“Think big, start small.” That was the one-phrase summary that my working group at the Post-Synodal Forum on Young People presented on our last full day at the Il Carmelo retreat house. For three and a half days, over 250 youth and young adults from over 110 countries and over 30 Catholic groups and movements gathered in Rome to discuss the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment and Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Christus Vivit. My group was comprised of fourteen delegates who represented nations including India, Germany, Zambia, Slovenia, Moldova, and more.
We came up with these four words (Think big, start small) because over the course of the many panels, presentations, interventions, and working group meetings, we realized just how big of an endeavor engaging the young people of our global Church is. Country to country, diocese to diocese, some general patterns remained the same. Christus Vivit and the synod present a beacon of hope; unfortunately, in many countries the document has not been widely read, although it has been generally well liked when it has been read. In many places, the document is not translated into the necessary languages. My friend Stephen from Hong Kong, for example, mentioned that young people simply cannot afford a printed copy of the document in his country. Many young people mentioned how they face opposition from clergy and lay people regarding their active role in the Church. One of the delegates from Ireland recalled an instance when a new dishwasher was touted as more important for her parish than funds to go to youth ministry when they were needed. The challenges that face us are great and they are global, but young people, and the members of the clergy and laity that support them and collaborate with them, will not be stopped.
In chapter four of Christus Vivit, Pope Francis reminds young people that they are loved by God, that Christ saves us, and that Christ is alive! These words have settled deep into the hearts of young people and the people who advocate for and accompany them. Many times, Pope Francis has reminded young people that they are protagonists in the Church, that young people are not just the future of the Church, but also the now of the Church. These realities came up over and over again in our discussions at the forum. I was amazed by the initiatives in Ghana for ministry to young people that included a separate and distinct ministry to young people who are imprisoned. I was happily surprised to hear that many nations had national youth organizations that are led by young people. For example, my friend from India, Jesvita, is the most recent president of an Indian Catholic Student movement. Importantly, these initiatives are not ones that exist within a “young people bubble,” but are movements and ministries of collaboration that see the young people, the clergy, and their ‘elders’—as Pope Francis calls them in Christus Vivit—working together, being synodal.
The biggest takeaways from this forum are encouraging to say the least. Young people understand the need to be people of action, or apostles on mission. Only then can we truly be leaders. These actions must be concrete, not vague generalizations, and they must be collaborative. Young people want to integrate what the Holy Father has written for us in Christus Vivit into how we approach our ministry to young people. The principle of accompaniment was one that was constantly highlighted at the forum, proof that young people want to be a generation of encounter. The first line of our ten-line summary that was presented to the Dicastery and the Holy Father read, “we are the face of Christ, fully alive.” And this is how we move forward, with an understanding of the reality that we are the face of Christ in our world, that we are protagonists. Acting with Christ as our guide, we seek the conversion of hearts, both ours and those of others, and we have dreams that are big. May we never be deterred, may we always think big and start small, and may we always seek to build the Kingdom of God by walking together, listening to one another, and persevering in our shared faith.
For more resources on the Synod on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
Every year, on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, we hear a Gospel passage about Jesus, the Good Shepherd. On this day, the Church also invites us to prayer and reflection on vocations as part of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. In his 2019 Message for this day, Pope Francis offers a significant consideration for all those involved in Church ministries:
“Dear friends, it is not always easy to discern our vocation and to steer our life in the right direction. For this reason, there needs to be a renewed commitment on the part of the whole Church – priests, religious, pastoral workers and educators – to provide young people in particular with opportunities for listening and discernment. There is a need for a youth ministry and a vocational promotion that can open the way to discovering God’s plan, above all through prayer, meditation on God’s word, eucharistic adoration and spiritual accompaniment.”
The Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment reflected on this theme which resulted in both the Final Document of the Synod and in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Christus Vivit, offering important insights that can help not only those in Church ministries, but all to accompany young people in their vocational discernment and then to live that vocation well once they have come to know where Christ is calling them.
St. Vincent Pallotti, whose 201st anniversary of ordination to the priesthood is today, understood well how to accompany young people in their vocational discernment. He was a sought-after spiritual director and confessor who went to all, especially young people, where they were. He provided many opportunities for both youth and young adults – lay (single and married), religious, seminarians, and priests – to deepen their encounter with Christ, grow in holiness, and live their call from him as an apostle. Pallotti’s witness of holiness of life and example of faith, particularly though his works of charity, inspired all who knew him to live more fully for Christ. Today, his approach offers us an example of what Pope Francis describes in Christus Vivit, n. 242:
“Young people need to have their freedom respected, yet they also need to be accompanied.”
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
For more resources on Vocational Discernment, please click here.
The Catholic Apostolate Center has had a presence at the Mid-Atlantic Congress (MAC) since 2013. Over these years, we have created spaces for attendees to gather and network; to share our resources and programs in the exhibit space; and to offer our expertise on various topics facing Catholic leaders today. This work is not done on our own: it is accomplished through great collaboration among the planners of the Congress, our presentation partners, and our team.
I have had the opportunity to be the point person for the Center’s involvement with MAC since we first started attending. Over the years I have been able to work with our team and our collaborators to develop presentations that are interesting, relevant, and useful in the Church today. Each year, I am always struck by the work of the Holy Spirit in each of the aspects of our involvement with MAC, and this year was no exception. Our two presentations brought together members of our team with two outside collaborators from the Archdioceses of Los Angeles and Washington.
