VATICAN CITY — The life of a young person and the vocation to which God calls each one is “holy ground” that pastors and parents must respect, nurture and encourage, Pope Francis wrote in a new apostolic exhortation.
“Christus Vivit” (“Christ Lives”), the pope’s reflections on the 2018 Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment, is a combination letter to young people about their place in the Church and a plea to older members of the Church not to stifle the enthusiasm of the young, but to offer gentle guidance when needed.
In the document, released April 2, Pope Francis talked about how the sex abuse crisis, a history of sexism and an overly narrow focus on just a handful of moral issues can keep young people away from the Church.
But he also said many young people want to know and understand the teachings of the Church and, despite what many people think, they long for and need times of silent reflection and opportunities to serve their communities.
“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,” Pope Francis wrote. “How, then, will she be able to respond to the dreams of young people?”
Young people have a natural desire to improve the life of the Church and the world around them, the pope said. If older people in the Church will let the young people try, it will keep the Church youthful, too.
“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 wrote. “But let us also ask Him to free her from another temptation: that of thinking she is young because she accepts everything the world offers her, thinking that she is renewed because she sets her message aside and acts like everybody else.”
The core of the pope’s message to young people was that they remember they are loved by God and saved by Jesus, who continues to live and act in the world and in their lives.
Drawing on the final documents from the synod and from a pre-synod gathering of young people in Rome, Pope Francis urged parishes and dioceses to rethink their youth and young adult programs and to make changes based on what young people themselves say they want and need.
“Young people need to be approached with the grammar of love, not by being preached at,” he said. “The language that young people understand is spoken by those who radiate life, by those who are there for them and with them. And to live their faith with integrity.”
Directly addressing young people, he said, “Take risks, even if it means making mistakes. Don’t go through life anesthetized or approach the world like tourists. Make a ruckus!”
And, he told them, reach out to other young people, do not be afraid to mention Jesus and to invite friends to church or a church-sponsored activity.
Youth ministry cannot be elitist or focused only on the teens and young adults already active in the Church’s life, he said. It must be “a process that is gradual, respectful, patient, hopeful, tireless and compassionate,” as Jesus was when He walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Parents, pastors and spiritual guides must have “the ability to discern pathways where others only see walls, to recognize potential where others see only peril. That is how God the Father sees things; He knows how to cherish and nurture the seeds of goodness sown in the hearts of the young.”
“Each young person’s heart should thus be considered ‘holy ground,’ a bearer of seeds of divine life, before which we must ‘take off our shoes’ in order to draw near and enter more deeply into the mystery.”
A long section of the document is focused on discerning one’s vocation, which, he said, always is a call to serve God and serve others, but always in a unique way.
Discovering one’s vocation, he said, “has to do with finding our true selves in the light of God and letting our lives flourish and bear fruit.”
For most young people, that will mean marrying, forming a family and working, the pope said.
Pope Francis also encouraged young people not to dismiss out of hand the fact that God may be calling them to priesthood or religious life. God’s call to each person is individual, made-to-measure just for him or her, the pope said, so discovering that call can be done only with calm, silence, prayer and the wise help of someone who truly knows how to listen and ask the right questions.
A vocation, he said, is a gift that “will help you live to the full and become someone who benefits others, someone who leaves a mark in life; it will surely be a gift that will bring you more joy and excitement than anything else in this world. Not because that gift will be rare or extraordinary, but because it will perfectly fit you. It will be a perfect fit for your entire life.”
“Pope Francis’ exhortation invites our young people and the communities that they belong to into a more intimate and committed friendship with Jesus,” said Gerardo Rojas, director of the Diocese of San Diego’s Office for Youth Ministry.
He noted that the document presents “two main courses of action” for youth ministry: outreach and growth.
In the Diocese of San Diego, many parishes are already demonstrating that mentality in their youth ministry efforts, he said. He added that the diocesan Youth Ministry Office’s two largest events each focus on one of those two courses of action with San Diego Youth Day representing outreach and Camp Emmaus, a summer leadership program, promoting further spiritual growth.
But that doesn’t mean the Diocese of San Diego can be complacent.
“Pope Francis does challenge us to do more and to be more creative in our work with young people,” he said.
For Patrick Rivera, director of the Diocese of San Diego’s Office for Young Adult Ministry, “one of the most promising parts” of the new apostolic exhortation is Pope Francis’ assertion that young people represent, not the future, but the present of the world and the Church.
“In reading the document, ‘Christus Vivit,’ I was profoundly moved by how pastoral it was,” he said. “The Holy Father speaks directly to the young people whom he knows will be reading it. His messages to them are all interwoven within it.”
Rivera expressed hope that the new papal document will provide young adult Catholics in the San Diego-area with “a sense of hope so that they may not feel lonely or unimportant, because, in reality, they are the redemption for the cultures of the Church and society’s crucifixion.”
In response to “Christus Vivit,” the Diocese of San Diego will be organizing a diocesan synod to reflect on the recommendations made by Pope Francis in his new apostolic exhortation and propose ways that they might be applied in the Local Church.
Something similar occurred in October 2016, when the San Diego Diocese held a synod inspired by Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” which had been released earlier that year and included the pope’s reflections on the Synod of Bishops on the family that was held at the Vatican in 2014 and 2015.
Among the proposals that came from the San Diego Diocese’s synod on the family was the restructuring of the diocesan office that serves married couples and families; the diocesan Office for Marriage and Family
Life was subsequently replaced by the Office for Family Life and Spirituality, which among other things has sought to increase the diocese’s outreach to separated and divorced Catholics.
“In light of the Holy Father’s most recent synod on young adults and the release of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, ‘Christus Vivit,’ the Diocese of San Diego will once again host a synod, specific to the theme on young adults,” said Diocesan
Chancellor María Olivia “Marioly” Galván. “The themes that will be addressed mirror those that are highlighted within the document as major points to be grappled with in our Church today,” she said.
Galván promised that more information regarding delegate selection and pre-synod work will be released soon.