Francis has asked young people to weigh in ahead of next year's synod on young people, and Canadians from as far away as Vancouver are speaking up.
“There is a misconception that young people are apathetic and uninvolved in the Church,” said Matthew Furtado, one of 11 Catholics from the Lower Mainland who participated in a national youth forum hosted by Salt and Light Television Oct. 10.
Furtado told Cardinal Kevin Farrell and at least 100 live participants the best way to reach young people is by communicating in their language.
“A lot of youth express their identities through social media through what they post, but they are also listening on social media,” he told The B.C. Catholic.
Furtado, a youth ministry leader at St. Matthew’s Parish in Surrey, actually encourages teens to use their smartphones during events.
“There can be a misconception that when we’re doing things in person we shouldn’t be on our devices. To a certain point, I encourage people: ‘why don’t you post something that resonated with you online?’ For every event, I try to tell a couple of youth or young adults to make a recap.”
Those photos or reflections that get posted on Facebook or Instagram make the events personal for attendees and share the Gospel with friends or peers who didn’t attend.
Furtado also pointed out that Millennials are an indecisive generation.
“I think young adults today, versus 20 or 30 years ago, have a hard time with decision making,” he said. “That could be anything: discernment of vocation, what I am going to study, or what am I going to do with my youth. That resonates with anyone,” Catholic or not.
“What is the Church’s response to that and how do we include discernment in our faith formation?” he asked.
Furtado and 10 other Catholics aged 19-29 took part in the national forum from a satellite studio in Vancouver. Other audiences shared their thoughts from locations in Calgary, Windsor, Montreal, and Quebec City, as Cardinal Farrell listened and spoke with a live youth audience based in the Salt and Light broadcast centre in Toronto.
The whole conversation was recorded, then released on Salt and Light Oct. 22.
Rachel Wong, a member of Catholic Christian Outreach at Simon Fraser University in B.C., was thrilled to be one of the 11 representing B.C. in the forum.
“The energy in that room was so incredible,” she said. “In the Church, there are so many things the Pope and bishops could talk about. Pope Francis chose for this particular (synod) to focus on youth, which I think is special.”
Wong said if she had 30 seconds to tell the Pope anything, she would ask him to pray for unity in the Church and among youth.
“There is a great divide of young people. There are people of faith – Catholic or Protestant or other faiths – and then there are people who don’t believe in a God or have faith. We’re all trying to tiptoe around each other, but the reality is I’ve seen first-hand people get upset when others try to express their faith background,” she said.
“People who don’t have faith or are uncomfortable with those topics lash out. I would ask Pope Francis to pray for the unification of the Church, obviously, but all people, especially young people.”
Travis Snider, a missionary with National Evangelization Teams currently stationed in Vancouver, is eager to hear the results of the 2018 synod, themed “young people, faith, and vocational discernment.”
He hopes the bishops address best practices for evangelism online and offline. The synod is a “huge hurrah moment” for young people, Catholic or not, he added. “There’s a huge need for young people to be told that they are important, they are loved, they are accepted.”
The 11 Vancouverites who spoke were a mix of young adults who were married, single, professionals, and students, said Vancouver coordinator Clay Imoo.
“I think that was a really good representation and echo of a lot of what the rest of the country was saying,” said Imoo. Concerns that came up across the country included using digital platforms to evangelize, navigating the tension between traditional and modern liturgical styles, and educating young Catholics to handle controversial topics such as same-sex marriage or ordaining female priests.
Though the nation-wide forum is over, young adults in Vancouver still have a chance to send feedback ahead of the synod via a survey on the Archdiocese of Vancouver website.
While the synod itself is still a year away, Imoo said there’s no need to wait to learn from the feedback that’s being gathered during the consultation process.
“We don’t want to see this as a one-off. Let’s take the results from the survey and use it proactively to help shape and give us pause to think about the way we are doing ministry now.”