Our first presentation, titled “What now? Vocational Discernment and Accompaniment After the 2018 Synod,” focused on the experiences of three young adults who were in Rome during last year’s Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. We had many conversations prior to the event about what each presenter would talk about and how they would present, but I was still struck while watching the presentation at how alive the Church is in her young people.
Our second presentation, titled “Using Social Media and Digital Resources to be Catholic Evangelical Witnesses,” helped Catholic leaders learn more about how to use social media and other digital resources to evangelize within their parishes, dioceses, and organizations. At the Center, social media and digital resources are part of our everyday work, so it is easy for me to forget how useful these tools may be for a group or parish starting to reach out by those means. Our team gave insight into the various platforms, but also offered suggestions about how to use social media in a productive, charitable way.
St. Vincent Pallotti, the patron saint of the Catholic Apostolate Center, encouraged collaboration among clergy, religious, and the laity when he was a priest in Rome in the early 19th century. His message of collaboration is still true today and a goal the Center strives for in all that we do. Events like the Mid-Atlantic Congress are a great way to live out St. Vincent Pallotti’s hope – we can grow who we are individually, spiritually, and organizationally when we work in collaboration with one another.
After being blessed with the opportunity to study abroad, I realized I had a lot of prep-work before actually stepping foot in Rome. Before I found myself settled and adjusted to life in Italy, there was much discussion amongst my family and friends about the possibility of leaving home for the semester to do something unknown and probably a little challenging. It involved taking inventory of packed luggage and making sure I had all my paperwork in order – over and over and over again. There were goodbyes to be said and nerves to quell – all for the bigger and extremely beautiful pursuit of this adventure abroad.
Being a student in Rome, with a faith life that begs to be fed with inspiration and experience, I have found myself smiling ear-to-ear both in Saint Peter’s Square as Papa Francesco drove by in the Popemobile and also on my knees, alone in a little chapel that has really become my home-away-from-home. Something that is often on my mind and recently discussed in the Synod is vocational discernment. “Vocational Discernment” is one of those phrases that is often more of an unknown idea rather than a reality being lived. In simple terms, I consider vocational discernment to be an alert willingness to hear and accept God’s will. And now that we have a definition, the next question is: How does one even go about this? I believe the answer is very similar to my process of preparing to study abroad or maybe to that of applying to college or even to searching for a job. However, many – myself included – often find these tasks to be obstacles, not opportunities. I’ve come to learn that discernment can be just as exciting as your next adventure.
I was recently able to attend a youth presentation to the pope in Paul VI Hall. After many dance routines, witness talks, and musical performances, Pope Francis delivered a short speech in which he expressed the following: “You won’t find yourself in a mirror or the screen of your phone, so get up and find beauty in nature, family, friends, and the faith.” One of the most important aspects of discernment is communication. Just as I spent many hours talking to my parents, sister, and best friends about the opportunity to go abroad, I spend quite a bit of time in prayer each day. I use prayer as a way to open my heart to God, sharing desires, fears, hopes, and struggles—just as you would recall your day to your parent or friend over dinner or Snapchat—to seek guidance and advice. And who better to seek answers of clarity from than those who know you best? A huge part of my discernment is actively listening – not only in prayer, but to all those around me. Listen to the girl who sits next to you in your English 101 class or the stranger leading your retreat who could be a potential friend and witness of the faith for you. Paraphrasing the words of Pope John Paul II at his pontifical inauguration: Open wide the doors of your heart—for God and all who are around you—and do not be afraid. Do this, and God will put the right people in your life and guide your heart in the direction it needs to go.
It is through a deep prayer life that you are then able to take a thorough inventory of your spiritual and relational life, often being led to questions you haven’t really asked yourself before. Perhaps you may become aware of a quality you admire in someone else, prompting you to work on it in yourself. Or maybe all those doubts you carry and try to file away in the corner of your mind come front and center, but now with a new understanding of how to face them. After you begin to recognize the good in yourself and acknowledge the things that are holding you back, it is then time to start saying goodbyes. Saying goodbye not in a literal sense, but in attempting to break bad habits, dying to self in pursuit of a greater humility, and in effect allowing more room for God’s love and mercy to calm your fears and erase the sins that hold you back. The more you allow God to work in you, the clearer and easier it will be to feel your faith grow, relationships flourish, and your heart rest.
Like anything, the hardest part of the discernment process is letting go of fear and “What Ifs”—but it is through prayer that God will provide the answers you need to move forward and the courage to live out your calling as authentically and faithfully as possible. As mentioned before, this may require leaving some comforts and pleasures behind, but Jesus assures us today, just as he did his disciples in their time, “Everyone who has given [anything] up… for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more and will inherit eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). Part of my vocational discernment led me to take this opportunity – full of unknowns and challenges – to study abroad in the “Eternal City.” I assure you, vocational discernment is necessary and opens so many doors, or in my case ATAC bus rides, to growth and understanding of God and His will for you.
For more resources on the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
One of the topics the 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment sought to address was the role of mentorship in the development of the spiritual life. In a time when so many of us seek to know more about the faith and struggle to find faithful examples in the world, the topic of mentorship is extraordinarily important in nourishing young Christians in the faith. The Instrumentum Laboris for the Synod, published in March, brings up two major points that address the roles a mentor has today. The first, and most talked about, is that of accompaniment. The other is education, which is especially important in a time when we live in an increasingly secular culture. These two facets of mentorship are different and cannot always be fulfilled by one person. For this reason, the contribution of the community of faith is incredibly important.
