Jesuit superior general: Synod must discern ‘signs of the times’ through eyes of young people

  Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, superior general of the Society of Jesus, prays at the start of a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 11. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

The Synod of Bishops is seeking to discern “the signs of the times” through “the eyes of young people” in order to “respond to the calls of the Holy Spirit at this historic change of epoch which humanity is living through,” Arturo Sosa, S.J., the superior general of the Jesuits, told a Vatican press briefing on Oct. 15.

The church is trying to do so, he said, at a time of “growing social inequality both between countries and within each country,” when there is a “lack of political will to put a brake on the deterioration of the environment,” and “the weakening of democracy” that “gives way to naif populisms, discriminating nationalism and arbitrary cults of personality,” as well as “the increasing presence of new and old faces of violence.”

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He identified three “signs of the times”: the universal process of secularization, the digital world and the multicultural face of the globalized world. When these are looked at from the perspective of young people, he said, the synod is able “to perceive the action of the Spirit.”

The Synod of Bishops is seeking to discern “the signs of the times” through “the eyes of young people.”

Referring to “the process of secularization,” Father Sosa said it has extended across the world, moving at different rhythms according to the characteristics of each society. But it produces one “generalized effect” that affects all religions: “the increasing absence of the social transmission of religious behavior and knowledge.” He noted that in the secularized world “religious practice is more tied to the free decisions of each person than to feeling part of a collective that professes a particular religion.” But, he said, this provides the Catholic Church with “an opportunity to renew the mission of the first proclamation of the Gospel and to promote the vitality of Christian communities so that they are able to accompany the processes of the maturing of the faith.”

Father Sosa identified the second “sign of the times” as “the digital world,” a subject that is being given considerable attention at the synod. He said there is a “growing consciousness that we are living in a new world, the digital world,” which “does not limit itself to the development of new technologies” but also entails “an authentic anthropological transformation whose characteristics and consequences we can barely glimpse.” This new world presents “many challenges,” he said, and raises the crucial question of how to educate people today “for a world that is unprecedented and impossible to predict.” He recalled that the Catholic Church and religious communities are committed to providing education to people “on the margins” of society, but “in this new epoch” they receive a new call: “to renew our educational proposal” so as “to respond to the challenges that surprise us every day.”

The Catholic Church “has as its mission to show the multicultural face of God that Jesus Christ revealed to us.”

The Jesuit superior general sees “a third sign of the times” in “the multicultural face of the globalized world,” which he contrasted with “a cultural homogenization that attacks the authentic human richness expressed in multiculturality.” He recalled that the Catholic Church “has as its mission to show the multicultural face of God that Jesus Christ revealed to us” and “to promote a universal citizenship, which, recognizing the riches that cultural diversity represent, consciously builds an intercultural world capable of overcoming poverty, social injustice, arbitrariness in the exercise of political power and offers the conditions for a dignified life for all human beings of whatever age.”

He drew attention to the fact that “one of the most sensitive indicators of this [third] sign of the times is the migration phenomenon, the causes that produce it and the treatment that the internally displaced persons in many countries or the migrants that arrive in other countries in the search for better conditions of life receive.”

Father Sosa was one of three heads of religious orders at today’s briefing. The others were Bruno Cadoré, O.P., the French-born master general of the Dominican Order, and Marco Tasca, O.F.M.Conv., the Italian-born minister general of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor Conventual.

The synod—and through it the church—“wants to move from the time of listening to the time of conversation.”

Father Cadoré said the synod—and through it the church—“wants to move from the time of listening to the time of conversation [with young people], as happens in a family.” He noted that the preparation for the synod revealed “a very great diversity of young people,” in terms of living conditions and situations, education and traditions. He recalled that the tradition of the Order of Preachers is “to be open to diversity.” He noted that people change when they find “a welcome to openness” and said that “the future of the church” demands “openness to change.”

Father Tasca recalled the young Francis of Assisi “was a party guy” who had to make a radical choice to follow a different lifestyle. He listened to God’s call, and “listening was the key.” He told a story about a bishop who visited a family and a young person in that house told him, “You are a fake.” The bishop, unfazed, responded, “Help me to be less fake!” The Franciscan leader gave this as an example of what listening to young people means, to be open to what they say. He said they had come to the synod “not to complain” but “to build the church together,” and “young people are part of the church and want to be part of the solution.”

