July 13, 2018

Papal invitation draws responses on nurturing young Church

By John Shaughnessy

It all started when more than 120 youths and young adults from across the archdiocese responded to Pope Francis’ invitation to share their thoughts on their faith and their relationship with the Church.

The next step required identifying the general themes of the responses of the 91 young adults and 30 youths—themes that would help the pope, and bishops from around the world, when they convened for a synod on young people in October at the Vatican.

(Related story: If you could share one thought with the pope, what would it be?)

So the archdiocese formed a committee that would create a summary of those responses, a committee of leaders deeply involved in helping to grow the faith of young people in central and southern Indiana.

As the director of catechesis for the archdiocese, Ken Ogorek was one of the six people who formed that committee. In an interview with The Criterion, Ogorek talked about the purpose of the pope’s invitation and how the young people’s responses will help the Church in central and southern Indiana in its efforts to bring young people closer to God and the Church.

Here is an edited version of that conversation.

Q. When the summary was completed, where was it sent? And what’s the process for how it will be used to guide Pope Francis and the Synod of Bishops?

A. “It was sent to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB]. The USCCB compiled the summaries it received, then sent them to the Holy See. The Holy See is using summaries from around the world in preparing the working document for the synod participants to discuss and respond to when they meet.”

Q. What does it say about Pope Francis that he has called a Synod of Bishops concerning young people in the Church?

A. “The Holy Father is doing what his predecessors tended to do—choosing synod topics that flow naturally from previous synods. Pope Benedict convened the 2012 synod around the New Evangelization and the Transmission of the Christian Faith. In 2015, under Pope Francis’ guidance, the synod fathers explored the topic of family in the Church and in the contemporary world. A more specific focus on young people, flowing from that of transmitting the faith and the family’s various roles, makes a lot of sense.”

Q. What do you see as the importance of Pope Francis asking youths and young adults to share their thoughts on their relationship with the Church?

A. “Church leaders often ask for consultation when major documents and meetings are in the works. The Holy Father is showing the virtue of prudence by seeing to it that the voices of young people are included in a synod that in many ways is about them.”

Q. The pope was even open to responses that challenge the Church and are critical of the Church. What does that say about his commitment to this process?

A. “Most bishops I know are very open to and interested in frank discussions about faith and the Church, knowing that struggles in the area of faith can be common in contemporary society and through honest dialogue the Holy Spirit can help us all see that Jesus is the answer to every human question—and his Church continues his mission.

“It’s great that Pope Francis is especially welcoming to hearing what young folks have to say about the Bride of Christ, his Church, even if they struggle at times to understand and embrace the Church as our mother and teacher.”

Q. What insights has the archdiocese gained from this process that can help it deepen its already extensive commitment to bringing youths and young adults closer to God and the Church?

A. “For me, this process highlighted the need to keep encouraging those who serve and minister to—and with—youths and young adults. Conversations about faith can sometimes be awkward and challenging. But young folks tend to value authenticity. When we speak the truth in love—and listen with gratitude for whatever goodness God is manifesting in the life of the person in front of us—Jesus helps us accompany people of all ages on their walk of faith, even as he makes his presence known in our lives.”

Q. An intriguing phrase that showed up a couple times in the summary was, “a gap is asking to be bridged.” Talk about the “gap” that is there, and what can be done to bridge that gap between youths/young adults and the Church?

A. “It’s been said that the great divide of our time is the rupture between the Gospel and daily life. Thankfully, thousands of teens and 20-somethings are closely connected to Jesus and his Church, helped by gatherings like NCYC [National Catholic Youth Conference] and the Student Leadership Summit hosted by FOCUS [Fellowship of Catholic University Students].

“Still, many young people struggle to integrate faith and life. We need adults in various vocations and stations in life who will allow Jesus to work through them in reaching and teaching his precious young people.”

Q. What is your hope for this synod in reaching out to youths and young adults?

A. “I hope that when the Holy Father issues his teaching document flowing from the synod, people of various ages will read and reflect on it, taking it to heart as affirming the good in youths and challenging us all to be more fervent, loving disciples of Jesus. You know the saying, ‘God loves us enough to meet us where we are—and he loves us too much to let us stay there.’ ” †

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