Pope puts his trust in young people to renew the Church and the world

In Christus vivit, the post-synodal exhortation published today, Francis writes that the Church must trust young people and they must believe in Jesus in order to believe in themselves and in their capacity to change.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The basic message of Christus vivit, the post-synodal exhortation Pope Francis released today, is that Church must trust young people and they must believe in Jesus in order to believe in themselves and in their capacity to change.

The very long document is divided in 9 chapters and 299 paragraphs. It starts with: “Christ is alive! He is our hope, and in a wonderful way he brings youth to our world. The very first words, then, that I would like to say to every young Christian are these: Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive!”

The Holy Father starts his reasoning with what the Old and the New Testaments say about young people. “Let us also keep in mind that Jesus had no use for adults who looked down on the young or lorded it over them.”

The Church is also young and must ask herself why some young people “find the presence of the Church a nuisance, even an irritant”, which “can also have serious and understandable reasons: sexual and financial scandals; a clergy ill-prepared” and “the passive role assigned to the young within the Christian community” and “the Church’s difficulty in explaining her doctrine and ethical positions to contemporary society.” Those who are called to be pastors and leaders of young people should instead have the “ability to discern pathways where others only see walls, to recognize potential where others see only peril.”

For Francis, the reality in which young people live can be tragic, like war and human trafficking. What is more, “Many young people are taken in by ideologies, used and exploited as cannon fodder or a strike force to destroy, terrify or ridicule others. Worse yet, many of them end up as individualists, hostile and distrustful of others; in this way, they become an easy target for the brutal and destructive strategies of political groups or economic powers” (73).

Another factor is the power of a culture that stresses a youth-oriented model of beauty, which in fact snatches away young people’s youth, hypersexualising them so that “maintaining a healthy relationship with one’s body and a serene affective life is not easy” (81). The influence of the digital world also “represent[s] a firmly established forum for reaching and involving young people” (87), an “environment [that] is also one of loneliness, manipulation, exploitation and violence” (88).

Let us not forget the huge economic interests that create “mechanisms for the manipulation of consciences and of the democratic process”, spreading fake news and nurturing biases and hatred against a Church (89) that commits sins, like child abuse, but “is not afraid to reveal the sins of her members” (101).

This dark time “can truly be an opportunity for a reform of epoch-making significance” (102). Indeed, there is a “way out” from all these painful situations, as many young people have shown, especially by living together, avoiding traps and remaining free to experience one’s youth as “a time of generous commitment” of oneself.

The document goes on to offer young people three truths: the first is that “God loves you. Never doubt this” (112). The second is that “Christ saves you. [. . .] Never forget that ‘he forgives us seventy times seven’” (119). The third is that “He is alive!” [. . .] Alive, he can be present in your life at every moment, to fill it with light and to take away all sorrow and solitude” (125).

“If in your heart you can learn to appreciate the beauty of this message, if you are willing to encounter the Lord, if you are willing to let him love you and save you, if you can make friends with him and start to talk to him, the living Christ, about the realities of your life, then you will have a profound experience capable of sustaining your entire Christian life” (129).

Youth is a time of personal, professional, social and political choices, Francis notes. Thus, “Live! (143) [. . .] you will never know [its] deepest and fullest meaning unless you encounter each day your best friend, the friend who is Jesus (150). [. . .] Do not deprive your youth of this friendship. [. . .] you will have the beautiful experience of seeing that he is always at your side” (156).

The pontiff goes further. “The Holy Spirit wants to make us come out of ourselves, to embrace others with love and to seek their good. That is why it is always better to live the faith together” (164), avoiding the temptation of “withdraw[ing] into small groups” (168).

“I have been following news reports of the many young people throughout the world who have taken to the streets to express the desire for a more just and fraternal society. Young people taking to the streets! The young want to be protagonists of change. Please, do not leave it to others to be protagonists of change” (174).

Young people are thus called to be “courageous missionaries,” bearing witness to the Gospel through their life, sharing “the faith he has given you” (176). This means rejecting those who “build a future without roots, as if the world were just starting now” (179).

Such a proposal comes with “a spirituality without God, an affectivity without community or concern for those who suffer, a fear of the poor, viewed as dangerous, and a variety of claims to offer a future paradise that nonetheless seems increasingly distant” (184).

Social and cultural changes have affected the youth ministry, and “Young people frequently fail to find in our usual programmes a response to their concerns, their needs, their problems and issues” (202). Hence, we need to “use their insight, ingenuity and knowledge to address the issues and concerns of other young people in their own language” (203).

Young people “have to be encouraged and given the freedom” to act. Indeed, “each young person can be daring enough to sow the seed of the message on that fertile terrain that is the heart of another young person” (210).

For her part, the Church must offer “suitable environments”. Her “institutions should provide young people with places they can make their own, where they can come and go freely, feel welcome and readily meet other young people, whether at times of difficulty and frustration, or of joy and celebration” (218). The youth ministry must be “popular” and “always missionary” (240).

The freedom of young people needs to be respected, but “they also need to be accompanied” by adults, starting in the family and the community (242). Families, communities, and educational institutions can help in the most important activity, i.e. to “discern” one’s vocation.

The call to engage in missionary services towards others “requires a certain degree of solitude and silence” given that “our life on earth reaches full stature when it becomes an offering” (254). This is true for marriage, which “has two purposes: to love and to generate life” (261).

The exhortation tells young people that “To think that nothing can be definitive is a deceptive lie [. . .] I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide” (264). “In discerning your vocation, do not dismiss the possibility of devoting yourself to God [. . .]. Why not? You can be sure that, if you do recognize and follow a call from God, there you will find complete fulfilment” (276).

Finally, Francis ends saying “Dear young people, my joyful hope is to see you keep running the race before you, outstripping all those who are slow or fearful. [. . .] The Church needs your momentum, your intuitions, your faith. We need them! And when you arrive where we have not yet reached, have the patience to wait for us” (299). (FP)