As usual at these briefings, the fourth panelist was a woman: Silvia Teresa Retamales, a lawyer from Chile who is an auditor at the synod. She told the press that when young people in Chile, including many non-Catholics, heard that she was going to participate in the synod, they told her “they want a multicultural church that is open to all, not a church that is judgmental. They want a church that makes everyone feel at home, a church that does not discriminate against minorities, especially the poor and people of different sexual orientation.”

Young people want “a church that does not discriminate against minorities, especially the poor and people of different sexual orientation.”

She said young people in Chile “believe that gay people have the same rights as everyone else and that they, too, want to live their faith in the church.” She emphasized that “the church’s first mandate is to love” and said that “gay people must be recognized as brothers and sisters that need to be accompanied by us.”

Ms. Retamales told the press that in Chile women are being empowered and young people “want women to be given greater responsibility, too, in the church.” She is one of the 36 women participants at the synod, but none of them have the right to vote.

At the briefing, journalists again asked the three superior generals to explain why religious superiors, including two brothers, who are not clerics, can vote but women cannot. Fathers Cadoré, Sosa and Tasca said the fundamental reason is to be found in the fact that this is a synod of bishops, not a pastoral synod such as happens in dioceses. But this did not explain the exception made to allow for religious brothers to vote in the 2015 synod and this one.

Father Tasca said that, unlike in earlier centuries in the history of his order, Franciscans today have to ask the Holy See for permission to elect persons who are not priests as superiors in the order. He revealed that they have spoken with the pope about this, and he seemed hopeful that the situation could change.

Father Sosa offered what he said was only his “personal opinion.” He recalled that 50 years ago the Second Vatican Council in its constitution on the church (“Lumen Gentium”) described the church as the “people of God,” meaning bishops, priests, women and men religious and lay people. He suggested that this opened new horizons, but “we have not yet realized the fullness of that teaching.” He envisaged that developments could come in the church through “deepening” the concept and process of synodality, as is happening through the synod.

The synod, which opened on Oct. 3 and ends on Oct. 28, has completed its discussion of the second part of its working document that focused on “Interpreting: faith and vocational discernment,” and tomorrow the 14 groups will present their reports to the plenary session, which the Vatican will release later. The synod will then move onto the third and final section of the working document, which deals with “Choosing: paths of pastoral and missionary conversion.”

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Michael Barberi
9 months ago

I just pray that something concrete in terms of reforms result from the Synod on Young People. So far, I am not optimistic but hopeful.

Kevin Murphy
9 months ago

Unless I'm mistaken, I didn't see Jesus mentioned once amongst all that trendiness. What a joke. Guys who like to listen to themselves talk, each one sounding more pretentious than the other. I particularly like the non-Catholic observer telling us what she'd like to see.

Frank T
9 months ago

@ Murphy- I used to think that Conservatives had something useful to say.
I was wrong. They just like to listen to themselves talk, each one sounding more bigoted than the other.
You folks are a sick lot.

Kevin Murphy
9 months ago

What did I say that was bigoted? An accusations of bigotry is the rote answer of the not too bright progressive. Sad.

John Chuchman
9 months ago

Church is dying
and it’s not a particularly slow death.

It’s members are aging
and once they are dead,
will the church die too?

Is the answer is to attract young people,
more young families,
children,
youth
and vitality?

Unless church figures out how to attract young people,
will the church die?

Face it,
Church, as it is,
is not attractive to young people
and to date,
efforts to be hip,
to get down with the program,
and move with the times
has only exposed church hierarchy and clergy
as the aging frauds that they are.

Whatever you say about the inexperience of the younger generation,
they are smart enough to spot a fake or an imposter
and so
programs and youth outreach,
or even pub nights, movie nights,
and even more contemporary worship,
have for the most part failed
to produce the kind of results church needs in order to survive.

The younger generation
will not be bound by man-made
doctrine and dogma,
rules and regulations,
rites and rituals
as we were programmed to do.

For the most part churches seeking to grow their numbers
have become obsessed with trying to figure out
what to do
to bring in a younger crowd.

But, youth are not the future of the church.

Look around.
The silver-haired aging population of this planet
are the future church.

I too had been fooled
into thinking that the future of the church is to bring in a younger crowd.

