Article from the Synod on Synodality feature series from National Catholic Reporter | opinion written by Br. Ernest Miller, FSC, DMin
Philadelphia, PA – With an abundance of Catholic colleges and universities in Philadelphia, a planning team of educators worked together to envision a way for all of Philadelphia’s Catholic colleges and universities to encounter synodality, which means journeying together, specifically tailored for young people.
Inspired by Pope Francis’ call for greater listening, presence and curiosity among the global church, nearly 400 students from more than 40 campuses across the Philadelphia metropolitan region joined a multipart listening process that culminated in an all-campus listening session at La Salle University. Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Perez participated in the listening session and delivered some thoughts at the end.
A major highlight of the event was the small discussion groups self-selected by students focused on six themes identified from the reports of cross-campus listening sessions: journeying from exclusion to inclusion, from fragmentation to wholeness, from discord to unity, from performance to integrity, from broken trust to account, from being led to leading.
Student reflections on Pentecost, a large group examen and the opportunity in an open plenary listening session for students to share their insights with each other and Perez round out the highlights of Philadelphia Catholic higher education’s robust response to Francis’ invitation to participate in the global synod process.
In this gathering, I witnessed a way forward for the church’s pastoral outreach to young people. For these students, Francis’ call for synodality for being church together, provides endurance and hope.
Why young people need synodality
Springtide’s Catholic Edition (a sample can be found here) paints a compelling portrait of the continuing trend of young Catholics disassociating not only with institutional Catholicism and Christianity, but all religion. It gives us a glimpse of young Catholics who find themselves in a holy frustration, wrestling with disjointed elements of reality afflicting the church, nation and world.
Drawing a picture of the insights young people offers to Catholic educators and other leaders requires both reflection and synthesis, in which one must consider two things: why young people don’t join or stay in faith communities, as well as fresh possibilities for practitioners of faith to enliven their minds and hearts with curiosity and imagination.
A synodal path allows curiosity to become a vehicle for young people to encounter the sacred resident in texts, in traditions, in themselves, in others, in creation. In short, synodality offers a pathway for young people to unbundle existential questions including the meaning of life, vocation, suffering and salvation.
The Catholic Edition underscores the significance of embracing and satisfying the curiosity, wholeness, connection and adaptability that young people crave and synodality promotes, which can be met with the turn to pastoral care that Francis’ papacy punctuates.
Katherine Angulo V., who prepares pastoral leaders for long-term ministry at the University of Notre Dame, writes in the forward of the Catholic Edition:
“Young people desire to be listened to … Like Jesus’ listening on the road [to Emmaus], our listening as teachers and ministers must take place on the roads young people are traveling. We must go out to them. We must ask questions first, and then we must be prepared to answer the questions young people will inevitably ask us: Why do you stay? Why do you still believe?”
She adds, “When I receive these questions, I have the chance to convey my joy, my gratitude, my sense of service, my sense of fulfillment. I can share the history of God’s action in my life — not just salvation history, but family history, the stories of my community, and the ways God is alive.” Synodality for all
Francis hoped for a participative and inclusive synodal process that “offers everyone — especially those who for various reasons find themselves on the margins — the opportunity to express themselves and to be heard in order to contribute to the edification of the People of God.”
For young people, the experience of encountering a listening, curious and compassionate church becomes the yeast for fostering communion, participation and mission — the three markers that characterize the synod process underway in the church.