“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.
Brian Rhude is Project Coordinator with the Catholic Apostolate Center. He is a student at The Catholic University of America in the School of Theology and Religious Studies.
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.
Fr. Frank S. Donio, S.A.C., D.Min. is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center.
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.
Monica Thom Konschnik is the Assistant Director of Administration for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
“Everything is well when it is done as God wishes.” – St. Vincent Pallotti
In October, there will be a Synod of Bishops devoted to the interconnection between faith and vocational discernment in the lives of young people. When a person in Catholic circles, especially a young person, says that she or he is “discerning a vocation,” usually this means consecrated life or priesthood. More often today, though, it also includes discernment of whether one is called to the vocation of marriage. Over the last two decades, I have had the privilege of accompanying numerous young adults who are discerning their vocation. As they have come to a decision about a life vocation, I have witnessed their marriages, consecrations, and ordinations. During this year alone, many months have been filled with the joy of such events which will continue into the foreseeable future. Such moments bring me great joy as they should for the Church.
More so, though, we are called to discern the ways in which we can live our primary vocation, the call to holiness. This call, as the Second Vatican Council taught, is “universal” (Lumen Gentium, c. V) It is what God desires of all human beings, to live in a loving union with God and neighbor that leads to salvation. Pope Francis teaches us in Gaudete et Exsultate that
“This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures” (GE, 16).
Small gestures lead to larger action through discernment. Is such discernment easy? No. In fact, it is challenging and difficult and can be a cross. But, we are called to take up our cross and follow (Mk 8:34) since no one is called to be a professional discerner. We are called to make choices that are for Christ and witnessed through our love and care for our neighbor. Simply praying, thinking, or talking is not enough. We are challenged to move forward. “It involves striving untrammeled for all that is great, better and more beautiful, while at the same time being concerned for the little things, for each day’s responsibilities and commitments” (GE, 169).
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
In God, the Infinite Love,
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center.
One month ago, I had the privilege of celebrating Mass on the altar above the tomb of St. John Paul II. Our small pilgrimage group had requested a Mass at one of the altars, either in the crypt or in St. Peter’s Basilica itself. We never expected that we would be given this particular altar, and all in the group were rather excited. One of my friends, who is an American serving on the general council of his religious community, asked me how we had arranged it. He had been trying for months through various contacts in the Vatican. I told him how we asked simply for a Mass in the basilica. Of course, he was very surprised that no special arrangements had been made. I was simply thankful to the Holy Spirit for arranging it and giving both the pilgrims and me such an important spiritual opportunity. As we made our way to the altar of St. John Paul, we went by the tomb of St. John XXIII. I hope someday to celebrate a Mass on the altar above his tomb as well. Both are personal heroes of mine because of their efforts to expand the role of all in the Church, especially the laity, which was so central to the charism of the founder of my religious community, St. Vincent Pallotti. In his homily for their canonizations, Pope Francis spoke about the efforts of these two popes in this regard:
John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries.
The renewal and updating of the Church called for by the Second Vatican Council, initiated by St. John XXIII, is central to the work of the New Evangelization as articulated by St. John Paul II. This work continued through the efforts of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, especially in the Synod on the New Evangelization, and is finding even greater momentum through the witness of Pope Francis. All of them, along with Blessed Paul VI, the teaching of the Council, and Church leadership in general, have called all of the baptized to engage in greater co-responsibility for the life of the Church and for the work of evangelization.
When Pope Francis canonized St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II together, various pundits, both in Church and secular media, were quick to give their sometimes very simplistic analysis of the message that he was trying to convey. If there was any “message”, I believe that it is a continued or re-commitment to the on-going renewal of the Church in trustful cooperation with the Holy Spirit and in prayerful communion with the saints.
St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II were both visionary leaders who put forward programmatic plans for not simply renewal of the Church as an institution, but renewal of all the baptized in faith and holiness who are called to go forth into the world and renew it as well. In 1959, St. John XXIII said, “Profession of the Christian faith is not intelligible without strong, lively apostolic fervor” (Princeps Pastorum, 32). The Second Vatican Council confirmed this understanding in Lumen Gentium through its teachings about the Universal Call to Holiness and the role of all the baptized in the mission of Christ. St. John Paul II was one of the drafters of the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem) along with the then Rector General of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate, Fr. Wilhelm Möhler, S.A.C. St. John Paul taught in his apostolic exhortationChristifideles Laici, which followed the Synod on the Laity in 1987, that
The Second Vatican Council has reminded us of the mystery of this power and of the fact that the mission of Christ – Priest, Prophet-Teacher, King – continues in the Church. Everyone, the whole People of God, shares in this threefold mission’” (14).
