Pointed out at a general level, after the 4th General Congregation of the Synod of Bishops on “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment,” was the aspect of “listening” and “empathy” that the Pope and the Synodal Fathers are showing young people, as well as the “realistic,” frank and direct tone of the interventions.
On Friday, October 5, 2018, an informative briefing was held in the Holy See Press Office, on the 4th Session of the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod, in which the following took part: Bishop Manuel Ochogavia Barahona, of Colon-Kuna Yala, Synodal Father elected by the Episcopal Conference of Panama; Archbishop Anthony Colin Fisher of Sydney, Synodal Father elected by the Episcopal Conference of Australia; and young auditor Tahiry Malala Marion Sophie Rakotoroalahy, National President of Catholic Studies of Madagascar.
Lack of Belonging
Paolo Ruffini, Prefect of the Holy See’s Dicastery of Communication pointed out, in the first place, that addressed in the different interventions of the Synod’s fourth Session was the problem of the lack of belonging felt by young people. “It’s a problem that characterizes today’s societies. These young people have witnessed situations of war, drugs, poverty . . . The Church addresses these young people as a Mother, as a home,” and this aspect “can’t be considered as a problem, these young people aren’t problems, they are leading characters,” he added.
“Listening isn’t a theological subject for the Church; young people must be listened to with a Pastor’s heart. This can’t be addressed with a clerical or paternalistic spirit,” stressed Ruffini.
The Prefect of Communication pointed out that “there was talk of the attractiveness of luxury, which deprives us of living in simplicity, in what is important”, and he gave an example that was used in the interventions. “There are young people of the East that have gone to the West to study or to seek a better job and, in the end, they realized that they couldn’t live their true vocation there.”
Also addressed was the “importance of the liturgy,” which must have a more important role in the Church today for young people, continued the Prefect.
Music and Sport
“Music and sport” are very important for young people, pointed out Ruffini. The young people said they are very involved in these two realms, and the Church “must learn to speak in these two languages.”
Debated also in the Synod Hall were new subjects, such as ecology and the digital era, affirming that the Church “must accompany young people” in these areas with a merciful focus.
“Administrative topics” are seen by the young people taking part in the Synod, as a threat that “removes them” from ordinary life, from their children, from their siblings . . . Excessive work . . . the rhythm of life distances them from their families. This can be a danger to fall into drugs or alcohol.
“Young people need prayer, they need to rediscover mystical, silent prayer. The Church must pray for young people, <and> listen” to them, continued Ruffini.
An important point of today’s debate was “sexuality and pre-marital chastity and abstinence,” a subject that is related to that of maturity and can be a reason for the couple’s failure in the future, explained Ruffini. “There was talk of relationships between young people, a topic that deserves profound reflection.
The figure of the father is one that “is disappearing,” and the figure of the mother “is also in danger,” continued Ruffini. “There was talk of the father’s role. It was said that now it’s the figure of the father that transmits the faith, more than that of the mother.”
The need for homilies as a reference for young people was also addressed this morning in the Synod of Bishops. In regard to listening, the Fathers of Africa stressed that the culture of the oral tradition “is being lost, the importance of conversation, talking to young people, listening to young people, and young people must also listen to older people, so as not to lose that memory,” they said.
Panamanian Synodal Father
Bishop Manuel Ochogavia is taking part for the first time in a Synod of Bishops. He values very positively the Synod’s Instrumentum laboris, with which, he said “we have started the Assembly very well” as in the document “we see reflected the life and history of these young people, a wonderful starting point, he added, thanking the Pope and the organizers for their dedication in the preparation of the “instrument.”
Synod of Joy
This is the “Synod of Joy,” pointed out the Panamanian Synodal Father. Perceived is an “environment of openness, of dialogue and of joy,” he said. A joy “that opens us to hope, to dialogue and especially to listening,” he stressed.
“It was very important for me to contribute something from Panama and Latin America,” revealed the Bishop. “For many decades we have engaged in a formative itinerary of the Youth Pastoral, in a network, which works as a team, which communicates and has given good work results.”
Preparation for the WYD
“This Synod is important for us; we are already preparing for the WYD, which is going to determine a lot what it will be like after with the young people of Panama.”
