was John Allen Jr., the founder and editor of Crux, the Catholic news outlet that was co-sponsoring the event with UND. As the start time of 7:30 approached, Mr. Allen announced in a loud voice that the Synod session had run long and the Bishops would be there soon.
After the audience had gotten settled in the hall, Bishop Barron, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, and Bishop Onah of Nigeria entered the hall to a round of applause. Dr. Pia de Solenni, the Chancellor of the Diocese of Orange, moderated the event and welcomed Bishop Onah to give some opening remarks. After Bishop Onah shared some words, the six participants gave short testimonies to the audience and bishops present about their lives as Catholics. These participants from across the world, including countries such as China and Bermuda, shared about their relationships with the Church and God, the influence their families and friends had had on them, and their hopes for the Synod. The audience was clearly moved by these young people, not only by their courage to get up and speak in front of this crowd, but by their love for the Catholic Church and God.
After the testimonies had finished, Bishop Barron and John Allen began a conversation on the topic of the Synod that was moderated by Dr. de Solenni. Mr. Allen provided interesting and challenging questions to Bishop Barron, but both provided an insightful view into the Synod and the different paths that the discussion and prayer could take. After the conversation, Bishop Onah was again invited up to provide his thoughts and reflections on the six young people’s testimonies. Bishop Onah’s enthusiasm for young people and trust in the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Synod was obvious, and the passion with which he spoke was infectious. The event ended with a few questions taken from the audience and answered by Bishops Barron and Onah. One of the topics of these questions included beauty in sacred spaces, including an explanation of the Faith while presenting it as true and beautiful. Bishop Onah’s answer was remarkable. He pointed to the universality of the Church, witnessed by all of the different nations and peoples present and active at the Synod, as a manifestation of the Church’s beauty. He left the entire room, Bishop Barron included, speechless. We prayed together, concluding the evening by joining our hearts to God and focusing on the beauty that he’s given us in the Church. I couldn’t think of a better way to end, and a better thing to reflect upon as the Synod continues.
“Dear young people, let yourselves be taken over by the light of Christ, and spread that light wherever you are.” Pope St. John Paul II’s words to the participants of World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto are as true now as they were over fifteen years ago. As the Church prepares for a Synod of Bishops to discuss Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, Pope St. John Paul II’s words are a great call to prayer.
The Synod of Bishops was established in 1965 by Bl. Pope Pius VI (who will be canonized during this year’s Synod) to meet whenever the current pope deemed it necessary or opportune to gather the world’s bishops to discuss important matters within the Church. Before the October 2018 Synod, the most recent synod will have been the 2014 Extraordinary Synod that was called to discuss the topics of family and evangelization, out of which came Pope Francis’ exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the Joy of Love.
This Synod has been called by Pope Francis and is the 15th Ordinary Synod of Bishops. The Instrumentum Laboris, or the working document for the Synod (available here) was created after listening to groups of young people from all backgrounds, ethnicities, and geographic regions. It discusses important topics, like what it means to be a young person today, accompaniment, vocational discernment, evangelization and our universal call to follow Jesus. Even after the publishing of the Instrumentum Laboris, Church leaders will continue to gather young people across the world to listen to them on these important issues to decide how best the Church can move forward.
These are serious matters facing the Church, especially our Church here in the US, as vocations to the priestly and religious life seem to continue to decline and Church attendance dwindles. As a student at The Catholic University of America (CUA), I feel that there is great hope in this generation. You need not look further than the on-campus Masses and weekly Adorations to see that the Holy Spirit is moving within our youth. Yes, the small student body of CUA is surely not indicative of the entirety of young people in our country—but if you look to other Catholic institutions and talk with high school ministers, youth ministers, and religion teachers, there’s reason for optimism.
