New Zealand Catholics have welcomed with joy and excitement the Vatican’s announcement that the 2018 synod of bishops will focus on young people.
In a statement released on October 6, the Vatican said Pope Francis decided that the theme of 15th general assembly of the synod of bishops, which will be held in October, 2018, will be: “Young people, faith and vocational discernment”.
The Pope chose the theme after consulting bishops’ conferences, Eastern Catholic churches and the men’s Union of Superiors General. He also consulted with bishops and cardinals who took part in the previous synod of bishops.
Palmerston North Bishop Charles Drennan, secretary of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference and a representative at the last synod, said it is an “uplifting and hopeful theme” and one that “will engage lots of people”.
“It’s deep but accessible: the sort of topic or focus that every parish council and Catholic school staff would do well to reflect on and draw direction from,” he said.
“The Church can never focus too much on young people. Any parent will say the same in regard to their own whanau. What is good for young people is good for the whole of the Church,” he said.
“A parish or pastoral area which seeks out, nurtures, understands, involves and educates its young will be a parish that cares for and rejoices in its elderly too.”
Samuel Brebner, an under-graduate student at the University of Auckland, said the theme “inspires a lot of hope for young people”.
He noted how religious life, “three or four decades ago, was a consideration every Catholic young person sort of made. Now, even the idea of it is considered extraordinary, let alone the idea of discerning it”.
Youth coordinators in different dioceses also met the synod news with enthusiasm.
Dunedin pastoral leader Amy Armstrong said she hopes Pope Francis will ask the youth directly what they think.
“We need to ask them to be part of the conversation of what it means to be the Church today, and not assume we know where they are at or what they are thinking,” she said.
Wellington Family and Young Church Ministries leader Dr Chris Duthie-Jung said the Church needs to be accessible to young people.
“Sometimes, [in] the bridge between the wonderful acts and words of Pope Francis and young people fronting up for standard Catholic liturgy, the gap there can be pretty enormous,” he said.
Auckland Young and Young Adult Ministry leader Teresa McNamara noted all vocations were given equal importance.
“If we can make the definition of vocations that wider definition, that gives validity to whatever choice the young person makes,” she said.
Auckland marriage and family associate coordinator Maria Pais said the theme is reflective of the past three popes’ love for young people.
“When you look around the world, young people struggle with the understanding of who they are and what the world is telling them who they are. They need a holistic understanding of who they really are,” she said.
Bishop Drennan discounted speculation that the 2018 synod might focus on controversial topics.
“Some are already surmising that the vocation aspect will lead to discussion on married priests. It might, but not in a hot topic way,” he said.
“Synods are think tanks with deep reflection reservoirs. Through Baptism everyone sets out on the vocational journey. Discernment helps us find purpose in that unfolding of a life gifted and ignited with faith. The intentional breadth of the theme lessens the likelihood of hot topic reductions,” he explained.
Bishop Drennan said there will be a lot of listening and consultations.
“If we jump in too quickly with ‘answers’ we run the risk of making the Holy Spirit redundant. The last synod on the family, at Pope Francis’ request, included much listening and consultation as part of its process,” he said.
“That spirit brought huge benefits to the quality of the inputs and discussions in Rome. We will be looking for calm, detached, Holy Spirit-guided exploration of this great theme.”