In my life, faith education came from many sources, but none was more important than my Confirmation teacher who was also my youth basketball coach and the father of one of my best friends. Throughout my life, my mentor helped me to learn and grow more in my faith by inviting me to events and men’s conferences. In my Confirmation classes, he showed the beauty of the Faith and helped me understand the truth that flows from the Church’s teachings. Like many young people, I didn’t fully take advantage of a great mentor when I had the chance. But his presence in my life continues today, and his example is a continual witness of what it means to be a faithful Christian.
When we look at the life of a saint, we often see the impact other peers, mentors, or saints had in their life. St. Augustine, for example, had two great saintly mentors: St. Monica (his mother) and St. Ambrose. St. Monica, who prayed tirelessly for the conversion of her son, showed the young Augustine an example of the Christian faith in a lived way. Augustine only fully appreciated this until after his conversion. St. Ambrose provided Augustine—who was struggling with his dualist view of the universe—with the truths found in the Christian faith, which strengthened Augustine and propelled him to ultimately become a Doctor of the Church.
In my life, my friends and peers have been incredible examples of accompaniment. An intimate and baseline knowledge about me makes it so much easier for a friend or peer to understand where I am in life and how to proceed. Peer mentorship, in my experience, is only possible because of the tireless effort that my parents, teachers, ministers etc. have put into nurturing me in understanding and action in the Faith. Without those people I wouldn’t have had the faithful and honest advice that is always so valuable to making me a better Catholic. Just as Jesus sent out his Apostles two by two, we share in the Apostles’ mission to evangelize the world and we must rely on those who share our mission for their support in life.
Saints are often friends with other saints. Two men who followed in the footsteps of the Apostles in fraternity and holiness were St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier. In the early days of the Jesuit Order, these saints relied on one another for the strength to persevere in promoting the mission of the Society of Jesus. Roommates at the University of Paris, their friendship was centered around Jesus and informed by their studies in Theology. The union of intimate friendship and a well-formed Christian mind creates incredible fruits, which are seen clearly in the success of the Jesuit Order in the missionary work in Europe and around the world.
A revitalized sense of mentorship among Christians is so necessary in a time when the world directs us away from God and into itself. The responsibility for educating and accompanying young people falls on old and young alike. So many young people search for true meaning. It is our responsibility as Christians to take their hand and walk them closer to faith by showing them the truth in the Church’s teachings.
The 2018 Synod is so important because it refocuses on the universal call to holiness. We are called to invite young people into the fullness of the Faith through mentorship, educating them in the fullness of her truth and accompanying them through their struggles—always striving to bring each other closer to Christ along the way.
Questions for Reflection: Do you have any examples of mentorship in your own life? How can you accompany and educate those around you in the example of Christ?
For more resources on the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
We often associate tree climbing with child’s play—it’s an action that requires flexible limbs and a daring outlook that only winks at the possibility of risk. I can’t imagine it being much different in the ancient world. To see a man quickly climbing up a tree just to get a glimpse of another must have been perceived as childish and perhaps a little embarrassing.
The Gospel today speaks of a short-statured man who grew quickly in the eyes of God. Zacchaeus may be chuckled at for his stature, but he can be looked up to as a model of faith in action. At the time Christ comes to his town of Jericho, Zacchaeus is not an upstanding man. But something about Jesus calls to him, so much so that Zacchaeus is willing to do anything—even climb up a tree—just to catch a glimpse of him. The beginning of the Gospel mentions that Jesus “intended to pass through the town.” However, upon encountering Zacchaeus, he stops, calls him by name, and accompanies him to his home to dine with him. And Zacchaeus’ response is joy.
This joy comes from a newfound generosity blooming in Zacchaeus’ heart. The man who once extorted his community responds quickly and tells Jesus he will give away half his possessions to the poor. Furthermore, he pledges to repay—four times over—anyone he has extorted. The man, called a sinner by the rest of the town, has been called by name by Christ and responds with faith in action. He has experienced conversion, and his actions result in Christ saying, “today salvation has come to this house.”
Is this how we await Christ, so longingly that will we do anything just to glimpse him? Or are we off somewhere else in the town of Jericho, distracted or lukewarm to the knowledge that Christ walks in our midst? What if every member of the Church—the clergy, religious, the laity—awaited Christ with the expectation of Zacchaeus? It is this desire and willingness that has disposed his heart to be receptive to God’s work. It is a small glimmer of the receptivity of Mary when she gave her fiat at the Annunciation. And through this, God can work miracles—the birth of a Savior from a virgin womb, the conversion of a short-statured, greedy sinner.
As a Church, we often go back and forth between roles. We are the sinful people called to encounter Christ and bring his mercy and joy to the world, but we can also play the role of Christ in our work of evangelization. Christ—who calls Zacchaeus by name and is not afraid to dine with sinners. Christ—who changes his plans in order to minister to those right in front of him. Christ—who comes “to seek and to save what was lost.” As Pope Francis said in his closing homily at the end of the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, “That is how God operates. He gets personally involved with preferential love for every person. By his actions, he already communicates his message. Faith thus flowers in life.” And what are Zacchaeus’ actions if not faith flowering?
