Relationship is key for the future of the Church

By Ashleigh Green  

3 October 2017 General Interest



"It is you who are to receive the torch from your elders," Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri announced as he opened the seminar, "and you are to deliver it to the world that is in the midst of the greatest transformation in history."

I write from Rome where I am attending an International Seminar on Young People in preparation for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment. I am one of 20 young people from around the world who were invited to attend this seminar along with specialists in the fields of sociology, psychology, economics, computer science, pastoral care and the environment.

Before flying to Rome I met with Bishop Peter A Comensoli who reminded me that the Synod is not simply an event, but a process and a journey. A Synod should not be about forcing decisions, but rather about initiating processes and ensuring that these processes incorporate local voices. The purpose of this week has been to hear the voice of the local Churches. We have listened, spoken, shared, empathised, dreamed and, significantly, we have been heard.

It has been a surreal and special experience to be in Rome with such passionate young people and scholars. As we sang in unison at Mass this morning, I realised what it means to be a universal Church. We were young people from developed and developing countries, and from minority and majority Christian nations, but we all sang the same song. We all ate from the same table and shared the same hunger to know Christ.

On day one I presented to the assembly my hopes and expectations for the Synod. I was honest about the reality of the Church in Australia, which I described as being in the midst of crisis and transition. I drew on the results of the National Youth Synod Survey and I used personal experiences to illustrate this reality. As a major theme of the seminar was ‘listening’, I shared some data from our National Survey where young people in Australia scored the Church's listening ability tobe 6 out of 10.

I shared my experience that many young people give upon the Church before even giving it a go, outoffear that they cannot engage in open discussion about the issues that matter to them. I spoke about myinvolvement in the Synod video booth inour Diocese. The booth travelled to various youth events in the Diocese, and young people were invited to answer the question, "If you had one minute tosay anythingto Pope Francis, what would you say?" As a facilitator of this booth, I remember one young person who, upon being asked this question hesitated and told me, "I'd better notsay what I really think. My views are too radical to share at Church." After five minutes of encouraging this girl to openly share her thoughts, she went ahead and shared her experience of topics such as homosexuality and transgender issues being shut down at her Catholic School. I was struck by this young person's experience of the disconnect between Church and society. It was asif there were some matters that were outof bounds in Church settings, yet these were the issues that she was most passionate about and which gave her life. I stated that as a Church, ifwe are to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, we need tobe a Church that engages with those on the margins, and which includes young people who may feel ostracised for their views and identity.

One of the highlights of the week has been the small group discussions. At the end of the week, each group will present a document to the General Secretariat, which includes a set of proposals, which will inform the upcoming Synod. 'Empowerment' and 'relationships' were key themes that have continued tocome upinour discussions. I was struck by a quote that was shared by one ofmy fellow group members: "Without relationship there isno influence, and without influence there isno leadership. Relationship is key." He spoke about his experience in the Irish Church where, "Everyone, from lay people to bishops, see themselves as the victim of structures." Many members of our group voiced their frustrations with rigid Church structures where cardinals talk to cardinals, bishops talk to bishops, priests talk to priests and young people talk to young people. Genuine relationships that span the hierarchical structures are often lacking. One of our group proposals is the introduction of an international body of youth who the Vatican can consult directly. This body would provide scope for the Pope and Cardinals to consult youth face-to-face rather than going through hierarchical layers. The way that the Church has consulted youth in the lead up to the Synod on Youth is a great model, and we are calling for this approach to continue beyond October 2018.

In Pope Francis’ recent visit to Columbia, laity, youth and women were key groups that the Holy Father highlighted to the bishops of Latin America. He described these groups as“the faces of hope on the continent.”It is an exciting time to be a lay person in the Church and, while the changes may seem slow and minuscule, we cannot take for granted how far we have already come. Even today, a Vatican journalist entered the auditorium and was shocked. He said, “It is the first time that I have reported on a Vatican event where not everyone had white hair.”

My personal faith has been strengthened and deepened as I have journeyed through this week. It has been in those moments when we have honestly shared our frustrations and struggles that the Spirit has moved through creative proposals. I am reminded of Pope Francis' statement in his April 2017 TED Talk that, "In order to do good we need memory, we need courage and we need creativity."

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Broken Bay

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