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Synod on young people: Father Costa, “seeing them where and as they are”

Less than a month after the Synod convened by Pope Francis on the young, Father Giacomo Costa, special secretary, takes stock of the game. "Recognize where and how young people are", the imperative. "Neither with Jesus, nor with the Church", the risk to be avoided, for an event whose scope "involves the whole Church"

“This event involves the Church as a whole”; it calls upon the adult population to listen more attentively, to “see our youths where they are and for who they really are.” An overview with Fr Giacomo Costa, a Special Secretary of the Synod appointed by the Pope with Fr Rossano Sala, less than a month ahead of the Synod on Young People that will open on October 3rd in the Vatican.

Pope Francis’ third Synod is waited with great anticipation: what is the value of the issues at stake?

There are certainly great expectations among all those working with young people inside the Church, coupled by deep interest and curiosity, as seen in the many events promoted during the preparatory phase. However,

It would be naïve not to realise that the Synod ultimately risks being ignored – by the media, by the public opinion at large, and perhaps also by large sections within the Church itself – unlike the two Synods on the family.

If that were the case it would be a missed opportunity because the stakes are very high. In fact, this meeting entails tackling the issue of inter-generational relations, rethinking the present times in a way that leaves room for the future. It’s a key issue for the whole of society. Moreover, it’s crucial for the Church to understand how to continue impinging reality, not only to ensure her future as an institution, but also because it involves the very transmission of the message of the Gospel, which is her raison d’etre.

Among the novelties of the Synod on young people there is one that pertains to the modus operandi: the young people themselves together with the bishops, have participated and have been explicitly called by the Pope to talk about them with “parrhesia” …

It was one of the most beautiful surprises in my experience as special Secretary. In online questionnaires, especially in the pre-Synodal meeting past March,

Young people – in response to Pope Francis’ invitation – freely expressed their aspirations and their thoughts about the Church,

Bringing to the table several problems related to communication, language, credibility, inclusion of diversity. At the same time, a large number of Bishops’ Conferences have bravely recognized their own difficulties and resistance when it comes to interacting with young people. Thanks to this approach the Synod preparation has been a process of authentic encounter and inter-generational communication.

Moreover, it can be said, in keeping with the indications of Pope Francis, that

The Synod, begun as an event, is now turning into a process.

While the Synod officially remains “of the bishops”, owing to their role as shepherds, there is nothing that prevents it from expanding into an event involving the Church as a whole. Naturally this development is still under way and it will continue even after the month of October. In a certain way the post-Synod will be at least as important as the Synod, for the many ecclesial communities will be the ones to decide how to pass from words to action, in line with Pope Francis’ post-Synodal Exhortation.

Young people with Jesus but without the Church: it’s one of the paradoxes denounced by the preparatory Document. How can this gap be bridged?

In reality the situation registered during the preparatory stage, notably with the online questionnaire, is even more radical… Some young people perceive even Jesus as distant, almost like a superhero that has little in common with ordinary life.

Thus the risk is that young people may be “neither with Jesus, nor with the Church”…

But it’s not an irreversible detachment. Many young people continue giving voice to deeply religious questions and sensitivities, and considerable numbers are seeking an authentic, relational Church that is close to them and that conveys the hope of the Risen Christ through her concrete gestures. Thus the issue involves the ability of the Church and of her representatives to be seen as credible interlocutors by the young. A large number of adults continue making more or less explicit reference to personal experiences and family environments, whereby Church affiliation was taken for granted or was passed down to them, in all cases it was a point of departure. Today this sense of belonging is a point of arrival that should be built and discovered by everyone through a process of learning from past experiences which must go hand in hand with authentic interpersonal relations. In this sense “discernment” – namely rereading past and present personal experiences to identify the next steps, in dialogue with the Lord – can be helpful.

The challenge of the Synod is to discover the richness enabling us to attune with today’s mentality within the Church’s spiritual and theological tradition, in order to continue highlighting the relevance and the vitality of the Gospel message to every generation.

Which resistances is the “adult Church” called to overcome to meet their expectations?

Notwithstanding imaginable difficulties, in order to leave room for young people, enhancing their strengths and enthusiasm, I believe that

The main challenge of the Church today is to see youths where they are today, waiting for us to join them,

showing us the signs of the Risen Lord. We always ask ourselves how the Church can help young people. But how often do we ask ourselves how young people can help the Church? I refer for example to the presence of a new “digital continent.”

This “conversion” requires seeing the world with their eyes, understanding their approach, which entails – whether we adults like it or not – prioritizing concreteness and action as compared to analysis and discussion. So rather than inviting young people to participate in major conferences it is advisable to start “doing things” with them. Finally, as young people have asked on several occasions, we must be brave enough to never backtrack from dialogue and debate. For young people, the pluralism of diversity – including its more radical expressions – is a consolidated fact, which they address on a daily basis.

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