The image of great canoes sailing from island to island across the great vastness of the Pacific that Joe Sapati Moeono-Kolio used in his intervention at last year’s synod of bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment captured the attention of Pope Francis: “ We relied on our elders, who read the stars and currents, steering us in the right direction.
But to get the canoe moving required strong paddlers — our young people — who would power the canoe and eventually get us to our destination . . . Both understood the importance of this relationship because they were in the same canoe and if I could be so bold as to say it here — so are we.”
At the end of his intervention, the Holy Father looked directly at Joe as he applauded enthusiastically.
An old person and a young person looking at each other across the synod hall, inspiring and encouraging each other. This is the image Pope Francis dreams of, of a Church that harnesses the enthusiasm and energy of young people and, at the same time, embraces the wisdom of elders and the rich heritage of believers down the centuries of the Church. This is the dream that is addressed to young people and to the entire People of God in Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit (Christ is Alive).
Before the synod process, thousands of young people from around the world took part in reflection groups, on-line surveys and pre-synod meetings. Some 60 young people gave magnificent interventions and insights in the synod hall and in the small group meetings. At the end of the interventions, their applause and cheering were a barometer of the concerns they have for our Church and world. Pope Francis was certainly noticing their responses and enjoying their enthusiasm, while veteran bishops of previous synods said there had never been such energy at a synod.
In Christus Vivit, Pope Francis invites young people, and indeed all of us, to rediscover the young people of salvation history, the young people of enthusiasm and energy of the Old Testament, the young people that Jesus surrounded himself with and, most importantly, the young Jesus who “gave his life when he was, in today’s terms, a young adult”. Christ is ever young. The Pope also offers the example of a myriad of young saints to encourage and “awaken us from lethargy”.
It is the rediscovery of God’s gift of youth for the life of the Church and world, of listening with sensitivity and engaging with their energy that can enable the Church to experience renewal and keep her ever young like the ever young Christ we follow and serve.
“We adults can often be tempted to list all the problems and failings of today’s young people,” writes the Pope. Those called to be a parent, pastor or guide to young people are there to nurture and encourage, not extinguish or crush. Yet there are so many influences that can do that to young people. Christus Vivit gives a glimpse of the reality and challenges they face in the different contexts in the world. To all these young people, the Pope says “Jesus, brimming with life, wants to help you make your youth worthwhile”.
One of the things that I love about the Holy Father is his passion for Christ and his passion for people. So he challenges young people not to let the world “exploit your youth to promote a shallow life that confuses beauty with appearances”. He talks about our young people being robbed of the beauty of life by the superficiality of our consumerist and individualistic society.
Pope Francis also reminds us older people that “young people should always have a critical spirit”. They are always, in a sense, prophets of every age who see what is lacking in the Church and society. Francis calls on us to accompany our young people in a way that brings out the best of our young people so the old may dream dreams and the young see visions.
All of us are called by God, called first to life, to friendship with God and to holiness. This requires us to be open to each other, which is not easy in a world of self-opinion. Picking up Joe’s imagery of the ocean-going canoe, we are all paddling in our own direction. Christus Vivit invites all of us in the Church, young and old, to paddle with Christ, as in our discernment together we navigate the winds and currents of our age to answer the call that he places in each of our hearts.
Christus Vivit! Christ is alive! He is our hope and he wants you, us, to be alive!
Bishop Stephen Lowe is Bishop of Hamilton. He was the New Zealand bishop who attended the synod last year.