Synod groups focus on need for qualified accompaniment

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – In their second round of reports to the Synod of Bishops, a number of working groups called for qualified and, in some way, supervised spiritual mentors or directors, recommended including more female figures from the Bible as examples and role models for young people, and praised having the inspiring input of young people during the gathering.
The second week of discussions centered on discernment, vocations and accompaniment, and the 14 working groups, which are divided by language, each came up with a number of suggestions, critiques and recommendations for the synod’s final document. The Vatican released the reports Oct. 16.
The working group English-A, which includes bishops from the United States, Australia, Ireland and England, said the synod “came alive” when young people gave their interventions, with one bishop in the group commenting, “I never realized a synod could be so much fun!”

Bishops and observers attend a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 18. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The group recommended the final document present “a clear definition of vocation,” keeping in mind it should be speaking not only to practicing Catholics, but also to the “nones.”
The group also suggested including in the final document “a distinct treatment of the response of Mary to God’s call” and seeing her as the “archetypal disciple.”
While recognizing the key role families, friends and schools play in accompanying young people on their faith journey, the English-A group emphasized the need for “trained mentors” who had proper formation as well as “accompaniment/supervision” themselves so they could be effective spiritual guides.
The English-B group proposed that young people be prompted to “connect with Jesus’ youth and understand their lives in its light,” for example, by recognizing how Jesus personally experienced many young people’s struggles, such as being a refugee, growing up in an “underprivileged household,” being misunderstood at times by family and unappreciated by others.
The English-C group praised the use in the synod working document of examples and people from the Bible as concrete reference points for young people, but questioned its inclusion of figures such as Joshua since he led an army of conquest and Esther, whose example “is also full of violence and trickery.”
In an effort to pinpoint what “true” accompaniment would look like, the group said:
– It must respect that discernment belongs to the person being accompanied, not the mentor, avoiding all forms of manipulation and well-intentioned, but “inappropriate” forms of mentorship.
– The final document should develop further “respect for the freedom and conscience of the person being accompanied.”
– Accompaniment needs “a climate of friendliness, trust and warmth,” without the mentor losing needed objectivity and the ability to offer “fraternal correction.”
The importance of formation for mentors and spiritual directors also received much discussion in the English-D group, which included bishops from Canada and the United States, such as Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles.
Even though one member of the group insisted “any baptized person can be an effective even powerful role model in the Christian life,” the group as a whole felt “the art of authentic spiritual mentorship requires specific training” and expertise.
Some in the group “warned that spiritual teachers too frequently devolve into gurus and encourage a cult of personality around themselves,” so “unmentored mentors” are not wanted or needed in the church.

Pope Francis blesses a synod observer before a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 16. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The group noted “with a certain sadness that many prospective mentors today, especially in the West, are reluctant to enter into a relationship with a directee for fear that they might be accused of boundary violations.”
Group members also praised the use of biblical figures and their lives to help inspire young people, however, several young women in the group recommended the inclusion of more women “who cooperated mightily with the Lord,” such as Mary, Ruth, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail and Tabitha.
The French-A group said the spiritual accompaniment of an individual “does not do everything” and underlined the essential role of the family, peer groups and the community in “awakening” young people to God’s call and helping them live a virtuous life.
The French-B group requested that the final document cover the training of those who accompany or guide young people, because without the necessary skills, “the process is doomed to failure.”
They also addressed needing to reach out to single, unmarried people and reminding them that they, too, have a vocation, which ultimately is becoming an “adopted” child of the Father in Christ. “This is why it seems to us that we cannot say that people living alone do not have a vocation or that they refuse a vocation.”
The Spanish-A group highlighted:
– The need to reach out to young people who belong to gangs. “Their only love is that of the group and it is not easy to enter such closed environments nor is it easy for young people to get out of them.”
– Questions regarding the best ways to approach homosexuals, “who cannot be left out of our pastoral care,” and how pastors should respond to the issues of homosexual unions, surrogate motherhood, adoption by same-sex couples and other issues they believe are being promoted by international institutions.
– The large number of priests “who are waiting for the accompaniment of their bishops.”
The German-language group said one of the most important tasks all members of the church have is to show young people that they are loved simply because they exist and because of who they are, not because they are already good, capable, efficient or because they have certain qualities or are part of a group.
The Portuguese-language group said when it comes to sharing the faith, “we cannot reduce faith to a morality. The Christian proposal needs to be embodied in concrete experiences. It is necessary to return to the proposal of Jesus: ‘Come and see!'”
Concerning affection and sexuality, the church should begin with the basic Christian principles of the value of human life and the dignity of the body as a way to open dialogue with nonbelievers, the group said.
“The doctrine of the church in this field is beautiful and rich. It is necessary to present it with clarity, believing in the force of attraction contained therein and surpassing the vision of those who see it only as something rigid.”
The synod should also reflect on the vocation of those who remain single and those who are homosexual, it said. “It is not the mission of the church to respond to all particular realities, but it is her duty to care for, to accompany, to help the young person to give direction and direction to his or her own life, to help them to do good.”

