Catholic youth still passionate about their faith
Father Jude David
Many eyes have been on Rome in recent months and I am glad that there has been a positive reason for this because many have been interested in the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment that has been called forth by our Holy Father, Pope Francis.
This synod has captured not only the attention of Catholics from around the world but also non-Catholics who are eagerly waiting to see how the Church responds to young people and desires to accompany them in their journey of life.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a recording of a talk show by the BBC entitled Heart & Soul that was specially recorded in Rome in conjunction with the synod that is underway in this city. Several of us Singaporeans who are studying in Rome decided to attend this recording to listen to what the young people whom the BBC had invited had to say about the synod and about the Church.
It was a heartening experience for me because despite some negative comments, the majority of young Catholics who were interviewed spoke passionately about the Church and her teachings and their desire to be part of her life. We often think that young people do not care about the Church but in reality, many of them who have met the Lord deeply care and love the Church and are willing to sacrifice for her mission. What a sign of hope!
Whilst I am not privy to the proceedings of the synod and we all await reading the guiding documents that will come out, I would like to share how it speaks to me as a bystander in the Eternal City witnessing the synod unfold as well as my perspective as the Chaplain for the Office for Young People (OYP) in Singapore.
Whilst there may be many issues that demand the attention of the Church in this time, it is of great encouragement to young people all around the world that the Church is clearly saying to them that they matter to her and that the Church is willing to invest the kind of time and resources that have gone into organising this synod.
Some of the synod Fathers who have come from all over the world have been staying in the house that I am living at and it is evident from their faces how demanding the long days have been on them. They leave early in the morning and come home late in the evening and they have been at it for almost a month. The shepherds of our Church care deeply for our young people. What a sign of hope!
The synod is primarily a time of listening for the Church. Many young people have been invited as auditors from around the world. These young people are being listened to and they are also listening to what the bishops are carrying in their hearts. Above all, the synod is ultimately the time of listening to the Holy Spirit as He guides the Church in the pastoring of her young flock. What a sign of hope!
As at every level of the Church, there are diverse perspectives, priorities, approaches and experiences and it may be difficult to find a consensus on what is the best way forward. I do not think that we can expect the synod to come up with a one size fits all solution that will suddenly bring back all our young people into the Church.
However, it does bring to focus what the Church is primarily called to do for our young people in all their diverse circumstances – to inspire faith in them and to accompany them in discovering and living out their God-given mission in the Church and in the world.
I do not think the synod would give us something radically new or different from what we have been doing in Singapore. Whilst it is true that we have our share of people leaving the Church in Singapore and we must continue to reflect on how we can arrest this phenomenon, I am also glad to note that we have been working very hard as an Archdiocese to recapture the hearts of our young people for Jesus Christ and His Church. The mantra at OYP, which is the official arm of our Archdiocese overseeing the pastoral care of young people, is “Raising up a Generation for Christ” and we have been working tirelessly for this to be realised.
I vividly remember the words of Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila, who was also present at the current synod, when he addressed youth ministers from Asia some years ago at a meeting and he told us that we need to be like Jesus going out to the well to meet the Samaritan woman (John 4:6-7). Jesus did not wait for her to look for Him, He went out to her. Cardinal Tagle challenged us to go out to the “wells” where our young people are gathering today because they certainly are not gathering at the well of the Church.
My time in Rome thus far has been a time of meeting many new people, especially priests from all over the world and as I hear their stories and about their respective pastoral situations, I feel very encouraged for what we have back home in Singapore. We may be a small Catholic community with a relatively short history but we are certainly alive and kicking. What a sign of hope!
Fr Jude is currently studying Dogmatic Theology in Rome.