But the real solution lies more in a reality
to which many of us have been blind.

The fastest growing part of our population is seniors.
By the year 2030 – 25-30 percent of the population
will be made up of senior citizens.
By 2050 that number is set to rise to 35-40%.

The even better news is that as we live longer
and are enjoying better health;
the vast majority of seniors
can expect to live healthy and productive lives.

It gets better.
Our aging population is better educated
that it has ever been before
and despite most of the dire predictions,
the vast majority of seniors are better off financially
than seniors have ever been in the history of humanity.

Now that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges
or that some of our seniors aren’t living in poverty.
It does mean that we do have the wherewithal
to ensure that seniors can live vitally rewarding lives
and contribute to the health and wellbeing of our society
in ways we are only beginning to tap into.
The future has so much potential.

When the fish who have been caught by Jesus’ compelling good news
swim off to other shores,
when we are gone,
there will be plenty of more fish in the seas.

Think long and hard about this.
Why aren’t we casting our nets where the fish are?

Has church become so obsessed with youth
that it is willing to let schools and schools of fish
swim past
in the vain hope that minnows are more attractive
because they alone can save church?

When did any of Jesus’ Good News become about
saving an institution?

We have Good News to share with people of all ages
who have ears to listen.
And that Good News
is that we each have within us
all we need to be fully human
as was Jesus.

The Good News
is that we do not need
approval of some external clergy,
regular attendance at some temple, aka church
or some deep dark secret hidden in sacred scripture.

Most of us are getting up there in years
know the importance of dwelling in the questions of this life.

Who are we?
Where did we come from?
Why are we here?
Is there a Creator, or a god, or a source,
or a reality that we are somehow connected with?
Where are we going?
What is justice?
How do we stop the violence?
What can we do to ensure peace?
What happens when we die?
Where are we going?
Are we going anywhere?
Is there life beyond this life?
What is love?
Who am I?
These are the questions that haunt our very existence.

We have a contribution to make
to conversations about the very nature of reality.
We have wisdom to share.
We have love to give.
We have a hunger for justice and peace.
We can continue to be obsessed with youth
or we can embrace who and what we are
and live fully,
love extravagantly
and become all we are created to be.

We have the grey hair and balding heads, old bones,
wisdom, generosity,
and love.
We also have what so many people wish.
We have an appetite for learning
and we are not afraid to dwell in our questions.
We have the courage to try new things
and to fail if need be.

We have a passion for life
and we sure know how to play.

We can find the courage to play to our strengths.
We can meet our financial challenges
and solve our accessibility challenges.
We can be a vital community.

If we be authentic to who we are;
if we play to our many strengths
we will continue to be the kind of Gathering
which is attractive to all ages.

Healthy communities are attractive.
Communities who know who they are
and who they serve
are healthy communities.
Healthy communities are able to play to their strengths.
We don’t need to become what we are not
in order to survive.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to challenge ourselves
to be more than we are.
It does mean that we need to remain open
to the challenges of the world in which we live.

But we need to hold up a mirror
and celebrate who we are together.
We have so much potential.
So many strengths.
Yes, there is so much more that we can be.

I love spreading the Good News.
There are so very many fish in the sea.
All sorts of varieties and ages
so let us follow Jesus
and cast our nets widely.
Let’s play to our strengths,
for we are great fishers
and we the most precious bait,
the Good News
that at the very heart of all
that is the Divine Reality that
God is LOVE.

For everything there is a season,
this is our season.
Let’s embrace it.
Let’s live fully
and Love extravagantly
to be all that we are created to be.

Let’s do it together
in the midst of the One
who is
Our Lover, Beloved and Love Itself,
the real Trinity.

The Good News
has absolutely nothing to do with
saving an institution
or an institutional religion.

Trent Shannon
9 months ago

Goodnesz, tl;dr please

Fact of life, we all get old. N
And more in my generation (moreso than the boomers, moreso than their parents) will be getting older too some day. In other words, ageing is a perpetual issue, and a strawman of lamenting times gone by

As for whatever else you had to say in what was a lot of scrolling down, im not sure. Only your ageing issue stuck out for me

Dr.Cajetan Coelho
9 months ago

Thus wrote Mahatma Gandhi: "Knowledge without character produces "talented thieves" and "gentlemen rascals".

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