Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe has called for “a new model of formation” of young people that will make them missionary disciples “in and for the contemporary age”.
On October 4 at the Vatican, Bishop Lowe delivered a four-minute intervention at the synod of bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment. The synod runs from October 3-28.
“In this change of era, we need a new model of formation which develops, from childhood, an attractive and developing anthropological vision embracing the fullness of what it means to be human, created in the image of God, called into the divine likeness,” Bishop Lowe said.
“It must lead to an ever deepening knowledge and personal relationship with Jesus through the art of prayer. It must form young people to be missionary disciples in and for the contemporary age.”
Bishop Lowe noted that young people are surrounded with competing voices of “music, social media, peers, family, culture, society and the Church; all offer differing ideas or directions”.
“The storm in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 8:23-27) is a good analogy for a self-opinionated world where people so easily self-publish their ideologies or alternative truths. Today, the voice of Christ and his Church is just one in a storm of many,” he said.
“This is part of the reason why 42 per cent of New Zealanders profess no religion and only a few young people and families attend Mass.”
Making an analogy with Jesus being with the disciples in the storm-tossed boat, Bishop Lowe highlighted three points by which the Church should define its relationship with young people.
The first point was that, just as Jesus was in the boat with his disciples, the Church must truly be with young people by building relationships, not only with “very Catholic” youth, but with those who are on the edges of the Church as well.
“Networks of mentors, active disciples, who journey with small groups of young people as friends will facilitate this. The fantasy of social media connection with devices and pixels cannot compromise authentic face to face engagement,” he said.
Bishop Lowe said Jesus listened to the disciples’ fears in the boat, “so the Church must listen to young people to enter the mystery of their journey”.
He said, though, that while the young people have fears, they also have hopes, dreams, experiences, ideas and insights.
“Young people want and need to be heard in the Church at all levels. They want a Church that engages them in dialogue rather than a Church that speaks about or down to them,” he said.
Bishop Lowe said the disciples came to a new vision of their relationship with Jesus when Jesus calmed the storm.
“The Church must companion young people towards self-realisation or self-transcendence in Christ; that formational journey to see self and life through Christ’s eyes,” he said.
He added that youth often see Church ideals as “uncompromising rules” that separate them, their peers or families from Christ.
“As Church we are called to help the Word take flesh in our young people by helping them bridge the gap between their ideals and a deep appreciation of the teachings of Christ and his Church,” he said.
“Forming young people to reflect on their experiences pastorally and theologically in the light of the Gospel and Church teaching will help them to recognise the voice of Christ in their daily lives and provide a necessary foundation for vocational discernment.”
The Vatican does not publish the texts of speeches given in the synod sessions, but allows the bishops to do so.