This flowering faith is what Pope Francis and the Synod Fathers are reminding the Church of once more as the Synod has come to a close. Almost a month out from this historic event, we are called to ponder deeply the prompting of the Holy Spirit and, like Zacchaeus, seek an encounter with Christ. It is this encounter with a personal God who calls us by name that will enable us to go out, as Zacchaeus did, with generous joy to repay our debts and minister to the poor and lowly.
Let us call our brothers and sisters on the fringes by name. Let us put aside our preconceived notions of ministry and evangelization and answer to the needs of the moment. Let us sit and dine with our brothers and sisters. “Let us ask ourselves whether, as Christians, we are capable of becoming neighbours, stepping out of our circles and embracing those who are not ‘one of us’, those whom God ardently seeks.”
Today, let us carry the light of Christ in our hearts and imitate him in seeking and saving what was lost.
The Vatican and the surrounding streets have begun to empty—not of tourists, but of the three hundred bishops and young people present for the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. From October 3rd through October 28th, Pope Francis met twice a day with bishops and young people from around the world. The days began at 9:00am with morning prayer led by Pope Francis before the first session of the day when participating bishops and auditors (essentially listeners, young people who were brought in as experts for the Synod) gave their four-minute interventions (a short speech addressed to the assembly). An afternoon break led into the second session that began with prayer before more interventions were given. The last major part of the synodal process involved small groups, called circoli minori, that contained bishops and auditors who discussed the interventions of the day and worked to write reports. American representatives to the Synod included Cardinal DiNardo of Galveston/Houston, Bishop Caggiano of Bridgeport, and Jonathan Lewis from the Archdiocese of Washington.
Being from all over the world, the Synod fathers brought different views and experiences of the global Church. Some, like the bishops from Africa, spoke of flourishing churches overflowing with the faithful, while others, like the bishops from the US and Australia, talked about the pain that the faithful from their countries are feeling. No matter where they came from, the participants of the Synod shared a common goal: to have prayerful discussion about the three topics of the Synod. The discussion of young people, a term in the US that refers to people from the ages of 18-35, took center stage for much of the three-and-a-half-week process. How to deal with low numbers of vocations to the priesthood or religious life in certain parts of the world, the realities of technology within the sphere of evangelization, and the role of women within the Church were some of the many topics discussed that are important to the young people of the Church today. The US bishops present acknowledged the damage done to the Church’s credibility due to the ongoing crisis, and Cardinal Cupich of Chicago noted the need for humility and acknowledgement of fallibility among leaders and adults going forward to help rebuild the relationships that have been broken. Inside the Synod Hall, in the press rooms, and out on the streets of Rome, there were many reasons to be optimistic and hopeful in the outcomes of the Synod. Bishops could be seen with the young people from their countries, giving talks on the topics of the Synod, and spending time with young people in Rome—bringing to life the words spoken in the Synod Hall.
One term worth noting, and one that will be incredibly important to the actualization of the Synod within the Church, is accompaniment. The concept of accompaniment was very important to the initial documents of the Synod, to the daily interventions, and continues to be to the life of the Church outside of the hall. Accompaniment, as the final document notes, draws its origin from Luke 24:13-35, the story of the Road to Emmaus. Accompaniment means walking with someone on their journey with Christ. This walking involves prayer, listening, prayerful instruction, and dialogue. The goal of the journey is Heaven. The Synod Fathers and Pope Francis see the importance and need for accompaniment due to the many different individual circumstances that young people encounter on a daily basis. It is through accompanying others, and allowing ourselves to be accompanied, that we will help one another get to Heaven. May we pray that the Holy Spirit guides the implementation of the Synod, that our Church leaders will lead with integrity and be guided by what they learned from the Synod, and that all be done for the infinite glory of God.
For more resources on the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
On Thursday October 25, 2018, the students of The Catholic University of America’s Rome Campus welcomed two of the US bishops present for the Synod, as well as USCCB and Archdiocese of Washington (ADW) staff, for the celebration of Mass and dinner. The Catholic Apostolate Center has given me many different and beautiful opportunities over my time on staff, and this evening with our Church leaders was no different.
During my work in Rome for the Center, I was introduced to Mr. Paul Jarzembowski, the Assistant Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the USCCB. Paul was here in Rome for the entire month with the Bishops. Over these past few weeks, we were present at many of the same events. After talking with Paul and explaining the group of diverse young people we have here on campus, we decided to invite some of the US Bishops to join the CUA students for Mass and dinner. Through God’s grace, Cardinal DiNardo from Galveston/Houston and Bishop Caggiano from Bridgeport graciously agreed to join us at our campus. Joining them were Paul, as well as his colleagues Dominic Lombardi and Connie Poulos from the USCCB, Jonathan Lewis from the ADW, who served as an auditor for the Synod, and Jonathan’s wife, Gina.
We arranged for a special dinner in our dining room and I organized the liturgy and seating arrangements. The goal for the night was not just for the bishops and staff to pop in and pop out, but for them to join us as the Synod has invited us, in listening and accompaniment. When we, as Christians, join for the celebration of the Mass, we are gathered around the Eucharist, or as Lumen Gentium described it, the “source and summit of the Christian life.” The dinner that followed offered a great opportunity for our Church leaders, who were not only present for the Synod but who also work with young people on a daily basis, to listen to young people, to engage them in conversation and dialogue as the Synod and Pope Francis have prompted.