Sharing in the mission of Christ is not simply staying within the confines of the church building. Instead, especially in this time of the New Evangelization, all of the baptized are called to recognize that they are followers of the Christ who are sent on mission by him. In fact, Pope Francis even calls the baptized, in Evangelii Gaudium, “missionary disciples” (120).
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center and teaches for Saint Joseph’s College Online.
This blog post was first published on February 4th on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online
“Deeds done well.” Note the emphasis that St. Vincent Pallotti places on how things are done. Too often there are many deeds that are not done well. They are done in a half-hearted, almost mechanical way. This is a “maintenance” mentality, as noted by the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization. A missionary mode of operating, as emphasized by the Synod and by Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium, was at the core of the actions of St. Vincent Pallotti. Today is Pallotti’s feast day. As founder of the Union of Catholic Apostolate, an association of lay people, consecrated persons, and clergy, a part of which is the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Fathers and Brothers), he understood the need for all Christians to be people of action, apostles of Christ.
Today in Washington, D.C., thousands and thousands of people are taking to the streets in a show of action for life. One of the things that characterizes this effort is the joy that those who participate show in witness to life. Sometimes people of action, including Catholics, do not show joy in their actions. Joyful action will draw others, invite others, unite them, and send them forth to collaborate for the good of the Church and for the world.
As we celebrate today the feast of the Patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center, St. Vincent Pallotti, I invite you to reflect on the the words of St. John Paul II and to do many deeds to make them a reality:
“Continue to multiply your efforts so that what was prophetically announced by Vincent Pallotti, and the Second Vatican Council authoritatively confirmed, may become a happy reality, that all Christians are authentic apostles of Christ in the Church and in the world” (Homily of June 22, 1986).
St. Vincent Pallotti, pray for us!
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
Fr. Frank Donio S.A.C. is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center
"John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries." - Pope Francis
This past Sunday was a unique and amazing day of four popes, the two pope saints, John XXIII and John Paul II and the two living popes, Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict! The renewal and updating of the Church called for by the Second Vatican Council, initiated by St. John XXIII, and central to the work of the New Evangelization as articulated by St. John Paul II continued through the efforts of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, especially the Synod on the New Evangelization and finding even greater momentum through the witness of Pope Francis. Among them all, along with Paul VI, the Council, and Church leadership in general has called all of the baptized to engage in greater co-responsibility for the life of the Church and for the work of evangelization.
Various pundits, both in Church and secular media, are quick to give their sometimes very simplistic analysis of why the two popes were canonized together and the message that Pope Francis is trying to convey. If there is any "message", I believe that it is a continued or re-commitment to the on-going renewal of the Church in trustful cooperation with the Holy Spirit and in prayerful communion with the saints.
St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II were both visionary leaders who put forward programmatic plans for not simply renew of the Church as an institution, but renewal of all the baptized in faith and holiness who are called to go forth to the world and renew it as well. In 1959, St. John XXIII said, "Profession of the Christian faith is not intelligible without strong, lively apostolic fervor" (Princeps Pastorum, 32). The Second Vatican Council confirmed this understanding in Lumen Gentium through its teachings about the Universal Call to Holiness and the role of all the baptized in the mission of Christ. St. John Paul II was one of the drafters of the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem) along with the then Rector General of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate, Fr. Wilhelm Möhler. St. John Paul taught in his apostolic exhortation Christifedles Laici, which followed the Synod on the Laity in 1987, that
The Second Vatican Council has reminded us of the mystery of this power and of the fact that the mission of Christ - Priest, Prophet-Teacher, King - continues in the Church. Everyone, the whole People of God, shares in this threefold mission (14).
Just after the close of the first session of the Council, St. John XXIII canonized the Patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center, St. Vincent Pallotti, calling him "an innovator of new ways whereby people could come to know the love of God" (Cf. L'Osservatore Romano, January 23, 2013). Pallotti understood well the call of all to be apostles or what Pope Francis calls in Evangelii Gaudium, "missionary disciples" (120). The Center continues Pallotti's mission in the way that St. John Paul II described it to members of the Union of Catholic Apostolate when he said:
Continue to multiply your efforts so that what Vincent Pallotti prophetically announced, and the Second Vatican Council authoritatively confirmed, may become a happy reality, and all Christians become authentic apostles of Christ in the Church and in the world!
(Homily at San Salvatore in Onda, June 22, 1986).
Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us!
St. Vincent Pallotti, pray for us!
St. John XXIII, pray for us!
St. John Paul II, pray for us!
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center