The life of a young person and the vocation to which God calls each one is ‘holy ground’ that pastors and parents must respect, nurture and encourage, Pope Francis wrote in a new apostolic exhortation.
‘Christus Vivit’ (‘Christ Lives’), the pope’s reflections on the 2018 Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment, is a combination letter to young people about their place in the Church and a plea to older members of the Church not to stifle the enthusiasm of the young, but to offer gentle guidance when needed.
In the document, released today, 2nd April, Pope Francis talked about how the sex abuse crisis, a history of sexism and an overly narrow focus on just a handful of moral issues can keep young people away from the Church.
But he also said many young people want to know and understand the teachings of the Church and, despite what many people think, they long for and need times of silent reflection and opportunities to serve their communities.
‘A Church always on the defensive, which loses her humility and stops listening to others, which leaves no room for questions, loses her youth and turns into a museum,’ Pope Francis wrote. ‘How, then, will she be able to respond to the dreams of young people?’
Young people have a natural desire to improve the life of the Church and the world around them, the pope said. If older people in the Church will let the young people try, it will keep the Church youthful, too.
‘Let us ask the Lord to free the Church from those who would make her grow old, encase her in the past, hold her back or keep her at a standstill,’ Pope Francis wrote. ‘But let us also ask him to free her from another temptation: that of thinking she is young because she accepts everything the world offers her, thinking that she is renewed because she sets her message aside and acts like everybody else.’
The core of the pope’s message to young people was that they remember they are loved by God and saved by Jesus, who continues to live and act in the world and in their lives.
‘His love is so real, so true, so concrete, that it invites us to a relationship of openness and fruitful dialogue,’ even when one is angry with God, the pope said. ‘He does not get upset if you share your questions with him. He is concerned when you don’t talk to him, when you are not open to dialogue with him.’
Drawing on the final documents from the synod and from a presynod gathering of young people in Rome, Pope Francis urged parishes and dioceses to rethink their young and young adult programs and to make changes based on what young people themselves say they want and need.
Picture: Indigenous World Youth Day pilgrims do a traditional dance during an opening-day performance in a Panama City park on 22nd January 2019. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth).