The Synod of Bishops on Young People being over, not only does the final document remain, a letter to young people of the world and vivid memories . . . but, what is most valuable, is that the model will remain of weeks of dialogue, of mutual challenging between faithful and pastors and, above all, the conviction that there is still so much to do in the Church.
Zenit offers its readers an interview with Synodal Father, Bishop Ricardo Garcia Garcia, of Yauyos, Peru. He brought to the Assembly his vast experience as President of the Youth Pastoral Ministry Commission and the challenges in this sector for the Inca country.
ZENIT: What did you think of this Synod, in which young people took part in what has been called the “synodality” of the Church?
Bishop Garcia: It was interesting to listen to the young people that took part, not only now, in the Assembly, but when the moment for questions arrived. Now we wonder, what young people do we want to reach? I think this Synod must consider an opening to the great majority of youngsters who, sadly, aren’t close to the Church. Subjects must be considered to recover that strength of youth, because God’s truth is everyone’s truth.
ZENIT: There was much talk of “synodality” . . .
Bishop Garcia: It seems to me that “synodality” is important, because it enabled us to be, to listen, not only during these days, but from further back. To listen, so that the one who must then take decisions, takes them. Let’s remember that our Church is hierarchic, and that the Successors of the Apostles have been present in this Synod. There have also been auditors who took to the floor as well, but it’s obvious that the decision is taken by the Successors of the Apostles.
ZENIT: Of the topics addressed, which caught your attention most?
Bishop Garcia: I think it was how to reach the youth, how to reach young people to recover them, let’s say it thus. The topic of accompaniment of young people in different ways was constant, whether it be priests <or> women religious, and there was also talk <of the need> for the laity to be well formed, because a youth who is better formed than his close friends, influences their lives. Another topic that concerns me particularly, coming from Latin America, is the importance of schools and universities because, as in our Continent, in Africa and in Europe, there are many schools of Catholic orientation. Therefore, there is a call to recover that channel of accompaniment of young people, as religious schools have not always left an imprint, with all the fruit that could exist.
ZENIT: Many leaders, be their politicians or businessmen, come out of the Church’s schools . . . How must the formation of the future citizen be focused today?
Bishop Garcia: First, there must be further reflection on doctrine, with more solid knowledge, more structure on the Doctrine of the Catholic Church, and that it respond to moral and family topics, matters of daily life, and also ethical issues that have to do with social life. A subject that emerged in the Synod is the importance that youngsters not stay in a closed room, which is the Church, or in the parish and the Movements. No, we must go out, we must be in the world and be salt there, be the ferment that moves and is channelled, giving direction to society. To do this, one must not only fill the head but also the heart, give an image of closeness to Jesus Christ. What Our Lord Jesus Christ did must be transmitted with enthusiasm, to fall in love with Him and to be ready to commit one’s life. If one is enthusiastic about this, the possibility is also much greater that vocations will arise, because the meaning of one’s existence is discovered.
ZENIT: In fact, over the last decades much has been done with youth in Latin America. You yourself have been President of the Commission of Youth Pastoral Ministry in Peru. What was Latin America’s contribution to the practical work with young people?
Bishop Garcia: I think that in Latin America in general there is greater organization of work with youth in certain instances, be it at the episcopal and diocesan level <or> in Movements, in youth groups. I see that there is a practice, in coming to an agreement. I think that another contribution is that our young people still have an important reserve, which is the whole of popular piety that exists in our land. In Peru, the Pope paid us a lovely compliment, <saying> that we were a “sainted” land. There is piety in the people and, if I say Peru, I also mean Ecuador, Bolivia, Mexico, Colombia, in a nutshell. Latin America has this richness: that one can express one’s faith in a natural way, without complexes, without being afraid of “what they will say.”
ZENIT: But with a formation that complements it?
Bishop Garcia: Popular piety is a very valid option, but I think it must be enriched with greater doctrinal formation and a constant commitment. That the Saint’ feast not only be valid — with much enthusiasm, much piety on that day, but then the next day <it’s forgotten>.
ZENIT: There was also talk in the media of the possibility of the acceptance of homosexuality. Has this been the case?
