By Megan Gettinger
In January, Pope Francis presented a letter to young people and announced that the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will take place in Rome in October 2018, would focus on the theme of “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” He expressed that the church wishes to hear the voice of its young people, and called upon them to speak up and let their voices be heard.
To this end, every country was directed to survey its young people to better evaluate the support the church offers them as they grow as people of faith and discern their place in the world. According to the Synodal Preparatory Document, engaging with young people in this way is new for the church, and the survey results will “be the basis for drafting the ‘work-document’ … which will be the reference point in the discussion of the synod fathers.”
The Preparatory Document contains the questionnaire and includes the following sections: Young People, The Church and Society; Pastoral Vocational Programs for Young People; Pastoral Care Workers with Young People; and Specific Questions According to Geographic Areas. At the heart of the questionnaire are questions like “In what manner does the Church listen to the lived situations of young people? What are the main challenges and most significant opportunities for young people in your country today? What do young people really ask of the Church in your country today?”
In addition to questions regarding young people who already have some degree of a relationship with the faith are questions concerned with outreach to those who “do not frequent Church surroundings.” Ultimately, these questions express the deep desire of the church to more fully understand young people, their situations in the world and how she can be a better mother to all of her children.
Answering the Vatican’s call, the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend created separate surveys to accurately reflect the two stages covered in the general term “young people” as it is understood in the U.S. For ages 16 to 18 — high school youth — there were surveys for Catholics and non-Catholics, as well as a survey for parents and staff of high school youth. Similarly, for those ages 18 to 35 — young adults — there were surveys for Catholics, non-Catholics and church, college campus and religious order staff who work with young adults. Each survey was also offered in Spanish.
In total, 1,387 local youth and 465 local young adults completed the survey. Over 99 percent of the youth who completed the survey are students at the Catholic high schools of the diocese, and 60 percent of the young adults are full-time college or graduate students. Subsequent to review and approval by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, the offices of Youth Ministry and Young Adult Ministry submitted the diocesan executive summary to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on Sept. 15. The USCCB will compile all diocesan reports and submit an executive summary of the entire country’s results to the Vatican.
Both Sean Allen, director of Young Adult Ministry, and John Pratt, director of Youth Ministry, noted that many of the responses had clearly been written with great care and expressed gratitude to the church for listening to what young people had to say and taking interest in the issues that are pertinent to their lives and formation. Allen shared that he hopes the results can be used on the diocesan level to create an abbreviated summary about our youth and young adults for use in parishes, to better understand the needs of parishioners in these stages of life and generate more organized and intentional outreach. Pratt also expressed his hopes that by better understanding what young people are searching for in life, parishes and youth ministers can explore better ways to bring the truth of the Gospel to them.
“My hope is that youth throughout the diocese and the world would take this synod as an incredible opportunity for prayer and unity in the church as the bishops and the Pope help them learn how to discern their vocation and to be youth faithful to Christ in our world today,” said Pratt.
How can the lay faithful be involved in the time leading up to the synod? Pratt suggested that all members of the church can prepare for the exciting event by using the Preparatory Document “as a guide. … It is a way to know what is in the mind of the church going into this, and what we should be praying about and contemplating.”
To learn more about the synod and to view Pope Francis’ Letter to Young People and the Synodal Preparatory Document, visit http://youth.synod2018.va/content/synod2018/en.html.
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