I never would have guessed this was first on their mind..
In an interview with Zenit in the Vatican today, Oct. 5, 2018, during the early days of the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, Archbishop Anthony Colin Fisher of Sydney, said this as he reflected on the issues “to which he is giving a voice” for his country’s young people, and the main issue in particular.
When asked about what matters most to his young flock, the Australian Archbishop, who had organized the 23rd World Youth Day in Sydney, expressed how they tried to uncover this.
“What we did in Australia to get to the heart of what young people are thinking involved having online surveys, forums at our youth festival, diocesan listening sessions, we had lots of different ways, to engage different groups of young people.”
Social researchers, he said, brought that all together for the bishops objectively, and fed back to them what the young people were saying.
Meaning, Identity, Happiness
“It was quite interesting. For instance,” he continued, “the biggest single issue they raised was mental health issues,” that a lot of young people suffer from depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, issues with eating disorders, and other related issues.”
“I never would have guessed this was the first issue on their mind,” he said, stressing: “They care very strongly about mental health issues.”
“Another area they care very strongly about,” he said, “was regarding issues of identity, their ethnic identity.”
“We have a lot of immigrant and migrant groups in Australia,” he said, noting: “they and the next generation are trying to work out, what am I? Am I Australia? Am I Italian? Am I African? Am I Indian? What am I?”
They also are trying to understand, he said, not just their ethnic identity, but their sexual identity and spiritual identity. “These issues,” he noted, “of how I sort out who I am, and what matters to me, are very important to the young people in Australia.
The third area which greatly matters to them, Archbishop Fisher said, has to do with “relationship issues.”
“They are worried about being lonely. How do they find the right person to be their partner for life, hopefully through marriage and a family, especially when they have seen so many relationships on the rocks, and perhaps even their family hasn’t gone so well…”
“I would have guessed that was in there, but I would not have expected it necessarily to have been so prominent, and along with this anxiety: Will I find the right person? Will I be happy? Will I have a supportive group of people around me who love me?”
Their Questions Are More Existential
These, he said, are the questions resonating in the minds of our young people, admitting: “I had thought it would be more items such as figuring out what my work is going to be, where am I going to live.”
“These are big issues too,” he said, “but their questions are a bit more existential, in their mind, about deeper questions, about happiness and meaning, at the heart of their lives.
Discussing more about their mental health concerns, he shared: “When we reported this to the bishops of all the Pacific countries, the New Zealand Bishops said: ‘That’s right. That’s exactly what is on our young people’s minds too.”
“Whereas those from the little island countries are like: ‘What? Who has time to be depressed? We are just worried about how we are going to feed ourselves …whether their island could go under the water…’ So, he observed, it is very different country to country.
A True Sense We The Church Can Help
When asked how do they believe the Church ought to help them as they grapple through these mental health issues, he said: “I think they wanted us to understand this is worrying them. But I think there is a real sense, from this feedback from our young people, that we can help.”
“Often at the heart of these issues are questions about spirituality, about where do I find meaning in life, where do I find hope. I am so anxious all the time, and I do not know whether there is a God, anyone who loves me, anyone I can go to for help.”
“I think they were asking us to do more to help when young people are depressed or anxious, or have issues of self-esteem.”
Of course, he said, this is not a job which is for just the Church depending on the nature, circumstances, as medical professionals, psychologists, experts, and so on may be needed, “but there is a spiritual component and we can help to enable the other as well.”
When asking if the abuses were among those main concerns as well, the Archbishop observed they were not, certainly not to the same degree.
“Only to the extent when they would say, for instance, ‘I do not know who to trust,’ who to go to, when you pressed them on: ‘Why not the Church?’ Then they may say: “Well, I have been told all this stuff. I am not sure if I can trust the Church.'”
“So, it was kind of an indirect issue,” the Dominican Archbishop highlighted, saying: “It was in the background of these issues, rather than in the foreground.”
I think the abuse issue, of it being done to young people, was during the 60s, 70s, 80s, very largely the cases that we know of. So they are now my age, those victims. That is exactly when I was a young person. So it is quite distant for our young people, even though it has affected our trust.”
Yesterday, Archbishop Fisher, during his intervention at the Synod, apologized for the failures of the Church. Today, he said, he believes this asking pardon, for this shame, is needed.
Here is a link where our readers can read his intervention from yesterday: Intervention of Archbishop Fisher.