Much more than a Synod Assembly on young people

The Synod of Bishops is officially back in session and more than 300 participants of the closed-door meetings are taking up Pope Francis’ mandate to focus on young people, the faith and vocational discernment.

Oct 13, 2018

By Robert Mickens
The Synod of Bishops is officially back in session and more than 300 participants of the closed-door meetings are taking up Pope Francis’ mandate to focus on young people, the faith and vocational discernment.

But if the early days of this 25-day gathering in Rome are any indication, this XV Ordinary General Assembly will not be free of controversy any less than the previous two assemblies Francis presided over in 2014 and 2015 which concerned marriage and the family.

A whole host of groups and individuals, including some from inside the Synod Hall, seem intent on using this Vatican summit of Church leaders as an opportunity to pressure the 81-year-old Pope to address a number of issues that have long divided Catholics.

In his homily at the Synod’s opening Mass last Wednesday, Oct 3, Francis declared this to be a “moment of grace for the whole Church.”

He particularly urged the bishops in the assembly to ask for “the gift of dreaming and of hoping,” in order to be liberated from the “conformism that says, ‘it’s always been done like this.’”

But as journalist Alberto Bobbio noted on Thursday, Oct 4 in the pages of a northern Italian daily called, L’Eco di Bergamo: “More than a Synod on youth, this will be a Synod on the Church, because young people are not content with a lukewarm Church. They dream of one that is radically Christian and unafraid to take hold of the Gospel.”

Bobbio, who has covered the Vatican and Church affairs for more than 30 years, said the current assembly can help “rediscover” the Church that has gone missing.

“It must reflect on what the Church has done to find itself so alienated from the young generation,” Bobbio wrote. “Bergoglio has indicated with perfect clarity the road on which the Synod must set out (...) we need to change what paralyses us.”

In fact, Pope Francis said at the opening Mass on Wednesday morning (Oct 3) “this demands that we be really careful against succumbing to a self-preservation and self-centredness that gives importance to what is secondary, yet makes secondary what is important.”

The Pope’s programme for reviving the Church
In the afternoon at the first session inside the Synod Hall, Pope Francis indicated precisely the attitudes that, in Bobbio’s words, are paralysing the Church.

Among them are prejudice and stereotypes.

“Young people are tempted to consider adults outdated; adults are tempted to regard young people as inexperienced, to know how they are and especially how they should be and behave,” Francis said.

“All of this can be an overwhelming obstacle to dialogue and to the encounter between generations.... If we can avoid this risk, then we will help to bridge generations,” he added, re-stating the need for an intergenerational approach to discerning how to revitalise the Church and its mission.

Another factor causing paralysis is “the scourge of clericalism,” which the Pope said, “arises from an elitist and exclusivist vision of vocation, that interprets the ministry received as a power to be exercised rather than as a free and generous service to be given.”

“This leads us to believe that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen or learn anything, or that pretends to listen,” Francis continued.

“Clericalism is a perversion and is the root of many evils in the Church: we must humbly ask forgiveness for this and, above all, create the conditions so that it is not repeated.”

The Church is also being crippled by “the virus of self-sufficiency and of hasty conclusions reached by many young people,” the Pope noted.

As a cure to this, he suggested that the Synod process must be a “moment of sharing.” As he did at the previous two Synod assemblies, he urged “everyone to speak with courage and frankness (parrhesia), namely to integrate freedom, truth and charity.”

He repeated a mantra for which he has gotten flack from many of his more dogmatic and traditionalist critics, saying: “Only dialogue can help us grow.”

Francis said an “honest, transparent critique is constructive and helpful,” but he warned that it must not “engage in useless chatter, rumours, conjectures or prejudices.”

The Pope balanced his invitation to raise questions or objections and to offer constructive criticism by insisting that Synod participants show “humility in listening” and a true openness to dialogue.

“The first fruit of this dialogue,” he said, “is that everyone is open to newness (and) to changing their opinions, given what they have heard from others.”

He called this an “exercise in discernment” that “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.”

But he said such discernment “needs space and time” and, therefore, he ordered that after every five interventions are made in the Synod Hall and in the small working groups, “a moment of silence of approximately three minutes will be observed.”

He said this would “allow everyone to recognise within their hearts the nuances of what they had heard... to reflect deeply and seize upon what is most striking.”

A listening Church and the Pope’s credibility
“This Synod has the opportunity, the task and the duty to be a sign of a Church that really listens, that allows herself to be questioned by the experiences of those she meets and who does not always have a ready-made answer,” Pope Francis said.

He warned that a Church that does not listen “shows herself closed to newness, closed to God’s surprises and cannot be credible.”

These are all fine words and music to the ears of those Catholics who, since 1959 when John XXII announced the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), have long tried to offer their voices, talents and lives to the momentous project of reforming the Church.

But despite Pope Francis’ summons to his fellow bishops to “really listen,” the “scourge of clericalism” — still perpetuated by too many clerics and lay faithful alike — continues to dismiss voices that question or critique the Church’s “ready-made answers.”

Will it be possible in the short span of just a few weeks and a couple of days for this Synod assembly — made up predominantly of bishops and priests — to drive a stake in the heart of clericalism and unblock the ears of those who have authority in the Church? It is a tall order and a seemingly impossible task.

But the Pope’s credibility and his ambitious programme of reform will be greatly affected by whatever does or does not happen throughout the course of this most urgent gathering. --LCI (

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