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Catholic Vancouver Oct. 23, 2018

Youth need catechesis, relationship, Canadian bishops tell synod

By Agnieszka Ruck

Youth delegates arrive for a session of the Synod on Young people, Faith, and Vocational Discernment in Rome Oct. 16. A handful of Canadian bishops delivered interventions at the synod, calling for stronger communities of faith and better catechesis. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Among the hundreds of delegates gathered in Rome for the Synod on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment, several Canadian bishops got a chance to share their thoughts about reaching youth.

Bishop Stephen Jensen of Prince George spoke about the importance of lay movements and helping young people build community:

“In the last 30 years, western Canada has witnessed the emergence of new lay movements working to evangelize youth and young adults, especially on university campuses. This reflects the hope expressed by Second Vatican Council: ‘By reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity … to illuminate and order all temporal things” (Lumen Gentium, n. 31). 

Experience shows that the initiatives of these new movements and the communities they foster have helped many young people discern God’s call in their lives, both the universal call to holiness and the particular vocations of the priesthood and consecrated life. They have also helped young people live marriage and family life as a vocation rather than a sociological phenomenon subject to the vagaries of culture.

The success of these movements stems from a methodology that reflects the ministry of Jesus and the first disciples ... In the first place, young people need to be welcomed into relationship with others. Such friendship becomes the basis for authentic accompaniment, providing a young person mentorship on the journey of responding to the grace of an encounter with Jesus. This companionship makes possible profound communication, providing the security in which a young person can recognize the call to conversion of life as a gift rather than a burden and respond in freedom.

This communion of life provides support for young people to resist pressures to compromise the Gospel’s teaching in the name of accommodation to the values of the secular world. It also shows how relationships, professional work, leisure and all aspects of life can be transformed by Christ.

With the support of a Christian community, composed of young people and elders who offer mentorship, an individual can more easily mature in the discipline of a Christian life and also discern the vocational call of God. Such a community is itself an evangelizing agent and helps its members ask the question about God’s plan for their lives. I have witnessed young people with no religious background come to a living faith, several young men enter the seminary and young women the religious life and many strong Christian marriages, through the support of the communities that these new movements foster.”

Emilie Callan (centre), a delegate from Canada, attends a working group at the synod. (Vatican Media)

Bishop Thomas Dowd, auxiliary bishop of Montreal, also spoke, giving his intervention on the topic of catechesis.

“I once had a conversation with a young Mormon woman who was in the process of becoming Catholic through the RCIA. She was a catechumen, but she was dissatisfied with the catechesis she was receiving. ‘We are learning lots of facts, going line by line through the creed for example, but they are not showing us how the facts connect together.’ She was not criticizing the faith, but the way it was presented. She need a methodology adapted to her, with some basic starting information to put the whole of the faith in context.

I replied that the Catholic faith was like a jigsaw puzzle, one of those very large puzzles with at least a thousand pieces. The first step is to turn over the pieces to see the image on each one. The individual images don’t look like much, but as they are put together a greater picture emerges. To build the image, we start by looking for the corner and the edge pieces, so as to build the frame of the puzzle, and then fill it in as we see, over time, where particular pieces fit together. And we often use the picture on the box as a guide put putting those pieces together. 

We know there must be more than just an intellectual component to being a disciple, but we must also realize that young people – and not so young – have real and often deep questions for which they seek answers. We have heard how a new form of catechesis should follow the questions of young people, as was mentioned by Bishop Barron in his comments. Of course, with such a huge puzzle – and life itself generates many questions – we need to know where to start. We need the corner and edge pieces of the puzzle that give us the framework -- four key questions, you might say -- and we need an overall picture to help guide us as we build that puzzle.

The Holy Father has invited us to speak boldly. In that case, let me say that if I was Pope – I know I’m not, and rest assured, your Holiness, I am not after your job – I’d write an encyclical on the four basic questions I believe constitute the corners and edges that anchor the puzzle.

· Who is God? 

· If God is good, why is there evil in the world? 

· If God is good but there is evil in the world, what has God done about it? 

· If God is good but there is evil in the world and God is doing something about it, how can we be part of it?

It is my conviction that these questions haunt the heart of every person, religious or not, and that the Christian faith can give a complete answer to those questions. God is love, the tragedy of sin, the drama and beauty of salvation history, and the call to vocation. 

In other words, start with the answers to those questions, and every other question falls into place. The picture on the box is revealed. It does not exempt us from building the puzzle ourselves, as no two people will notice the same patterns in exactly the same order... But we’ll know where to start and how to finish, and if we make a mistake we can more easily correct it without confusion.”

Sherbrooke Archbishop Luc Cyr and Saint-Jean-Longueuil Bishop Lionel Gendron also addressed vocations and spirituality at the synod, in French.

Pope Francis talks with Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec as he leaves the opening session of the synod of bishops Oct. 3. Behind him is Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Meanwhile, during a break in synod activities, Canadian Cardinal Gerald Cyprien Lacroix released a video saying the synod is, for him, like “a shot in the arm ... of hope.”

“I’m filled with hope because what we’ve experienced so far has invited us to look ahead to the right paths, the right attitudes, the right decisions to make our Church closer to young people and work better with the youth of the world.”