‘Let us ask the Lord to free the Church from those who would make her grow old, encase her in the past, hold her back or keep her at a standstill’
Pope Francis in his April 2 document on the youth, Christus vivit (Christ is Alive) calls for a listening Church.
“A Church always on the defensive, which loses her humility and stops listening to others, which leaves no room for questions, loses her youth and turns into a museum,” he says.
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Pope Francis on March 25 signed his apostolic exhortation to the world’s young people representing the fruit of the October Synod of Bishops’ special assembly on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.
Addressed to young people and to “the entire People of God” it was released to the public April 2, the anniversary of the death of St. John Paul II.
The document is composed of nine chapters.
Following are the excerpts from each chapter.
Chapter 1: What does the Word of God have to say about young people?
Francis recalls that “in an age when young people were not highly regarded, some Biblical texts show that God sees them differently.”
For him age did not establish privileges, and being young did not imply lesser worth or dignity
Chapter 2: Jesus, ever young
The pope addresses the theme of Jesus’ youthful years and remembers the Gospel story that describes Jesus “as an adolescent, when he had returned with his parents to Nazareth, after being lost and found in the Temple.”
Francis then speaks of the youth of the Church and writes: “Let us ask the Lord to free the Church from those who would make her grow old, encase her in the past, hold her back or keep her at a standstill.”
He presents “Mary, the young woman from Nazareth,” and her Yes as that of “someone willing to take a risk, ready to stake everything she had, with no more security than the certainty of knowing that she was the bearer of a promise.
Chapter 3: You are the ‘now’ of God
We cannot just say that “young people are the future of our world,” says Pope Francis.
“They are its present; even now, they are helping to enrich it.” For this reason it is necessary to listen to them even if “there is a tendency to provide prepackaged answers and ready-made solutions.”
“Many young people are taken in by ideologies, used and exploited as cannon fodder or a strike force to destroy, terrify or ridicule others” hence the pope invites young people to learn to weep for their peers who are worse off than they are.
Referring to “desires, hurts, and longings,” Pope Francis speaks about sexuality and its “essential importance” for young peoples’ lives and for their “process of growth in identity.”
The pope writes that: “in a world that constantly exalts sexuality, maintaining a healthy relationship with one’s body and a serene affective life is not easy.”
The exhortation then turns to the theme of the “digital world” which has created “a new way to communicate”, and which can “facilitate the circulation of independent information.”
In many countries, the web and social networks “already represent a firmly established forum for reaching and involving young people.” But they can also be a place of “loneliness, manipulation, exploitation and violence, up to the extreme case of the ‘dark web.’
Digital media can expose people to the risk of addiction, isolation and gradual loss of contact with concrete reality.
The pope goes on to present “migrants as an epitome of our time” and recalls the many young people involved in migration.
He also speaks of child abuse, makes the Synod’s commitment to the adoption of rigorous measures of prevention his own, and expresses gratitude “to those who had the courage to report the evil they experienced.”
Pope Francis reminds young people that “there is a way out” in all dark and painful situations. He recalls the Good News given on the morning of the Resurrection.
Chapter 4: A great message for all young people
To all young people the pope announces three great truths. A “God who is love.”
The second truth is that “Christ saves you.”
The third truth is that “He is alive!”
“We need to keep reminding ourselves of this… because we can risk seeing Jesus Christ simply as a fine model from the distant past, as a memory, as someone who saved us two thousand years ago.
Chapter 5: Paths of Youth
“The love of God and our relationship with the living Christ do not hold us back from dreaming; they do not require us to narrow our horizons. On the contrary, that love elevates us, encourages us and inspires us to a better and more beautiful life.”
Pope Francis invites young people not to observe life from the balcony, not to spend their lives in front of a screen, not to be reduced to abandoned vehicles and not to look at the world as tourists: “Make a ruckus! Cast out the fears that paralyze you… live!”
He invites them to “live the present” enjoying with gratitude every little gift of life without “being insatiable” and “obsessively seeking new pleasures.”
The pope, speaking of growth and maturity, indicates the importance of seeking “a spiritual development,” of “seeking the Lord and keeping his Word,” of maintaining the “connection” with Jesus… since you will not grow happy and holy by your own efforts and intelligence alone.”
Pope Francis proposes “paths of fraternity” to live the faith, remembering that “the Holy Spirit wants to make us come out of ourselves, to embrace others… That is why it is always better to live the faith together and to show our love by living in community.”
Chapter 6: Young people with roots
Pope Francis says that it hurts him to see “young people sometimes being encouraged to build a future without roots, as if the world were just starting now.”
Fundamental is “your relationship with the elderly,” says the pope, which helps young people to discover the living richness of the past.
Speaking of “dreams and visions” Pope Francis observes: “When young and old alike are open to the Holy Spirit, they make a wonderful combination. The old dream dreams, and the young see visions.”
Chapter 7: Youth ministry
The pope explains that youth ministry has been affected by social and cultural changes and “young people frequently fail to find in our usual programs a response to their concerns, their needs, their problems and issues.”
Youth ministry has to be synodal, that is, capable of shaping a “journey together” and this involves two broad lines of action: the first is outreach, the second is growth.
For the first, Church institutions should therefore provide “suitable environments,” “places young people can make their own, where they can come and go freely, feel welcome and readily meet other young people, whether at times of difficulty and frustration, or of joy and celebration.”
Pope Francis then describes “Youth Ministry in educational institutions,” affirming that schools are in “urgent need of self-criticism.” He said that “some Catholic schools seem to be structured only for the sake of self-preservation.”
Among the areas of “pastoral development”, the Pope indicates the “importance of the arts” (226), the “potential of sports” (227), and “care for the environment.”
Young people need to have their freedom respected, “yet they also need to be accompanied,” he says.
Chapter 8: Vocation
“To respond to our vocation, we need to foster and develop all that we are. This has nothing to do with inventing ourselves or creating ourselves out of nothing. It has to do with finding our true selves in the light of God and letting our lives flourish and bear fruit.”
As for “love and family,” the pope writes that: “Young people intensely feel the call to love; they dream of meeting the right person with whom they can form a family.”
Pope Francis concludes this chapter by talking about “the vocation to special consecration.” “In discerning your vocation, do not dismiss the possibility of devoting yourself to God… Why not? You can be sure that, if you do recognize and follow a call from God, there you will find complete fulfilment.”
Chapter 9: Discernment
The pope recalls that: “Without the wisdom of discernment, we can easily become prey to every passing trend.”
“A particular form of discernment involves the effort to discover our own vocation. Since this is a very personal decision that others cannot make for us, it requires a certain degree of solitude and silence.”
Three sensitivities are required of those who help young people in their discernment.
“The first kind of sensitivity is directed to the individual. It is a matter of listening to someone who is sharing his very self in what he says.”
“The second kind of sensitivity is marked by discernment. It tries to grasp exactly where grace or temptation is present.”
“The third kind of sensitivity is the ability to perceive what is driving the other person”, discerning “the direction in which that person truly wants to move.”
The exhortation concludes with “a wish” from Pope Francis:
“Dear young people, my joyful hope is to see you keep running the race before you, outstripping all those who are slow or fearful.
Keep running, “attracted by the face of Christ, whom we love so much, whom we adore in the Holy Eucharist and acknowledge in the flesh of our suffering brothers and sisters.
The Church needs your momentum, your intuitions, your faith… And when you arrive where we have not yet reached, have the patience to wait for us.”
For the full text of the exhortation, click here.
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