All young people should be concerned and feel included in the preparation of the October 2018 Synod of Bishops, said Sister Nathalie Becquart, Directress of the National Service for the Evangelization of Young People and for Vocations (SNEJV) of the French Episcopal Conference (CEF) and, in this interview, she points out how they can take part, sensitizing leaders of young people and encouraging their active participation and speaking.
ZENIT: Sister Nathalie Becquart, you are the CEF’s Directress of the National Service for Young People and, in that capacity, you are involved in the preparation of the 2018 Synod on Young People. What stages have been fulfilled in this preparation?
Sister Nathalie Becquart: Last October, Pope Francis announced that the theme of the next Synod of Bishops, in October 2018, would be “Young People, Faith and the Discernment of Vocations” in order to help young people “to recognize and accept the call to love and to life in fullness.” Through this Synodal course, the Church has focused on young people and marked her concern towards them. And this perspective has sparked much joy and enthusiasm in France, especially among agents of the pastoral care of young people and of Vocations. In January the Synod’s General Secretariat published the Preparatory Document, which launched the consultation phase in which we are at present. This document, called Lineamenta [Guidelines] has three parts. The first with a more sociological approach, attempts to assess young people’s present places of culture, the world in which they grow up and are moulded, stressing some important characteristics of contemporary youth. The second part, more spiritual and theological, describes the very pedagogic manner of the process of discernment and accompaniment of young people on the journey of faith and the discovery of their vocation. The third part, more pastoral, gives concrete benchmarks and ways for the pastoral care of young people and vocations in today’s world. This document is truly interesting and stimulating; it can help all Christians, particularly those that have pastoral responsibilities with young people, to revisit their practices, to question themselves on their view of young people and of vocations. There is a challenge to make the Document known and, in the main, to have it read. It can be found with numerous complementary documents at: http://www.jeunes-vocations.catholique.fr/ressources/dossiers/dossier-synode-2018.html
ZENIT: Of whom does the Synod speak: all young people, believers, Catholics?
Sister Nathalie Becquart: No. Youth should feel excluded from the preparation of the Synod,” “Have your cry heard,” “the Church herself desires to listen to your voice, your sensibility, your faith; hear your doubts and your criticisms.” These strong words of Pope Francis to young people, in connection with the Synod, reflect the Pontiff’s great concern and that of all Pastors. Through this journey together, to listen to the Holy Spirit with and through young people, the ecclesial leadership hopes to truly listen to and involve all young people. The way of seeing young people as described in the Preparatory Document to the Synod stresses a lot the challenge of young people’s “leadership,” that is the challenge for the Church not to consider them as passive subjects but to see them as active subjects, the first actors of the transformations of the world and of the evangelization of young people. Through this Synod, the Church hopes truly to accompany young people in their human and spiritual growth so that they will be increasingly involved in rendering the world better. And this concerns all young people, regardless of their religion and their relation to the faith. The issuing of a global questionnaire published on line (accessible in five languages) by the Synod’s General Secretariat, destined directly to young people, is geared to associating the greatest number of young people in the Synodal consultation.
ZENIT: Do you have the impression that young people are involved and interested or not?
Sister Nathalie Becquart: Young people involved in the Church, who learned of the existence of the forthcoming Synod of Bishops on “Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocations,” received this prospect with great joy, enthusiasm and interest. They see this Synod on young people as a gift of the Pope; it energizes them and they are particularly keen to be involved and to express themselves. Many young people who took the time to read the Preparatory Document told me how this text interested them and clarified matters for them. And immediately they wished to take part in the consultation underway. However, it is certain that the majority of young people don’t know what a Synod is and are not interested out of hand. Hence the responsibility of pastoral agents to undertake a whole endeavor of pedagogy and animation around the preparation for the Synod to explain this initiative, its challenges and objectives … in order to put forth propositions adapted to the different groups of young people, to interest them and involve them in this Synodal endeavor. However, in general, when one explains to young people that Pope Francis and the whole Church are interested in them and want to ask them questions, they are motivated!
ZENIT: Up to when and how can young people take part in the preparation?
Sister Nathalie Becquart: Young people can take part in the preparation in two ways. First of all, by responding directly to the global questionnaires on line at: http://youth.synod2018.va/ from now until November 2017, and in diffusing it to other young people. In a parallel way, they can also take part in all the initiatives of preparation and consultation deployed in their parish, diocese, Movement or Community in view of answering the questions suggested at the end of the Preparatory Document. In general, several propositions are made to young people for the preparation of the Synod: the on line questionnaire, working groups, preparation meetings, exchanges with the Bishop . . . In France, for instance, all the dioceses or groups that want to contribute to the elaboration of the response/national synthesis that will be sent to Rome by the Conference of Bishops of France have until July 14 to send us their reflection to the address email@example.com
ZENIT: There is the word “Discernment” in the title of the Synod’s theme: “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” Why this emphasis?
