April 11, 2019 — «Just as you try not to lose your connection to the internet, make sure that you stay connected to the Lord.» Using metaphors of “connectivity”, Pope Francis addressed young people last week, in all their plurality, through the apostolic exhortation Christus vivit. This document is a follow-up to the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops held last October, which reflected on the topic of «Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment.»
As an almost young person (I am more than 29 years old!) I read the content with attention. How can the Church, a two-thousand-year-old institution, still reach today’s youth? Of the many topics covered, three especially appealed to me.
A world in crisis
First, the fact that the Pope recognizes the division between the Church and young people, who sometimes «do not ask the Church for anything because they do not see her as significant for their lives.» Their reasons, the Pope says, are understandable:
[…] sexual and financial scandals; a clergy ill-prepared to engage effectively with the sensitivities of the young; lack of care in homily preparation and the presentation of the word of God; the passive role assigned to the young within the Christian community; the Church’s difficulty in explaining her doctrine and ethical positions to contemporary society.
Francis returns to these various themes, urging the Church to remain open, alive and to “let herself be challenged and stimulated by the sensitivity of young people,” especially on these topics.
Young people are all different, they have different backgrounds, experiences and priorities. Some are more privileged than others. All you have to do is open a newspaper to notice this. Pope Francis highlights several problems experienced by many of them: war, violence, exclusion, discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation. He then hopes that all young people who suffer may “feel the closeness of a Christian community that can reflect Jesus’ words [“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”] by its actions, its embrace and its concrete help». So to make this happen, he urges everyone to look at the suffering of others. This is something that can never be repeated enough, within the Church and beyond.
A particular issue has been making headlines recently: sexual abuse by members of the clergy. In this regard, the Synod emphasized «the firm commitment made to adopting rigorous preventative measures intended to avoid the recurrence [of these crimes].» But we must remember that this concerns only a minority of the clergy. The Pope asks young people to let themselves be inspired by the majority of the clergy, «who carry out their ministry with fidelity and generosity.»
Evil does not have the last word.
by Pat Marrin / Francis, the comic strip
Called to live
The Pope affirms that, in order to get closer to young people, the Church must logically listen to them and remain open. «Young people can help keep her (the Church) young. They can stop her from becoming corrupt; they can keep her moving forward, prevent her from being proud and sectarian, help her to be poorer and to bear better witness, to take the side of the poor and the outcast, to fight for justice and humbly to let herself be challenged.» Staying close to their voice and enthusiasm creates the conditions for the Church to become a «place of dialogue and a witness to life-giving fraternity.»
This is why the Pope invites young people from all walks of life to participate in the life of the Church, and not only by virtue of a religious vocation.
When we discover that God is calling us to something, that this or that is what we were made for – whether it be nursing, carpentry, communication, engineering, teaching, art or any other kind of work – then we will be able to summon up our best capacities for sacrifice, generosity and dedication.
Reflecting on our hyper-connected world, Francis invites us to leave our screens and to engage, each in our own way, more closely with the world. No need to seek perfection: «Don’t be parked cars, but dream freely and make good decisions. Take risks, even if it means making mistakes.» In his exhortation we find great confidence in young people who, the Pope says, can draw on the wisdom of their elders.
The Church needs your momentum, your intuitions, your faith. We need them! And when you arrive where we have not yet reached, have the patience to wait for us.
Loved by God
Finally, one last point to highlight, Francis reminds us that God wants us to be happy, loves us, and wishes us to enjoy the present moment. How? Among other things through friendship with others and with Christ. Jesus was in fact «just another young person of his town, who related normally to others » (!) who can understand what young people are going through. Christ holds a central place in the Pope’s exhortation (hence its title), which begins with: «Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive!»
Pope Francis also touched on several other topics in his apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit, which is available online. But in summary, the three main points he asks us to reflect on are that: “God is Love, Christ saves and He lives!” It is up to young people to live and make these beautiful words come alive, each in their own unique way!