By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Pope Francis asked bishops to be bold, honest, open-minded, charitable and, especially, prayerful as they begin a three-week meeting on “young people, the faith and vocational discernment.”
While many young people think no older person has anything useful to teach them for living today, the pope said, the age of the bishops, combined with clericalism, can lead “us to believe that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen or learn anything.”
“Clericalism is a perversion and is the root of many evils in the church,” Pope Francis said Oct. 3 at the synod’s first working session. “We must humbly ask forgiveness for this and above all create the conditions so that it is not repeated.”
The pope formally welcomed 267 bishops and priests as voting members of the synod, eight fraternal delegates from other Christian churches and another 72 young adults, members of religious orders and lay men and women observers and experts at the synod, which will meet through Oct. 28.
He also thanked the thousands of young people who responded to a Vatican questionnaire, participated in a presynod meeting in March or spoke to their bishops about their concerns. With the gift of their time and energy, he said, they “wagered that it is worth the effort to feel part of the church or to enter into dialogue with her.”
They showed that, at least on some level, they believe the church can be a mother, teacher, home and family to them, he said. And they are asserting that “despite human weaknesses and difficulties,” they believe the church is “capable of radiating and conveying Christ’s timeless message.”
“Our responsibility here at the synod,” the pope said, “is not to undermine them, but rather to show that they are right to wager: It truly is worth the effort, it is not a waste of time!”
Pope Francis began the synod with an invitation that every participant “speak with courage and frankness” because “only dialogue can help us grow.”
But he also asked participants to be on guard against “useless chatter, rumors, conjectures or prejudices” and to be humble enough to listen to others.
Many of the synod participants arrived in Rome with the text of the three-minute speech they intended to give, but the pope asked them “to feel free to consider what you have prepared as a provisional draft open to any additions and changes that the synod journey may suggest to each of you.”
A willingness to “change our convictions and positions,” he said, is “a sign of great human and spiritual maturity.”
The synod is designed to be an “exercise in discernment,” the pope told them. “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.”
Discernment “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,” he said. It requires listening and prayer, which is why the pope has added a rule that after every five speeches there will be a three-minute pause for silent reflection and prayer.
Listening to the Spirit, listening to God in prayer and listening to the hopes and dreams of young people are part of the church’s mission, the pope said. The preparatory process for the synod “highlighted a church that needs to listen, including to those young people who often do not feel understood by the church” or feel they “are not accepted for who they really are, and are sometimes even rejected.”
Listening to each other, especially young people and bishops listening to each other, he said, is the only way the synod can come to any helpful suggestions for leading more young people to the faith or for strengthening the faith of young people involved in church life.
“Adults should overcome the temptation to underestimate the abilities of young people and (should) not judge them negatively,” he said. “I once read that the first mention of this fact dates back to 3,000 B.C. and was discovered on a clay pot in ancient Babylon, where it is written that young people are immoral and incapable of saving their people’s culture.”
By Cindy Wooden