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Anton Majo, aged 21, seeking admission for a post-graduate course in a prestigious institution, works hard to clear the entrance test and the interview. He has no time to spend with his friends, who seek him out on weekends. His focus is on the future. But, he has to take care of his widowed mother who is on a medical treatment and to help her younger sister with her tuition for the poor children of the locality. He prays daily that God would show him a path of light. With no means available and no aid coming through, he is desperate! He cries out loud:
“Help me, please!” Is there anyone who can listen to his voice? There are numerous voices of young in India, like Anton, who are helplessly screaming out for help and support to realise their dreams in life.
Why are their voices being ignored? Why are they being stifled? Why not understand what they are not saying as well? What do the young people of the world need? Young people all over the world are facing a crisis of identity, seeking a proper environment for growth, wanting to build trustworthy relationships and looking for credible guides for their future. With much of digitalization of human life on earth, the reality is forced to be ‘virtual.’ The young people are such true natives of virtual realities that they are coerced to believe in virtues and values only if they too are virtual. Are the true marks of youthful lives such as spontaneity, creativity, enthusiasm, adventurous risks, faith, hope and joy can ever be manifested?
In 2016 at Krakow (Poland) there was a dialogue between Pope Francis and the young participants of World Youth Day watched live by all. “Can we change things?” the Pope asked repeatedly. The youthful hearts of the universe responded, “yes,” arising from their inner selves. Pope Francis listened to them and trusted them. The consequence of that keen listening to those voices of the youthful hearts was the announcement by the Pope on 13th January 2017, of the forthcoming 15th Ordinary Synod of Bishops 2018 on the theme: “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.”
The Synod of Bishops was established by Pope Paul VI in 1965 at the close of the Second Vatican Council. Synod is a consultative body to the ope, manifesting collegiality and continuity of the spirit of the last council, on a particular topic pertaining to the entire Church.
After Vatican Council II, there have been 14 Synods, both Ordinary and Extraordinary, so far. The forthcoming Synod of Bishops in 2018 is the 15th Synod concerning Youth in the Church and how the Church can lead them to find, accept and announce the Good News with joy. The preparatory document (Lineamenta) of this Synod was released by Pope Francis on 13th January 2017 in Rome, along with a personal letter to the youth and a questionnaire attached at the end.
This Preparatory Document suggests a reflection in three steps,
1) beginning with summarily outlining some of the social and cultural dynamics of the world in which young people grow and make their decisions and proposing that these be read in the light of faith. The document then
2) retraces the fundamental steps of the process of discernment, which the Church feels is the basic means she can offer young people so they can discover, in the light of faith, their vocation. Finally, the document
3) treats key points in a pastoral vocational programme for youth. The ocument, therefore, is not exhaustive but serves as a kind of guide to encourage further discussion, whose fruits will be available only at the conclusion of the Synod. Just as the two previous apostolic exhortations of the Pope (Evangelii Gaudium & Amoris Laetitia), the forthcoming Synod will also discuss how one can lead young people to find this fullness of joy and life, and share it with others.
In preparation for this Synod, the Holy Father wants the Church to listen to young people’s voices, their sensitivities, and their faith; even their doubts and their criticism. He tells them, “make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls.” By listening to young people, the Church and the leaders and elders would be able to hear the Lord speaking through them in today’s world. As in the days of Samuel (cf. 1 Sam 3:1-21) and Jeremiah (cf. Jer 1:4-10), led by the Spirit young people know how to discern the signs of our times.
The range of youth is indicated precisely in the document as that of between 16 and 29. The new way of denoting the young people of this eneration by the Pope is as “New Generations.” Moreover, he attempts to demarcate the world of youth in this third millennium by three new terms, namely, ‘the globalized homogeneous generation,’ ‘the second generation’ and ‘the digital generation.’ The young people themselves want to be involved in everything and long for an identity in their lives. In this endeavor, they need to make life-choices. For this, the Holy Father ants the young people to “take a risk. Whoever does not risk does not walk.” It is better to make mistakes in risks and choices. Otherwise, he points out to them that “You will make more mistakes if you remain still.”