In his homily, Cardinal DiNardo implored the young people in attendance to continue to pursue excellence in their studies, personal lives, and most importantly, in their spiritual lives. The small chapel on our campus was full with the sounds of praise and the beauty of silence that so fittingly belong in the celebration of the Mass. When Mass finished we proceeded to the dining room. At each table sat a Church leader and a large group of our students, ready to talk and to listen. It was a pleasure to talk with Cardinal DiNardo. I felt that he was intent on listening to each one of us. As the evening came to a close, Bishop Caggiano and Cardinal DiNardo went table to table to talk with each of our students and to thank them for a beautiful evening.
Thursday was the Synod in action. As a young person, I can only hope that our bishops will continue to do things like this within their own dioceses. The joy this evening brought our students, the bishops, and other staff present was obvious from the expressions on their faces. This was an evening that I will never forget, and one that I hope will continue in parishes and schools around the world for a very long time to come.
Question for Reflection: What can the “Synod in action” look like in your community or parish?
For more resources on the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
Evangelization is a timeless vocation for all Christians. In our modern world, secularism surrounds us and sometimes it feels as though our Church can barely get in a word. Because of this, the current Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment could not have come at a more needed time.
Isaiah 6:8 says, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’” Isaiah responds, “Here I am…send me!”
As the youth of the Catholic Church, we are the present and future of the Church. We are called to exclaim “Send me!” and to spread the Good News of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, and always! However, it would be foolish if we thought that every young person innately felt and understood this call.
The secular world has had an impact on my faith, beginning in my own home. Not every member of my family is a practicing Catholic, which has given my mother and me the opportunity to evangelize in our own house. A prime example of this is praying before meals. I was taught to pray before meals in high school and I continue to do so in college. When I came home for the first time during my first year of college, I struggled to pray before meals because I feared someone noticing me or judging me. Eventually, God gave me the strength to begin to share this prayer with my family and now it is a tradition that we have established together.
When he addressed young people at a meeting in the beginning of October (which I attended), Pope Francis said, “Make your way. Be young on the move, looking at the horizons, not the mirror. Always looking forward, on the way, and not sitting on the couch.” Our Holy Father reminds us in these words that our time is now to be consistent in our faith, live the Beatitudes, and serve one another in an effort to help each other grow.
“How can I do this?” you might ask. As Pope Francis said, the Synod Fathers will—and have already begun—to answer you. In the synodal document Instrumentum Laboris under the section titled Beyond Secularization, the Synod Fathers speak about the changing view of religion in the secular world. Quoting a Bishops’ Conference, the document states, “Many young people declare that they are looking for the meaning of life, pursuing ideals, searching for their own personal spirituality and faith, but they rarely turn to the Church.” Recognizing that every young person’s path towards the Church is different, the Synod Fathers propose that we focus on the “changed attitude towards religion,” moving away from a “liquid” form of faith to a more concrete belief.
Pope Francis uses the same metaphor in his response to the young people at the Synod rally I attended. He said, “Every road you make, to be reliable, must be concrete.” He continues, reminding us that “concreteness is the guarantee to move forward.”
Every day, we have concrete encounters with our surrounding world. How can we as Catholics take our faith and make it concrete to those around us? This call from Pope Francis reminded me that my everyday experience of studying in Rome (only a short walk from the Vatican) can be used in my own acts of daily evangelization, especially when I return to the United States. Sharing a concrete experience is “making a gift of oneself and participating in the proclamation of the Good News,” as the Preparatory Document for the Synod states.
We, as young people, are the present and future of the Church. She needs us to go out and make a difference. The salvation offered by Christ enables us to rejoice in this world, and the best way to do that is to spread His glory. Be concrete in your faith and you shall “renew the face of the earth.”
For more resources on the ongoing Synod, please click here.
To learn what it means to be a missionary disciple, please click here.
From October 3rd until the 28th, 2018 bishops from around the globe are gathering in Vatican City for the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. The Synod is an assembly of the world’s bishops who assist the pope by offering insights on important questions the Church is facing in a manner that preserves and promotes her teachings. A General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is called “Ordinary” if its topic is “for the good of the universal Church” and seems to require the “learning, prudence and counsel” of all the world's bishops. For October’s historic meeting, Pope Francis dedicated the theme to “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” Although the young adults invited to participate were not voting members of the Synod, they had the opportunity to address the Order of Bishops as presenters and auditors. It can be useful to consider the gathering as a conversation that included involvement from bishops and small group sessions. These activities were a beautiful continuation of the dialogue and collaboration characteristic of the Second Vatican Council: of a Church embracing renewal throughout the Body of Christ.
Yet the vast majority of the Church was not in the Vatican participating in small groups, sharing experiences, or making presentations. While the meeting has been significant in its own right, it may not be on the forefront of most people’s minds a city—let alone an ocean—away. As we wait for the working documents of the meeting to be finalized and published, we may be asking how we can best support the work of the Synod from afar. As a young person myself, I think it is incredible that this demographic is being discussed and studied at length by the Church. The Synod inspires a unique opportunity to ponder young people’s place in the Church and world.
The typical young person is preoccupied with studies or work, family and social obligations, and sorting out his or her place in an ever-changing world. Thanks to technology, the world is better connected in some senses, though what occurs daily in our physical sphere tends to represent the extent to which a young person may physically engage with the outside world. Why think about faraway gatherings when there is plenty to deal with right in front of you? You may also wonder, Why would anyone care about little ole me and what I do?