Sister Nathalie Becquart: In today’s world, with globalization and digital development, young people are faced with a multiplicity of possible models and choices. In the main they live in very plural, multi-cultural and multi-religious societies. They have access through the Internet to a plurality of views and propositions. This facilitates zapping, mobility not only geographic but also mental and affective. Sociologists speak of the “liquid society” in which young people grow up. And the Preparatory Documents evokes a “context of fluidity and uncertainty never reached before.” In this reality, to root oneself, to make choices, to be engaged long-term is not simple. Many young people wonder: “How can we choose without making a mistake? What direction <should I give> my life?” Hence their need of landmarks and guides to learn to discern and make good decisions. The two key words of Pope Francis for the Church today are discernment and accompaniment. They were already very present in the two Synods on the Family and the Apostolic Exhortation Amores Laetitia. One sees well this line, which is being drawn up to answer the spiritual thirst of our contemporaries, their way of living their faith in a post-modern digital culture that puts the accent increasingly on the subjective individual,who builds his identity by experimentation more than by reproduction. It is by accepting each one as he is, there where he is, with kindness and without judgment, to accompany him on his journey of life and faith in the manner of Christ, where the Church, as “a field hospital” can deploy the joy of the Gospel. And aid each one to discern his vocation, namely, what is going to make him happy by making others happy or also by finding his place in society and in the Church by responding to Christ’s singular call to him.
ZENIT: While you are actively preparing for the deadline in France, what is happening at Rome?
Sister Nathalie Becquart: Last month, Rome published Pope Francis’ official prayer for the 2018 Synod, which invites young people to walk with the Apostle John, the beloved disciple and exemplary figure of a youth who chose to follow Jesus. This prayer, already available on line, is called to be largely diffused everywhere in France under the form of an image-prayer: http://www.jeunes- vocations.catholicque.fr/actualites/synode-2018-la-priere-du-pape-francois-pour-les-jeunes.html.
Moreover, several international meetings mark the path of preparation of the Synod. Since Vatican II, which established the Synod of Bishops in 1965 as a permanent institution, there is the General Secretariat for the Synod, a team at present under the responsibility of Cardinal Baldisseri. Last April, they organized an international meeting of preparation of the Synod, which for two days gathered representatives of a number of countries and some fifty international movements. Each Episcopal Conference had to send two delegates: the national director of the pastoral care of young people and a youth between 18 and 28 years old. Thus I had the chance to take part in it with Charles Callens, a youth who works with me at SNEJV. We worked and exchanged <ideas> on the Preparatory Document, which enabled the whole team of the Secretariat for the Synod to hear the reactions of all the continents. They truly hope to irrigate their reflection and their work with the word in the field. Thus, by way of follow-up, they have organized for next September a seminar of studies to listen to the conditions of the life of young people; it will include a certain number of experts and youths in view of aiding the preparation of the Synod. Then, beginning in October, when they will have received all the national answers to the consultation launched by the Preparatory Document, they will have an important job to write, from all this feedback, another text, called the Instrumentum Laboris, which should appear in the Spring of 2018. This Working Instrument for the Synodal Fathers (Bishops Delegates of the Episcopal Conferences), will serve as the basis for discussions that will take place for three weeks during the Synod that will unfold at Rome in October 2018.
ZENIT: What do you perceive of the Pope’s relation with young people?
Sister Nathalie Becquart: One feels that young people love Pope Francis very much; he speaks to them and touches them particularly. By his way of being and doing, this Pope, with his very colorful and accessible language, his simplicity, his authenticity and his evangelical witness is very close to young people. His way of communicating, of receiving each one and of entering into dialogue with all is very much in line with the present culture of young people. He is able to answer their questions, their concerns and their aspirations. As a Jesuit moulded by Ignatian spirituality, he is an educator that has a long experience with young people. I also hear very much from young people that the appeal to go to the peripheries resonates particularly with them and challenges them to engage themselves. Many young people are also very sensitive to the care brought by Pope Francis – through his Encyclical Laudato Si’ – to the dimension of integral ecology. And then many Catholic young people find themselves again in Pope Francis’ missionary elan and his desire to make the Church move. Pope Francis truly has confidence in young people, he counts on them, and the Church is without a doubt one of society’s institutions that gives most responsibility to young people.