Pope Francis at synod: “A church that does not listen...cannot be credible” to young people
“We need to rediscover the reasons for our hope and, above all, to pass them on to young people who are thirsting for hope,” Pope Francis said in his keynote address to the first plenary session of the synod on “young people, the faith and vocational discernment,” on Oct. 3.
Speaking in the Vatican’s synod hall, Francis reminded the roughly 350 participants that the Second Vatican Council affirmed that “we can justly consider that the future of humanity lies in the hands of those who are strong enough to provide coming generations with reasons for living and hoping.”
Before Pope Francis addressed the participants, the president delegate for this afternoon’s plenary session, Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako I, the Chaldean Patriarch, expressed the synod’s support for Francis against those who have attacked him harshly in recent times.
“We need to rediscover the reasons for our hope and, above all, to pass them on to young people.”
He told the pope: “We wish to express our closeness to you and to thank you for the indications you have given, which give us strength to go forward. We are certain that the storms, albeit strong, will go away and that the church will emerge purer and stronger. We, the [synod] fathers are united with the Successor of Peter as were the disciples of Jesus in the cenacle.”
Many bishops’ conferences have already publicly expressed their closeness and support for the pope, but it was significant that the synod, with representatives of more than 130 bishops’ conferences, including the United States and Canada, also did so through the words of the Iraqi cardinal.
Francis began his talk by thanking the many thousands of young people across the globe who have engaged with the synod process and “wagered that it is worth the effort to feel part of the church or to enter into dialogue with her; worth the effort to have the church as a mother, as a teacher, as a home, as a family, and, despite human weaknesses and difficulties, capable of radiating and conveying Christ’s timeless message; worth the effort to hold onto the boat of the church, which, despite the world’s cruel storms, continues to offer shelter and hospitality to everyone; worth the effort to listen to one another; worth the effort to swim against the tide and be bound by lofty values: family, fidelity, love, faith, sacrifice, service, eternal life.”
He told the 247 synod fathers from the Latin and Eastern rite Catholic churches: “Our responsibility here is not to undermine [young people] but rather to show that they are right to wager. It truly is worth the effort; it is not a waste of time!”
“Keep your gaze fixed on the good that often makes no sound; it is neither a topic for blogs, nor front page news.”
Echoing St. John XXIII’s advice to the opening session of Vatican II in 1962, Francis told them: “Do not let yourselves be tempted by the prophets of doom; do not spend your energy on keeping score of failures and holding on to reproaches. Keep your gaze fixed on the good that often makes no sound; it is neither a topic for blogs, nor front page news.”
Standing between Italian Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the secretary general of the synod, and Brazilian Cardinal Sergio da Rocha, the relator general of the assembly, Francis noted most of those present are not young—only 34 are under the age of 29. Nevertheless, he reminded participants that “the meeting between generations can be extremely fruitful for giving rise to hope,” as the prophet Joel teaches: “Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.”
As he had done at the synods on the family in 2014 and 2015, so, too, today, Pope Francis offered some guidelines for the synod discussion. He explained that everyone should “speak with courage and frankness [parrhesia], namely, to integrate freedom, truth and charity.” He said that “only dialogue can help us grow,” and whereas “an honest, transparent critique is constructive and helpful, useless chatter, rumors, conjectures or prejudices do not help.”
“Humility in listening must correspond to courage in speaking,” the pope said.
“Humility in listening must correspond to courage in speaking,” the pope said. Repeating what he had told the young people at the March pre-synod meeting, he said, “If you say something I do not like, I have to listen even more, because everyone has the right to be heard, just as everyone has the right to speak.”
He insisted the synod “must be an exercise in dialogue,” and “the first fruit of this dialogue is that everyone is open to newness, to change their opinions thanks to what they have heard from others.”
As he had done at the synods on the family and in “Amoris Laetitia,” Francis emphasized the fundamental importance of “discernment.” Many bishops and priests struggled to understand this concept, and so this afternoon the Jesuit pope, who has directed many retreats during his life, reminded everyone that “discernment is not an advertising slogan; it is not an organizational technique or a fad of this pontificate but an interior attitude rooted in an act of faith.”