The central aspect of this preparatory document highlights the role of discernment in the choice of vocation by young people. By a life of faith, the young are led to see as Jesus sees. The purpose of vocational discernment is to find out how to transform the difficult choices, in the light of faith, into steps towards the fullness of joy to which everyone is called. Discernment is a process of making fundamental life choices; a clarity for vision and decision. To assist in mapping out a suit- able itinerary for youth, three terms from Evangelii Gaudium #51 are used by the Pope carefully and with a good clarification. They are: “to recognize” (what happens in our inner world of emotions), “to interpret” (what is recognized in our feelings with the help of the Spirit) and “to choose” (as the exercise of authentic human freedom & personal responsibility).
The best attitude and approach as pastors of the young is to keep in mind the necessary pastoral approach: Accompaniment. In personal accompaniment of the young peo-ple, one needs to have the personal experience of interpreting the movements of the heart to recognize the action of the Spirit. This is to accompany the young as personally as Jesus did. It can be by a loving look in the call of the disciples (Jn. 1, 35-51),
with an authoritative word by his teachings at Capernaum (Lk. 4, 32), an ability to “become the neighbor” in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10, 25-37), a choice to “walk beside” with the disciples on the way to Emmaus (Lk. 24,13-35), and an authentic witness, fearlessly going against preconceived ideas by the washing of the feet (Jn. 13, 1-20). In this pastoral style of the accompaniment of the young, three words are taken from the Gospel, the way Jesus en-countered the people: “going out,” “seeing” and “calling” them to be his true witnesses.
After that with a heart of a good shepherd, the Pope Francis in the final chapter indicates the pastors who are responsible for Youth. They are: 1) all young people themselves to one another, 2) responsible communities (such as Parishes, Religious Communities and Associations) and 3) the credible adults (such as Parents, Clergy & Religious and Teachers). The most possible and viable loci for Youth Ministry are World Youth Day (WYD), Parishes, Youth Centres, Oratories, Schools, Colleges, Associations, Pilgrimages, Popular Piety, Seminaries, Religious Communities and Digital World (the new Areopagus). The pastoral actions with the youth should use the following possible languages of the youth such as Bible, Liturgy, Art, Catechesis, Media, Sports and Music. The tools of these dynamic languages for discernment are: Education, Prayer, Silence and Contemplation.
In Conclusion, first of all, the core of the preparatory document and the Synod is the aspirations of the young people in the world and in particular, in the Church. The Catholic Church is making an all-out effort to listen to the voices of the young people, with ears and heart. The needs of the young all over the world are diverse and need to be addressed within in the context of the faith and culture. For this, the young people should be helped to participate in answering the questions personally either online or in written form.
Secondly, the process of discernment is making fundamental choices for life in the world. It is a ‘vocational discernment’ and not a moral or spiritual discernment. The young people have to be led to gradually to decide for themselves rather than fixing for them the choice of walk of life. For this, the young people must be led to discuss among themselves and be guided by experts and sincere believers in the Lord to realize the opportunities available and the means to make proper choices for their good lives.
Thirdly, the pastoral ministry of accompaniment is based on Jesus’ model. This is walking with the young in love. This involves meaningful ‘presence’ as recommended by Don Bosco himself. A presence that is caring, nurturing, affirmative, lively, creative and joyful. In the mind of Don Bosco, presence has to be ‘preventive’ and that of ‘assistance.’ “Try to make yourself loved rather than feared,” Don Bosco used to say to his Salesians. The presence of the pastors and leaders should be on the basis of reason and the young people must be able to see and experience
its reasonableness. For this, the parents, the elders, the leaders should be prepared with pastoral orientation programme and animation. With these preparations and participation in the forthcoming Synod of 2018, both by the pastors and the young people, the Church will be rejuvenated as a Youth-Full Church of young and youthful hearts!