Although many young people attend mass and go to confession, and despite 12 years of catechism, God still remains an abstract thought for them, a bishop says at Wednesday’s press briefing. Russell Pollitt SJ reports from Rome.
On Wednesday the Synod Fathers discussed the draft of the final document of the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. A letter to young people, from the Synod, was also read out in the General Assembly. It is expected that the letter will be read at the closing Mass of the Synod on Sunday, 28 October.
Full Churches but what happens outside?
Bishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya of Cameroon said that parishes in Africa are full, there is not enough space to contain all the young people. The problem is that after joyful celebrations – sometimes lasting a number of hours – young people leave and enter a world of unemployment, no medical care, high rates of poverty and war situations.
The Bishop said that the understanding of family in Africa was still very strong. He said that traditional values correspond to values in the Church. They are passed on from generation to generation, youth still follow their elders.
Asked why he thought the Church in Africa was thriving, he said that he believes that it is because community is at the heart of African life. The Bishop said that in Africa they fight the “in-creeping” of individualism. He said that once people lock themselves up in big houses and build high walls then community and connection are lost. The Church as community and family is very strong in Africa. If this is lost, then the Church will empty out.
He also noted that the Church must speak in unambiguous language, tell young people the truth. It is important that the truth is not watered down, he added, especially about delicate topics.
God is an abstract idea
Archbishop Grzegorz Ryś of Poland said that it is not that Poland’s parishes are empty, to the contrary. He said that about 50 percent of young people go to Church and seek confession regularly. This, however, does not necessarily mean that they know Jesus. He said that for many youngsters God is an abstract idea after 12 years of catechism. He said that young people know little about faith. He went on to explain that if you ask young people about values they say that family is a value; faith is, sadly, way down the list. Family is important because of the relationships. He used the example of religious feasts like Christmas and Easter. Young people see these as significant “family events” and not as religious occasions. He added that this is not a judgement but something important to take note of.
Accompanying the young as they make existential decisions
Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Germany said that Pope Francis has decided to use Synods as part of a global process and way of moving the Church forward. The Cardinal said that looking at young people between the ages of 15-28 was key because this is when they are making existential decisions. He said that they are at a sensitive age and one that the Church must understand. He said that accompaniment at this time was crucial because if they are not well accompanied then the Church will be a lost playing field for evangelisation.
Asked about the role of women in the Church, Cardinal Marx said that without change and development one can never make any progress. The question of women’s roles in the Church is important for the whole Church. He said that women need to be given real participation in the Church’s decision making processes. In some place this is already happening. The Cardinal said that 30 years ago he too may have been opposed to this but, he said, “thank God I didn’t get stuck there!”
The Cardinal said that the Church must understand the evolution of time and the development of women’s equality. He said that this is a gift that God gives the Church in the light of the Gospel. We would be foolish if we did not make use of the potential that women have. Thank God we are not that stupid, the Cardinal added.
Sexuality should not be exploited for ideological reasons
Asked about the use of the acronym LGBTI in the final document, Bishop Nkea said that we must be careful of the language we use. He said that the Church is the only voice that is opposed to certain ideologies. He said that there were programmes that require pro-abortion policies in order to receive aid. This cannot be accepted. The Bishop said that he would not be in favour of the acronym “LGBTI” being used in the final document. He said that 99.9 percent of young people in his diocese would not know what that means. He said that if the acronym was used in the document, he would have to take time to become conversant with something he is not familiar with so that he can explain it to others.
Cardinal Marx was asked about sexual orientation and the way that the German Church has handled this. He said that sexuality is being discussed at the Synod but that this is not a Synod on sexuality. It is being dealt with in the dimension of accompaniment. He said that there are lobbies from all different sides wanting to have their agenda heard. He warned against those who use sexuality to exploit it for ideological reasons. He said that the Church needs to use a language that is understandable to everyone, one that accompanies and does not homogenise cultures. He said that this Synod is not about language but about accompanying the young as best as the Church can. He said that, for Jesus, sexuality is one dimension of the whole person and not the whole person.
Commenting on sexual abuse, Cardinal Marx said that this was brought back into focus in Germany just before Synod. He said that it has been discussed at the Synod and that a change of attitude is necessary. He added that abuse was also an abuse of power, as Pope Francis has said many times.