The Synod on Youth: what is its impact for young people in Europe?
The Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment was held in Rome in October 2018, with a Pre-Synodal Meeting in Rome in March 2018. Cardinal Baldisseri, who was responsible for this meeting, said: “This is an event at which young people are the actors and the protagonists. We are not talking about young people, but with young people.” This Pre-Synodal Meeting was an excellent opportunity for young people to express themselves and to articulate their needs and expectations in life, forming a solid foundation for what followed: the main synod in October. After these two “major stages” in the discussion of young people and the Church, it is interesting to reflect on what it says to us, in Europe. Because this Synod is not the end, but merely a stage in the process by which we should continue to reflect on this important theme.
The relationship of young people with the institution of the Church
When one looks at the young people of Europe, it is interesting to start with present-day realities. A recent study of the “Génération Quoi” (“Generation What?”), which surveyed more than a million young people aged between 18 and 34 from 35 different countries presents a self-portrait by the young people themselves. The themes, difficulties and desires experienced by these young Europeans are set out in the study. In the context of the Synod, it is interesting to note the questions on the subject of religion. In response to the question whether the young people could be happy without religious belief, 84% replied yes. Relationships, children, love and sex are generally far more decisive factors for the happiness of the persons questioned than religious belief. Furthermore, when it comes to evaluation of institutions, the study shows that the young people have little confidence in institutions, especially religious institutions (with 49% saying that they don’t have confidence in them).
Opening up to the religious
Today we are seeing a veritable secularisation of our society. It is clear that young people are no longer growing up with the Church. Cardinal Jozef De Kesel recently stated in this regard: “The Church no longer has the scale it enjoyed half a century ago, but this does not mean it is dying. It merely indicates that its social position has changed. It will be a smaller Church, but it will be authentic.” The fact that young people are not growing up in a religious context offers new opportunities. They are very open to faith, regarding it with new eyes and substantial receptiveness, simply because they know little about it. This does not mean they are without prejudices about the Church, as these are rife in our society. It is only once they have gained specific positive experiences within the Church that this image can be changed. Faith in God is a strange concept to them. It could be said: “the unknown is not liked, faith is like an unwrapped gift.” We live in a society where the Christian faith is unknown, but where the challenge is to enable it to be discovered, allowing the Christian faith to surprise people!
After this Synod, it has become even clearer that the mission of the Church is to support and guide young people – to support them in the way we read about in the story of Emmaus in the gospels. It is only by listening to and supporting young people that the Church can help them to choose from among the profusion of options they are presented with today, enabling them to have joyous experiences and to encounter Christ.
Young people seek places where they feel welcome, where they feel at ease, where there are “points of reference”. This is why it is important to form Christian communities with vitality, where young people, too, are welcome. Given this, it is just as important that there are Christians willing to testify to their faith, who are available for young people. It is important for the Church to offer experiences to young people. As Pope Benedict XVI said: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”. Experiences such as the annual World Youth Day, pilgrimages, places like the Taizé Community, and Lourdes, represent “conversion moments” for many young people, because they can discover from experience that they are not alone, that there is Someone walking by their side.
Director of the youth pastoral service in Flanders
Translated from the original text in French
The views expressed in europeinfos are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.