(Contributing to this story was Junno Arocho Esteves.)

Synod working document: Young Catholics need church that listens to them

By Junno Arocho Esteves
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Young Catholics are looking for a church that listens to their concerns, accompanies them in discerning their vocations and helps them confront the challenges they face, said a working document for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on young people.
The synod’s “instrumentum laboris” (working document), published by the Vatican June 19, stated that young people “want to see a church that shares their situations of life in the light of Gospel rather than by preaching.”
Quoting a presynod gathering of young people who met at the Vatican March 19-25, the working document said young Catholics “want an authentic church. With this, we would like to express, particularly to the church hierarchy, our request for a transparent, welcoming, honest, attractive, communicative, accessible, joyful and interactive community.”
The working document is based mainly on comments solicited in a questionnaire last June from national bishops’ conferences around the world as well as the final document of the presynod gathering.
An estimated 305 young adults participated in the weeklong presynod meeting, which allowed practicing Catholics and others to provide input for Pope Francis and the world’s bishops, who will meet at the synod in October to discuss “young people, faith and vocational discernment.” Some 15,000 young people also participated in the presynod process through Facebook groups online.
The meeting, the working document said, “highlighted the potential that younger generations represent” as well as their “hopes and desires.”
“Young people are great seekers of meaning, and everything that is in harmony with their search to give value to their lives arouses their attention and motivates their commitment,” it said.
Presenting the “instrumentum laboris” to journalists at a press briefing June 19, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary-general of the synod, said the synod’s goal is that young Catholics may find “the beauty of life, beginning from the happy relationship with the God of the covenant and of love” in a world that often robs them of their “affections, bonds and prospective of life.”
“The synod dedicated to young people gives us the opportunity to rediscover the hope of a good life, the dream of a pastoral renewal, the desire for community and passion for education,” he said.
Divided into three parts, the working document outlines the church’s need to listen to young people, to help guide them in the faith and in discerning their vocational calling, and to identify pastoral and missionary paths to be able to accompany them.
The responses collected by bishops’ conferences around the world cited a need for ways to help young men and women confront the challenges of cultural changes that sometimes disregard traditions and spirituality.

Pope Francis prepares to take a photo with young people at a presynod gathering of youth delegates in Rome March 19. The Vatican has released the working document for the October Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The working document also states that while the church highlights the importance of the body, affection and sexuality, many young Catholic men and women “do not follow the directions of the sexual morality of the church.”
“Although no bishops’ conferences offer solutions or indications, many (conferences) believe the issue of sexuality should be discussed more openly and without judgment,” it said.
Young people attending the presynod meeting said issues such as contraception, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation and marriage are often debated both by young Catholics and non-Catholics.
The working document also highlighted the need to reaffirm church teaching on the body and sexuality at a time when biomedical advancements have pushed a more “technocratic approach to the body,” citing examples such as egg donation and surrogacy.
“Moreover, precocious sexuality, sexual promiscuity, digital pornography, the exhibition of one’s own body online and sexual tourism risk disfiguring the beauty and depth of emotional and sexual life,” the “instrumentum laboris” said.
Church leaders, it said, must “speak in practical terms about controversial subjects such as homosexuality and gender issues, which young people are already freely discussing without taboo.”
Also, “LGBT youths, through various contributions received by the secretariat of the synod, want to benefit from a greater closeness and experience greater care from the church,” while some bishops’ conferences are asking what they can recommend to young people who enter into a homosexual relationship, but want to be closer to the church, the document said.
Regarding the use of the initials “LGBT” in a major church document, Cardinal Baldisseri told journalists that it was a term used in one of the documents given by the bishops’ conferences “and we quoted them.”
“We are open. We don’t want the synod to be closed in itself,” Cardinal Baldisseri said. “And in the church, there are many areas, there is freedom for people to express themselves – on the right, left, center, north and south – this is all possible. That is why we are willing to listen to people with different opinions.”
The working document also said young Catholics would like more initiatives that allow further dialogue with nonbelievers and the secular world to help them integrate their faith in their dealings with others.
Young men and women from primarily secularized areas “ask nothing from the church” and “expressly asked to be left in peace, because they feel its presence as annoying and even irritating.” These feelings, the document stated, do not come from contempt but rather due to “serious and respectable reasons.”
Among the reasons are the church’s sexual and economic scandals, priests who do not know how to engage with young people, and the way the church justifies its doctrinal and ethical positions to modern society.
Young men and women are also hoping the church can help them “find a simple and clear understanding of the meaning of vocation,” which is often misinterpreted as referring only to priesthood and consecrated life.
While the church has confirmed that marriage is also a vocation, the document confirms the need for “a youth vocational ministry capable of being meaningful for all young people.”
“Called to holiness and anointed by the spirit, the Christian learns to grasp all the choices in existence in a vocational perspective, especially the central one of the state of life as well as those of a professional nature,” it said.
“For this reason, some bishops’ conferences hope that the synod will find ways to help all Christians rediscover the link between profession and vocation in all its fruitfulness … and in view of the professional orientation of young people with a vocational perspective,” the document said.