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Looking Back at the Synod: Most Frequently Asked Questions

Emilie Callan

January 21, 2019
One of the more significant events which took place in 2018 was the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. The initial excitement surrounding this synod, after it was first called for back in 2016, slowed down after the recent eruption of the sex abuse crisis in the United States. In the weeks leading up to the month-long meeting, the raison d’être of the synod was even brought into question.
Catholic Twitter was going off the rails, and it was all too much to handle. As one of 36 young auditors preparing to participate in the synod, I was skeptical about diving head first into an event that had become almost controversial. However, an article published in America magazine reminded me that more hope was to be found in this synod than some believed and that perhaps having a conversation about young people with young people was exactly what the Church needed right now: a strong injection of joy and hope for the future.
Naturally, as soon as it ended, those on the outside were anxious to know if there was in fact any reason to believe in the benefit of going through with the synod. And so, since returning from Rome, I’ve been answering the same questions over and over again…with great pleasure! Each opportunity has helped me reflect more deeply on the experience, recall forgotten details, and perhaps help restore confidence.
Below are some of the questions I’ve been asked most frequently since returning from the synod of bishops.
 
What was your biggest takeaway?
The most memorable moments, for me, took place inside our circuli minori or small groups. We spent half of each week cooped up in a small room somewhere in Paul VI Hall (which is essentially a multi-use building where we had our synod plenary assemblies, our coffee breaks, and where the pope holds his general audiences) divided into small groups to propose amendments to the Instrumentum laboris or working document. Conversations sometimes became intense when bishops from entirely different backgrounds had difficulty understanding each other. But no matter how heated a conversation got, they all had profound respect for one another and always spoke with charity. I saw there was no reason to fear disagreement in those moments because everyone had been heard, points of view clarified, and we could finally arrive at a consensus or resolution. It was a profound teaching moment.
 
What did you say to the bishops?  
I had a chance to speak directly to all the bishops present in the synod hall in what the synod calls an “intervention”, a 4-minute talk. In my intervention, I shared my experience of having worked for two organizations that encourage young people to be protagonists in the New Evangelization.
After graduating from university, I worked as a lay missionary for Catholic Christian Outreach. I saw first-hand what happens when a young person falls in love with Jesus Christ and discovers the fullness of the Catholic faith, when it leads them to making radical decisions to live lives of holiness, and when their lives are a witness to others. At Salt + Light Television, young people play a central role in developing visually rich content for television and web that looks at a variety of topics through the lens of faith. I’m blessed to be able to use my unique gifts, talents, and professional formation to serve Catholics in Canada in that capacity. I wish more young people could have that experience.
I also told the bishops that we are often good at sharing the knowledge of faith, but we rarely succeed in inviting young people into a relationship with a loving God, in a place where they feel at home and which remains constant for the rest of their life. We need to teach people how to lead others into an encounter with Jesus Christ so that they can do the same.
You can read my full intervention (available only in French) here.
 
Did you feel listened to?
Yes. Our small working groups gave the auditors the greatest opportunity to speak and feel listened to. It was perhaps more challenging for those auditors in larger groups. But I assume the challenge was the same for bishops in large groups as well. Nevertheless, these meetings were opportunities to go deeper, ask questions, and even offer input. During our plenary assemblies, some bishops often affirmed what they had heard from auditors in their interventions or in their working groups.
 
Did anything change?
There was nothing earth-shattering or ground-breaking about the synod or about the Final document. No Church doctrine or moral teaching changed, but at the heart of the synod and of the Final document, there is very clearly renewed enthusiasm for engaging young people, for evangelization and proper formation. Young people, the document indicates, are at a point in their lives when they’ll make some of the most important decisions they’ll ever make. It’s basically prime time for learning how to lead a life of holiness and that will have an impact on families, parishes, workplaces, government, and the world. Energies need to be spent on making sure young men and women thirsting for beauty, goodness, and truth aren’t falling through the cracks.
 
Remembering the Final Mass  
Pope Francis’ words at the concluding Mass are a key to understanding the whole experience of the synod and what the Church desires for young people. In his final homily, the Holy Father reflected on Jesus’ encounter with Bartimaeus. Inspired by that story, he offered three essential steps along the journey of faith, also crucial when serving young people: listening patiently and openly, being a good neighbour and being close to one another, and bearing witness to the liberating message of Jesus. He asked us “How often do people feel the weight of our institutions more than the friendly presence of Jesus”? Sadly, many people my age see the Church as a weighty institution disconnected from reality, yet Her mission is to give us Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life.