But that’s exactly what—and who—the Holy Father is interested in hearing about. Over a year before the Synod was scheduled to meet, Pope Francis released his Letter to Young People and invited youth to “Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls.” To help facilitate gathering the input of young people, the Vatican Synod Office launched a special website and survey which invited responses that were incorporated into a working document. Furthermore, Pope Francis issued his latest Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, on the call to holiness in today’s world, which directly relates to the vocational aspects of the Synod.
Seeking for something more concrete? Look no further than your own parish! The walls of a church are not designed to keep persons out, but to gather them in to live more actively in Christ and the Church Universal! Never doubt the awesome power of prayer: interceding for not only the participants of the Synod, but those around you whose needs you may know personally. Go a step further and offer your gifts, talents, time, and presence as a young person and give witness to charity. Show the world that young people are not self-absorbed but active and invested in promoting the good of humanity. Find others who want to make a difference. Invite them to pray with you, to volunteer in service, to catechize, and even just to share in the joys and fun of youth. Demonstrate that youth is not just a period of transition, but an opportunity to channel passion and energy in a meaningful and responsible way for the Church and world.
A lesson from the 2018 Synod is that the Church wants to better minister to young people! Recognizing young people as a treasure not merely for the future, but for the Church here and now signifies their potential and important state in life. Instilling the values of the Faith in young people inspires them to more actively discern God’s call for them in holy vocations. The world is not perfect—neither is the Church—but recognizing the good that can be brought about and the ability to pick oneself up after falling short is a great gift God has uniquely given young people to witness! By growing in our vocation to holiness, we fulfill the mission and dream of this year’s Synod. What a joy it is to see young people take to heart the holiness that God has called them to.
To learn more about the recent Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
“We declare and define Blessed Paul VI, Oscar Arnulfo Romero Galdámez, Francis Spinelli, Vincent Romano, Mary Catherine Kasper, Nazaria Ignacia of Saint Teresa of Jesus March Mesa and Nunzio Sulprizio to be Saints and we enroll them among the Saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church.” -Holy Mass and Canonization of the Blesseds: Paul VI, Oscar Romero, Francesco Spinelli, Vicenzo Romano, Maria Caterina Kasper, Nazaria Ignazia di Santa Teresa di Gesu, Nunzio Sulprizio
This was the moment I had waited months to experience: the official canonization of these seven men and women.
This past May, I knew I would be studying in Rome for my fall semester of sophomore year. I wanted to know what, if anything, would be happening during my time in Rome. Little did I know that I would be blessed with attending a canonization Mass. I’ll say it again if you didn’t catch my excitement the first time: a CANONIZATION!
But at this moment I know some of you are asking, “Tom, what is a canonization?” Well, I’m glad you asked, inquisitive reader.
A canonization occurs when the Catholic Church formally recognizes that someone who has lived an exemplary life of holiness and virtue is now in heaven with God and can be prayed to and venerated in all the Catholic churches throughout the world. With this solemn declaration, they are added to the official canon, or list, of saints. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way: “by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors.”
The next question you probably have is, “Tom, you said you waited months for the canonization Mass. Why were you so excited?” Dear reader, what a wonderful question!
The answer is that I love the saints and want to grow in my relationship with as many of them as I can, in as many different ways as I can, because they are examples to all Catholics of how to live for Jesus Christ in this world. This canonization Mass was a once-in-a-lifetime way for me to exercise this desire. This is further illustrated by a beautiful and unintended consequence of my studying in Rome and attending the canonization Mass: I got to tangibly experience the saints. Let me explain.
When I prayed at St. Peter’s tomb and later read the passage about how he walked on the water toward Jesus, I thought: “Woah, the Peter I’m reading about is the same Peter whose tomb I just prayed at.” When I prayed before the skull of the young Saint Agnes, I thought: “This is the skull of the patroness of my diocese. That’s amazing.” As my friends and I waited to enter St. Peter’s Square, we talked to a woman from El Salvador who listened to Oscar Romero’s homilies and was 19 years old when he was assassinated. She told us that when he was killed, she felt as if she had lost her own father. After she said this, I thought: “I have read about Oscar Romero’s life and sacrifice and how much he influenced the Salvadoran people, but I didn’t truly grasp it until I heard this story.” And that is the lesson: Catholicism isn’t dead—not even close. It is fully alive! It is an encounter with Jesus Christ through His saints who are alive among His faithful people here on earth!
A final question you may have for me, and a question that I asked myself, is: “What lessons can we learn from these seven saints?”
I believe we should emulate Pope Saint Paul VI’s fortitude for defending the truth of the Catholic faith, Archbishop Saint Oscar Romero’s passionate love for the poor and oppressed in our midst, Saint Francis Spinelli’s devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament, Saint Vincent Romano’s zeal for the Word of God, Saint Mary Catherine Kasper’s “openness to the Holy Spirit,” Saint Nazaria Ignacia’s caring heart, and Saint Nunzio Sulprizio’s youthful devotion to the sufferings of Christ.
I encourage you all to learn about these seven saints and as many saints as you can, and then to go tangibly experience them, however you can.
Please click the following links for more resources on the canonization of Paul VI and Oscar Romero.
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.
For the past few weeks, bishops from across the globe have met in Rome for the XV Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to discuss Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. This is a momentous time for the Church, one in which she has paused from her work in order to listen and dialogue with a powerful age group in our world today: young people. In imitation of Christ Himself, who sat down during His ministry and said, “let the children come to me,” the successors of the Apostles are engaging the young people of the world in order to learn from them, engage with them, and better accompany them on their faith journey.
