June 15, 2018

Youths embrace pope’s invitation to share thoughts about their lives and the Church

By John Shaughnessy

They spoke from the heart, just as teenagers often do when someone gives them the opportunity to share their thoughts—without being judged—about something meaningful in their lives.

In doing so, they embraced the invitation that Pope Francis presented in a letter to young people, “The Church wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith, even your doubts and your criticism. Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities, and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls.”

Thirty youths from across the archdiocese accepted the pope’s invitation to respond to a survey that will contribute significantly to the Synod of Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment that will take place at the Vatican in October.

The synod is in response to a critical reality in the life of the Church. It’s a reality expressed in this assessment from the archdiocese’s summary of all the people in central and southern Indiana who responded to the survey, “About 25 percent of our teens and half of our young adults do not sense that our Church is adept at listening to their lived situations. This consultation process is a good step in that direction.”

As the synod nears, The Criterion is sharing some of the feedback that was provided by youths and young adults who answered the survey. Today, we share thoughts and insights from the 30 youths who responded, feedback that was heartfelt and honest, including these individual thoughts for Pope Francis:

• “The youth of the world have something to say, and will speak up if listened to. We have ideas. We have new perspectives. We have faith in God. But we also have some issues with the Church that we believe must be resolved.

“Acceptance is key when communicating with youth, as this is a time in our lives where we are finally figuring out who we really are. Throughout this process, we crave guidance and support. Be that guidance. Be that support. Reach out to the youth of the world, and we will grasp you.”

• “The youth and teenagers of today are desperate for Truth, for beauty. They long to know Christ though they may not quite admit that completely.”

• “I have kept the faith very well through all tribulations of high school because of my parents and one grade school teacher. As a result, I think it is crucial for the Church to train its theology teachers to communicate with kids and have active conversations rather than incessantly crowding their minds with information.”

• “Do not lose the traditions, but rather show the youth how to use these amazing traditions to deepen their relationship with God and others. Allow teenagers to be teenagers, and accept that not all will stay, but rather rejoice in the few that do.

“Most importantly, do not stop trying! Youth want to be a part of the Church. The outside world is just becoming more and more tempting. Going to Mass sounds so much more boring with the modern-day church rapping next door. Do not copy them, but rather show the youth how, deep inside, the Church is cool!”

The youths also responded to a series of questions posed in the survey. Here are some of the questions and some of the youths’ responses.

What are two of the biggest life changes youth/teenagers in our area are currently facing?

• “The extreme presence of peer pressure through social media.”

• “Divorce of their parents. Several people I know personally have had to deal with this major change in their life, and it can sometimes bring about negative emotions.”

• “The media making them feel bad about themselves (particularly body image), leading to depression and, in some cases, drug use and suicidal thoughts.”

• “The pressure from people outside the faith to ‘be cool,’ and the struggle between what are considered Catholic values and what modern society values.”

• “The transition from adolescence to being an adult. Becoming a young adult carries its own major responsibilities which can seem daunting to the typical teenager who has never really had to deal with such matters before.”

What are one or two positive things that youth/teens can offer the Church or society today?

• “Their joy and their energy. Give them a specific and actual task, and they almost always will accomplish it.”

• “Their ideas and youthful being. I find the youth reaching out to help others and looking for meaning in their lives.”

• “Our vitality and our willingness to be educated on many different matters to make informed, independent decisions.”

• “Teens in general typically have a fresh, new view on life which allows us to see things in a new way. We are the future of society and the Church, and I think our new ways of thinking can help in the betterment of both.”

Why do some youth/teenagers drift away from the Church?

• “We are at a stage in our lives where things are changing, and we begin to question everything. Also, growing up and changing isn’t easy. Sometimes it seems like one bad thing happens after the next. At times like this, we begin to doubt God’s existence and turn to even more sin.”

• “They have been influenced by the media and believe that the Church is ‘gaycist’ or ‘sexist.’ Teens with common sense like myself know that that is not the case.”

• “I think they see the Church as a waste of time, too strict, not fun, not engaging, rather than a place to welcome God into their lives and embrace the joy that comes along with that.”

• “Most of the Church is made up of older members or youth who are very into their faith. More average people who love God but love hanging out with friends need to become more involved for it to seem more inviting.”

What do youth/teenagers want from the Church?

• “They want a sense of acceptance and community. They want to belong.”

• “They most importantly want more ways to relate God to their own lives and how to live out the sacraments without looking like a monk every day at school.”

• “To be recognized as something more than ‘the young people of the Church.’ We’ve been told our whole lives that we are the future, but what happens when we are the present?”

• “Youth want the Church to promote love for people of every walk of life, no matter gay, liberal, conservative, etc. Today’s youth is very accepting of all these people—or at least from my perspective. I think that’s what they want to see the Church model as well.”

• “A place of refuge, a place to worship a higher power that aligns with their visions, hopes and dreams. They want to establish a sense of community. They want to volunteer and share laughter. They just want to have fun and want to practice their faith.”

(Thoughts and insights from the 91 young adults of the archdiocese who answered the survey will be shared in an upcoming issue of The Criterion.)


Related story: Young people are key to life and mission of the Church, Archbishop Thompson says

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