He explained that “discernment is the method and at the same time the goal we set ourselves: It is based on the conviction that God is at work in world history, in life’s events, in the people I meet and who speak to me.”
“Discernment is not an advertising slogan...or a fad of this pontificate but an interior attitude rooted in an act of faith.”
But, he continued, “discernment needs space and time.” To facilitate this discernment, Pope Francis decreed that during the plenary assembly and in groups, after every five speeches “a moment of silence of approximately three minutes will be observed.” This is “to allow everyone to recognize within their hearts the nuances of what they have heard and to allow everyone to reflect deeply and seize upon what strikes me most.”
He emphasized that “this attention to interiority is the key to accomplishing the work of recognizing, interpreting and choosing,” which are the three focal points of the synod’s working document.
Francis recalled that the preparation for the synod highlighted the fact that “the church needs to listen, including to those young people who often do not feel understood by the church in their originality and therefore not accepted for who they really are and sometimes even rejected.” This synod “has the opportunity, the task and the duty to be a sign of a church that really listens, that allows herself to be questioned by the experiences of those she meets and who does not always have a ready-made answer,” he said. “A church that does not listen...cannot be credible, especially for the young who will inevitably turn away rather than approach.”
“A church that does not listen... cannot be credible, especially for the young who will inevitably turn away rather than approach.”
He called for the abandonment of “prejudices and stereotypes,” as the first step to listening. “Relations across generations,” the pope said, “are a terrain in which prejudice and stereotypes take root with proverbial ease.... Young people are tempted to consider adults outdated; adults are tempted to regard young people as inexperienced.” He explained that “all of this can be an overwhelming obstacle to dialogue.”
He warned that since most participants “do not belong to a younger generation,” there is a risk in the synod “of talking about young people in categories and ways of thinking that are already outmoded.”
“Adults should overcome the temptation to underestimate the abilities of young people and not judge them negatively,” Francis said. “Young people should overcome the temptation to ignore adults and to consider the elderly archaic, outdated and boring, forgetting that it is foolish always to start from scratch as if life began only with each of them.”
“Adults should overcome the temptation to underestimate the abilities of young people.”
Pope Francis told the roughly 250 bishops at the synod (50 of whom are cardinals) that “it is necessary to decisively overcome the scourge of clericalism.” He has denounced clericalism many times and linked it to sexual abuse as well as the abuses of power and conscience.
The pope explained that “clericalism arises from an elitist and exclusivist vision of vocation, that interprets the ministry received as a power to be exercised rather than as a free and generous service to be give.... This leads us to believe that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen or learn anything.”
Francis denounced clericalism as “a perversion” and “the root of many evils in the church.”
“We must humbly ask forgiveness for this,” he said, “and above all create the conditions so that it is not repeated.”
Francis denounced clericalism as “a perversion” and “the root of many evils in the church.”
In addition to this, Francis said, “we must also cure the virus of self-sufficiency and of hasty conclusions reached by many young people.” He reminded young people that “to shun and reject everything handed down across the ages brings only a dangerous disorientation that sadly threatens our humanity.... The accumulation of human experiences throughout history is the most precious and trustworthy treasure that one generation inherits from another.”
He encouraged them by affirming that “the future is not a threat to be feared but is the time the Lord promises us when we will be able to experience communion with him, with our brothers and sisters and with the whole of creation. We need to rediscover the reasons for our hope and, above all, to pass them on to young people who are thirsting for hope.”
He called on the synod participants “to take from this synod not merely a document—that generally is only read by a few and criticized by many—but above all concrete pastoral proposals capable of fulfilling the synod’s purpose.” Pope Francis said he hoped the synod would “plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands and inspire in young people—all young people, with no one excluded—a vision of the future filled with the joy of the Gospel.”
Those gathered applauded when Pope Francis finished speaking and then listened to talks from Cardinals Baldisseri and da Rocha, who introduced Part I of the working document, which participants will discuss over the next week.