The Bishop of Colon said he hopes to reap many fruits from meetings such as this one, which will show in many ways “how we can accompany and help young people.”
The Panamanian Bishop believes that “new dialogues and new forms of encounter must be generated” with young people. It’s a “preferential option for young people,” so that there can be that occasion of conversation, of empathy, of compassion; one must feel with young people, understand them, he said.
It must be a process of accompaniment, which enables one to “recognize the reality of young people.” The Bishop concluded warning that young people can’t be left in just anyone’s hands. We can’t allow that they continue to be manipulated, we must seek to have them grow free,” he stressed.
Archbishop Anthony Colin Fisher
The Archbishop of Sydney was told once that to treat with young people a good formula is to begin by saying: “Hello, how are you?” Months later, Archbishop Fisher was chosen to organize the World Youth Day in Sydney. It was a “very great opportunity” for our Church, he affirmed.
This is what the Archbishop said about his contribution to the Synod: “I bring to this Synod my WYD experience, also to be taken into account is the grave crisis of sexual abuses we had in the Church in Australia.” “We have lived this period of suffering and now of purification,” he explained.
The Australian Church continues trying to discover an “identity” to integrate everyone in the Church. “It’s a very delicate subject. Young people have been deprived of their youth. We also see now how these young people grow in families where the father or mother is absent, etc.”, he continued.
“I believe the great richness of the Church throughout the world is that all young people, whoever they are, can find their home in the Church,” he said.
Realism in the Interventions
Sydney’s Archbishop made two other points: the realism and affection breathed in the Synod of Bishops.
“Everyone can speak in a very frank, very clear way. All the young people can be proud; I want all the young people to see all this. We have listened to them, and we must be realistic, acknowledge our failures (on sexuality, for instance), the reason why young people felt isolated.”
However, we also have many strengths, he added. We communicate, we transmit the Gospel and it is “an adventure for these young people to discover the Gospel, therefore, the problems shouldn’t rob us of enthusiasm,” he added.
The Participants’ Affection
In regard to “affection,” Archbishop Fisher explained that they note the “affection of young people with us.” and he gave an example. “Each time that a youth takes the floor and addresses us, we notice the affection, even if what they say is difficult, but they say it sincerely, one notices the affection.”
“The hope of young people and for young people is that, not only is there talk of challenges but also of enriching ways, of music, of sport . . . For example, the means, tools, which enable us to get close to them. We must get used to their languages and their tools,” said the Australian Synodal Father.
The Pope’s Example
God made Himself young and so He renews us, He brings us closer to that world,” recalled Australia’s Archbishop, who concluded by appreciating Pope Francis’ attitude. “I have observed our Holy Father — he has a certain age. In the beginning, he came to welcome us, he stays with us, he can’t fall asleep, he is very attentive to everything and writes down many things and, for me, this is an example because he is already elderly.”
Young Sophie Rakotoroalahy from Madagascar stressed the “importance of dialogue.” “Now we are somewhat discouraged . . . young people sometimes join sects. And the sects in Madagascar are increasingly common; it’s a problem,” she lamented.
We need young people involved in pastoral life; we hope that young people will be able to be heard by the adults, and adults also by young people, she said.
Sophie also mentioned the need for a context where young people can be loved. “We need to be accompanied to build a better future, and to build together a new generation, and this is what we hope from this Synod; the Synod is the starting point, not the end, much less so the end.”
Madagascar’s auditor thanked the Pope for listening to them and for dedicating this “precious time” to them.
Panamanian Synodal Father Manuel Ochogavia answered a question of journalists in the press conference on women’s role in the Church, in public places and international ambits.
The Bishop of Colon-Kuna Yala pointed out that the Synod is opening ways for us. Not everything is going to be solved in the Synod. The Synod is marking a roadmap for us. It’s a subject we can’t leave aside.”
It’s a point that is included in the Instrumentum laboris, noted as a point to be discussed, said the Bishop. “I believe there is much to do . . . in regard to parity, equality of salaries . . . There are societies where women don’t have access to education or work. It’s true that it depends on the country or geographic area. There are different ways of understanding it because it depends a lot on the cultural context, but the same thing happens in the Church, he affirmed.