Bishop Garcia: It was a subject that was touched upon in the Assembly, and the almost general consensus was to recall the usual education and teachings of the Church. Morality doesn’t change. What is necessary is to explain things well, the “Why” of matters. It’s not enough to point to the 6th Commandment or to say that the 9th says this, and that’s that. It was a request of the Assembly that the reason be mentioned expressly for the moral demands that the Christian faith has. On the subject of homosexuality, it was said that people in that situation must be accompanied; they must be accompanied, not rejected. It’s not that a morally incorrect situation is being accepted. People must be given a light, as it’s not about lowering the demands of the Christian faith, but about making them see the reason of things, and giving them strength to go forward.
ZENIT: We also see that there was talk of the abuses, and one of the Synod’s topics was vocational discernment. How can vocational discernment and the selection of candidates to the priesthood be improved, to avoid problems?
Bishop Garcia: On the subject of abuses, it’s evident that the way <people> feel isn’t the same everywhere in the world. I think that if there is a thermometer, and one goes to the United States, to other places of Europe or to Chile, the temperature his higher. However, if we go to other places of the world, it’s not a subject that becomes “the topic,” far from it, <in fact>. We should not generalize on a matter that can be proper to each country. However, together with that, we would say that vocational discernment is not only to be a priest or a man or woman religious, but that vocation is much broader; it stems from something that is common to all, which is Baptism. There is quite a bit of talk about lay vocations, some consecrated and others not, but there is a lay vocation.
ZENIT: And how can candidates for the priesthood be selected better?
Bishop Garcia: To select candidates for the priesthood it’s not enough that the young man is pious and that’s all. He must have human conditions and virtues that make it possible to build the supernatural on the human. Thus the virtues can be built for work, for order — sincerity, loyalty, daring, chastity, which is an important virtue; also detachment from goods, in the sense that, for many young men, the ideal is to be a professional. I think that’s very good, but sometimes success is focused on that, yet many have not reflected on the possibility of giving their life to other, let’s say, more transcendent matters, and, if God calls, one must then go <His> way. God asks more of some, and one must be ready to do what God asks. However, to reach that situation, one must have a spiritual life, a relationship with God, the grace of God, the action of the Holy Spirit in us.
ZENIT: In regard to the subjects addressed, there was talk of some negligence, almost a mea culpa in the work with young people .. . . What can be corrected in the short term?
Bishop Garcia: A topic that emerged was the lack of availability of priests to attend to young people, as sometimes they have many things <to do>, much work. I don’t think it can be resolved in the short term, but at least it’s a call to attempt something on this subject. Then there was also a call to Bishops to bet on youth, although not thinking only in a theoretical way, but geared to means, including of an economic type. Meetings, activities, publications must be supported, even if this implies expense. Then we must count on young people more in certain tasks, decisions, organization . . .
ZENIT: And the need for formation . . .
Bishop Garcia: Young people must be formed so that they act in freedom, namely, are well-formed in mind and heart, so that they take their decisions at the political, work, or whatever level, but with knowledge of the cause. I think what I said earlier is also very important – young people are farther away, they are at the university, in the cafe, in sports, in so many other places. And these are also places for an encounter with God; this is what must be rescued.
ZENIT: In Peru right now there is a great problem of corruption, which has touched many sectors. The Pope also warned about it when speaking about Presidents with denunciations, or prisoners . . . What can be done to avoid corruption being institutionalized and becoming a sort of organized mafia?
Bishop Garcia: I think the Bishops of Peru must make an appeal to responsibility, but with the prudence of not being in one or another party, of one or another color because here, sadly, all have “feet of clay,” and I am referring to almost all politicians. So one must move with great precaution because the reality is that there is confrontation, vengeance of one against another — a very disagreeable situation that is dividing the country. In the short term, there must be a call to pacification, to build bridges, to try to have some concordance in things. Then in the medium and long term, to call youth to commit themselves in political actions, which is part <of the responsibility> of the laity, as there is an absence of politicians that inspire confidence and transparency of life. A faith that isn’t manifested in the social <dimension>, is a faith that is limited. We must encourage young people to be involved in political life, well prepared and well qualified.