These Are The Questions Youth Have, and They’re Not Trivial
Last month, 300 youth representatives from around the world gathered in Rome to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing young people today. Their conversations were summarised in a document that will guide the bishops when they meet in October for the Synod on Youth.
As I read through the document, I was impressed with the depth and substance of the young people’s discussion.
Sometimes, as adults, we don’t give as much weight to the insights of the youth as we should. Perhaps we feel that they lack the life experience and wisdom to understand the complexity of the world around them, or maybe we forget that we too were young once and filled with high ideals and a burning fire to make our lives count.
Some of the insights that the youth representatives had should be a wake-up call to the rest of the Church. They serve as a reminder that, while we have a responsibility to guide and shape our young people, we also have a responsibility to listen to them and allow them to call us out on areas that call for greater circumspection, especially if we truly want to build the Church of the future.
Too often we say, the children and youth are the future of the Church, but how often do we give them the space and responsibility to shape that future?
Here are some of the things they had to say:
- Support for family life: The Church has been saying this for decades, but yet our young people are pointing out the decline of family life, the need for healing from the hurts that arise from our experiences of family.
They are telling us that they need a “sense of belonging” as part of the process of shaping their personalities and identities, but also require wholesome families in which “there is room for everyone”.
- The formation of meaningful relationships is important to our youth, but they admit that this is often difficult in a superficial world characterised by a “throwaway culture”.
They say that in a world that is increasingly secular, it can be difficult to find others who share their faith “in a social environment that is averse to religion”.
Despite this, they celebrate the diversity of living in a globalised and interreligious world, and call on the Church to do the same by building on already existing theological guidelines for peaceful, constructive dialogue with people of other faiths and traditions.
A Place in the World
- Contrary to what we might think, our young people don’t just live for today. They have hopes and dreams for the future, but want to live in a society that is “coherent and trusts us” by allowing them to be “active participants” in “building a better world”.
They recognise that they cannot do it alone and ask the Church to help them discern their vocations, and find new ways of making the path to holiness and sainthood attractive to young people as a source for happiness.
They also recognise that the world is not perfect and that conflict, economic instability, climate change and social inequality often prevent young people from fulfilling their dreams and making long-term decisions.
In this regard, they ask the Church to support those who are drawn to the Church’s Social Teaching to build a “world of peace, one that harmonises integral ecology with a sustainable global economy”.
Technology and Human Relationships
- Who better to tell us about how to live with technology, than our youth who are the first generation to have been born into a highly technological world and have always had access to it?
They explain that technology is a “significant part of young people’s identity and way of life”, and it has the potential to create connections with others, “unite people across geographical distances”, and provide educational opportunities for those living in isolated or impoverished communities.
However, they are also the first to recognise that excessive dependency on technology can erode real-world relationships and, when misused, can give rise to “a delusional parallel reality that ignores human dignity”.
The youth, therefore, ask the Church to “deepen her understanding of technology so as to assist us in discerning its usage” and to recognise the potential of social media and other online platforms as a “fertile place for the New Evangelisation”.
The Purpose of Life
- We remember it well ourselves: the agonising search for meaning and purpose in our lives. Today’s young people are the same.
The difference between them and us, they say, is that they have “lost trust in institutions” and many are not looking to their faith as a place to find meaning. Instead they are placing disproportionate emphasis on “job and personal success” or look to other spiritual movements as answers to their unanswered questions.
To this they add their perception that women are not given equal place within the Church and ask: “What are the places where women can flourish within the Church and society?”
Church Teachings Must Be Explained
They also have questions about many of the Church’s teachings, such as the issues of “cohabitation, marriage, and how the priesthood is perceived in different realities in the Church”.
In light of their questions, they are pleading for “authentic witnesses — men and women who vibrantly express their faith and relationship with Jesus while encouraging others to approach, meet, and fall in love with Jesus themselves”.
These observations are only from the first section of a far lengthier document, but I hope it give us a taste of the deep thought and reflection that the youth have given to these topics that affect their lives and their relationship to Christ and the Church.
Are Adults Providing Answers?
Even before the bishops meet in October to discuss these weighty issues, what answer can we, as laity, as priests and religious, as parents, as youth workers give to our young people?
Will we allow ourselves to learn from them? Do their questions perhaps remind us of issues that we once dedicated much attention to ourselves, but then as the weight and responsibility of adulthood consumed more and more of our time and energy, we cast into the back of our minds and have not even thought of these things in many decades?
Above all, what authentic witness can we give to our young people?
Do we display for them a faith that prioritises family life, models healthy relationships, gives them some share in the responsibility of building a better world, learns from them on how to use technology responsibly, and shows them that every member of the Church community is loved and has value and dignity, irrespective of history, social class, race, sexual orientation, gender, and religious background?