But what does this mean for the rest of the Church? What does this mean for us personally? The Synod is not just an event occurring in Rome, nor a series of documents and pastoral initiatives. Below I have compiled 5 key take-aways from the Synod that we can apply to our own spiritual lives.
1. Invite the Holy Spirit.
In his homily for the opening of the Synod, Pope Francis reminded his brother bishops to call upon the Holy Spirit before embarking on their work. “It is the Spirit,” Pope Francis said, “who ensures that the richness and beauty of the Gospel will be a source of constant joy and freshness.” This is true for each of us. Christ left us with the gift of the Holy Spirit after His Ascension into Heaven; the Holy Spirit is our Advocate and remains with us today, present in our hearts as a result of our Baptism. Before embarking on our work on earth, let us call upon the Holy Spirit in order to guide us and ensure we are faithful to our mission. It was the Holy Spirit who transformed the cowering Apostles into bold missionaries, evangelists, and martyrs. The same Holy Spirit leads us today and helps us fulfill our baptismal call. Invite the Holy Spirit into your life, work, and day to day actions in order to live out the richness and beauty of the Gospel that Pope Francis mentions.
The Synod participants have been encouraged to listen intently to what the young people of the Church have to say. This attitude can only be successful if it stems from a posture of humility, an openness to the other, and a flexibility to adapt our perspective based on what we learn. All of us are called to listen to and accompany those we encounter in our day to day life. This is especially true for those of us working in ministry, but can be applied to whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. We live in a culture that seems afraid of listening. Listening is often associated with vulnerability. It opens our minds and hearts to the perspective, ideas, and dreams of the other—whether or not we agree or resonate with these personally. However, “love for the Gospel and for the people who have been entrusted to us, challenges us to broaden our horizons and not lose sight of the mission to which we are called,” Pope Francis said. Listening to another person challenges us to step outside of our comfort zone and acknowledge the truths of the other. Only by listening can we hope to dialogue respectfully with those who might not share our worldview or beliefs.
3. Discern and be silent.
After calling upon the Holy Spirit, we need to create a space of silence where we can listen to God’s promptings. For the first time in a Synod, Pope Francis has instituted 3 minutes of periodic silence for participants to reflect on what’s been shared and on what God is stirring in their hearts. This is a wonderful example of ongoing discernment, which invites God into our life and asks Him to guide us in our everyday actions and decisions. “Discernment is the method and at the same time the goal we set ourselves,” Pope Francis said. “It is based on the conviction that God is at work in world history, in life’s events, in the people I meet and who speak to me.” We can also learn from the spirituality of The Society of Jesus, which emphasizes being “contemplatives in action.” This spirit of discernment is radically different from the world of busyness and noise we often find ourselves in, but it also is capable of existing within that world. When we periodically withdraw into the inner room of our hearts and pray to our heavenly Father in secret, we become better attuned not only to His presence in our hearts, but also to God’s presence in those around us.
4. Be flexible.
Sometimes, it is easy to come up with preconceived notions of how things ought to be done or to maintain an attitude of “it’s always been this way.” Throughout his papacy, and once again at the beginning of this Synod, Pope Francis has challenged the Church to be flexible and to shatter our temptation to conform. In his homily for the opening of the Synod, he called the Church to “broaden our horizons, expand our hearts and transform those frames of mind that today paralyze, separate and alienate us from young people.” A healthy flexibility is key to our well-being in whatever vocation we find ourselves. Flexibility also relies on humility and allows us to admit that we don’t always have the right answers. When we as a Church are flexible, we are better able to encounter others and work together to seek the truth of the Gospel.
5. Dare to hope, to dream.
A great gift that young people can give the Church is their ability to dream. Young people have passion, enthusiasm, hopes, and dreams that offer freshness and renewal to our Church and to the world. This is even more important in a world laden with suffering and problems, where it is easy to succumb to a defeatism or a pessimistic attitude. Pope Francis reminds us that “The future is not a threat to be feared, but is the time the Lord promises us when we will be able to experience communion with him, with our brothers and sisters, and with the whole of creation.” When our faith is rooted in the goodness and beauty of Christ Himself, we are better able to share His joy and hope with the world. Let us learn from the vigor and hope of young people today. May it be contagious, so that others are drawn to ask us for an account of our hope.
As Pope Francis concluded in his Address at the Opening of the Synod of Bishops, “Let us therefore work to “spend time with the future … to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another, and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands, and inspire in young people – all young people, with no one excluded – a vision of the future filled with the joy of the Gospel.”
For more resources on the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
There are about a million things I could say in praise of being a Catholic in Rome. The Eternal City is one of the most significant locations for our faith, and it is almost impossible to come here and not experience Catholicism in some way. Everywhere you turn there is an incredible church that you’ve never even heard of, a monument related to our past, and of course the constant shadow of Saint Peter’s. But beyond that, the history and culture of the city are impossible to separate from the role this place has taken in forming and guiding our Church throughout centuries. You can become almost supersaturated with the beauty of it all, and if you choose it, the experience of being here can be transformative in the faith.
But what does it specifically mean to be a young Catholic in Rome? How can you describe the experience of being in one of the oldest places, while simultaneously knowing that you are one of the newest things on the planet? And what responsibilities do we have as young people while here, especially during the current Synod?