This summer, I was a counselor for Light the World, a summer institute organized by CUA’s School of Theology and Religious Studies. I was blessed to minister to about fifty high schoolers from across the country. While fifty might not seem like that big of a number, it was a sampling of the young people who are looking for Christ in their lives, a sampling that gets bigger and bigger when you add programs like the Steubenville Conferences, Life Teen camps and events, and other independent conferences and events (not to mention World Youth Day!). It is through the witness of young men and women like the ones at Light the World that we can find hope in times so desperately in need of it.
In my experience, I have seen that this is a generation being moved by the Holy Spirit. We are grateful that the Church is inviting young people to share their thoughts, ideas and experiences, and pray that she will use what she learns to create a stronger and more unified Church moving forward. The optimism of our young people is a call to prayer and action, both on the part of our Bishops and clergy and that of the laity. Let us look to our great saints who had devotion to young people, like Pope St. John Paul II and St. Vincent Pallotti, as our guides in order to see the Church grow and flourish in the good works that Christ has called her to. Our youth can also look to young saints such as Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati and St. Maria Goretti as inspirations of holiness to help guide them closer to Christ.
This Synod will be a good first step in figuring out how the Church can better accompany and encourage its young people to be saints, but it cannot be the final step. In the coming months, more writings and documents will come out of the Synod, pastoral plans and diocesan initiatives will emerge, and new ways of ministry and accompaniment will come. It is through prayer that the Synod and the resulting actions will bear good fruit; and it is in Christ alone that we will find our hope. During this momentous time in our Church, let us pray for our young people, for an increase in holy vocations, and for the will of God to be done.
For more information on the upcoming Synod, please click here.
Having experienced the Petrine ministry of Pope Francis for over five years now, it should be of no surprise that the Jesuit former Archbishop of Buenos Aires took the name Francis, the first time that name had been chosen in the 2000+ year history of the Catholic Church. The name was taken for St. Francis of Assisi, a 13th century saint who left behind a life of luxury and wealth to pursue a life lived according to the Gospel. One of the more famous stories tells of St. Francis’ public witness of faith when his own father brought him before the bishop on charges of theft. Francis famously stripped off his clothes and announced that "Pietro Bernardone is no longer my father. From now on I can say with complete freedom, 'Our Father who art in heaven.'"
Much like St. Francis, Pope Francis has also stripped himself of luxurious garments, choosing to present himself in modest, humble clothing that is still fitting to the Papacy. Such action is not solely a living witness of the message of St. Francis, but also the message of Christ who said, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” In Jorge Bergoglio’s ministry as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, his commitment to simple living was made manifest through his actions. He was seen riding a bus with other bishops instead of using his designated private transportation; he cooked his own meals, and he even chose to live in a small apartment outside of the usual bishop’s residence. Pope Francis’ witness teaches us that a simple life does not mean a life lived passively. Simplicity requires action. One must live and act in a way that honors the life of simplicity and humility to which we are called by the Gospels.
In living out the witness of St. Francis and the call of Christ, Pope Francis has also put a great influence on caring for the marginalized—whether migrants, the homeless, or any of those in need. Just recently, Pope Francis surprised Cardinal Konrad Krajewski and around 280 homeless persons at a Vatican dinner where he dined with them for over two hours and listened to their stories. On Holy Thursday 2017, Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve inmates at a prison about 45 miles from Rome, to honor Christ who reminded his apostles that “whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant.” That teaching is one that should resonate deeply with us. Simplicity does exactly that, it allows us to live in solidarity with those most in need and live lives conformed to Christ.
The lives of Pope Francis and St. Francis of Assisi provide a witness to a life lived as Christ instructed. We’re not expected to exactly follow the path of St. Francis, as his life is a remarkable one, but, as Mother Teresa said, we can serve by performing small deeds done with great love. Let our Holy Father and St. Francis of Assisi continue to be examples to us in living out or vocations of holiness, and may we always pray for our Holy Father and his ministry.
Questions for Reflection: What are some easy ways that I can live more simply? What luxuries is the Lord calling me to give up?