I am so lucky to be able to study abroad in Rome this semester. One of my classes here is Church History, which includes a weekly visit to a historical site of the faith and a discussion of its role and development within the early Church. I’m a little shocked at how much I thought I knew, and then learning something I never understood about our past.
Nothing is more convincing of the fact that the Church is a survivor than one look at its history. The number of upsetting things that I have learned about in the Church’s past are always overcome somehow by the next generation in a manner and consistency that is honestly shocking. Today, this strikes close to home for me, and I’ve come to more deeply see my role and responsibility as a young person called to renew the Church. My course on Church History has been eye-opening in understanding the adaptability and beautifully dynamic nature of our faith, as well as the importance of strong members of the Body of Christ stepping forward to guide her in holiness. In Rome, the city itself is a testimony to the consistency of the faith and its principles, as well as the varied ways this faith has been passed down over the centuries.
This is the knowledge that dictates the responsibility of a young person in Rome. It is a gift to be here and a privilege to see these places that hold such significance in our faith. But to view being a young person in Rome as a mere occasion to take and absorb the city without seeing the opportunity and even responsibility to contribute something to the narrative would be a mistake. If there is any place to learn that the Church is built on the living out of the Gospel, it is here, where ancient structures meet the next generation in the ever old-young duality so present in our faith. The Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment is going on in my (current) backyard and is literally designed for me as a young person! One of the coolest sections of the Instrumentum Laboris (the working document of the Synod), in my opinion, is Chapter V, titled “Listening to the Youth,” where it talks about what it means to be open to the real and organic ideas and needs the youth have. It is our responsibility now to take up the Church on her offer to listen to young people by speaking. You don’t need to be the most involved person in the Synod, but perhaps you can learn more about it, read the documents that come forth from this meeting, pray for good fruit to bear, and engage with what is going on.
To be in Rome as a young person right now is to be in Rome trying to make our faith more understandable and encounterable for all young people. It is more than an opportunity to evangelize, it is a responsibility. The Synod talks about Jesus’ role as a young man preaching to a young Church. How incredible is it to be the echo of that in the present Church today? May God give us the grace to live that role well.
For more resources on the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
Christian accompaniment is best understood through the Gospel story of the Road to Emmaus. If Emmaus is Heaven, each of us is on our own journey: afraid, confused, and attempting to make sense of the joy of the Resurrection. Each of us needs someone to walk beside, someone who will minister to us by simply listening, then understanding, and advising. On this journey, our earthly traveling companion is on one side and Jesus is on the other. The disciples couldn’t have come to understand the Paschal Mystery or their relationship with it until they let Christ be their guide.
As a precursor to the 2018 Synod, the Synod of Bishops released their working document, or Instrumentum Laboris, on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. In its second part, the document discusses the necessity for vocational accompaniment, defined as “a process that is able to unleash freedom, as well as the capacity to give and to integrate the various dimensions of life within a horizon of meaning.” Though a rather lofty definition, it is clear that accompaniment centers around a proper understanding of discernment.
Discernment can be a confusing Catholic buzzword. For some, the mere thought of it causes extreme panic, while others understand it as equivalent to “religious life.” I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had where someone leans over to me and asks in a hushed tone, “Are you discerning?” to which I respond bluntly, “EVERYONE is discerning!” Every young person is constantly discerning not only our capitol “V” Vocation (such as a call to religious life, the priesthood, or to marriage), but also our vocation for every year, month, or moment of our lives. Each day is an opportunity to ask to know God’s will. Even a small daily prayer invites Him to let the Spirit work in our lives.
With this definition of discernment in mind, accompaniment is the simple act of being present to someone, forming a relationship in order to walk with him or her towards an understanding of Christ’s will. The Synod’s Instrumentum Laboris says that there are many kinds of accompaniment. Whether it be formal spiritual direction, psychological accompaniment, advisement from a trusted elder, etc., accompaniment is necessary for the spiritual journey. We cannot live out our faith alone. We need others to share with, to learn from, and to pray with in order to grow as children of God.
In my own journey, I have been blessed to be accompanied by many different disciples. My parents were the first to show me what it means to be accompanied in and through love. In high school, a few wonderful teachers gave me room to grow and begin to understand how Christ was speaking in my life. In college, I learned how to open myself to totally new companions and walk with college-aged ministers. In the most traditional sense, an excellent diocesan priest and longtime friend welcomed me in spiritual direction last year and together we learn how God is calling me to serve Him as I grow as a person and daughter.
I know accompaniment is important because when I try to walk the road alone, I am met with a sense of isolation and confusion. When I made the decision to study abroad in Rome for the semester, I never realized the sort of impact it would have on my spiritual life. Leaving my closest companions, faith friends, and spiritual director behind in the United States, I felt unable to cope with the new challenges I’m facing. I’ve come to realize that without those spiritual relationships, the journey towards Christ becomes far more difficult.
To accompany and to be accompanied are not positions to be taken lightly, and hopefully this Synod will show the Church how to better foster these sorts of relationships. In a time where many of us are feeling betrayed or isolated by the Church, it is difficult to trust that She is the source of these types of reliable and authentic relationships. As young people, however, we have to trust in the healing mercy of the Holy Spirit and the grace bestowed upon our Church’s shepherds. It is not an easy time to be a Catholic or a young person, but that is all the more reason for us to persevere on the journey with a companion on one side and Christ on the other.