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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The first session of the Synod of Youth

At 4:30pm this afternoon (10:30am EDT), in the presence of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, the first General Congregation (session) of the XV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will focus on the theme of Youth, faith and vocational discernment began in the Synod Hall at the Vatican.  The sessions will take place from 3 to 28 October 2018.

During this first Congregation, the Holy Father shared a few thoughts with the participants who were gathered.  This was followed by a speech presented by Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops and comments presented by Cardinal Sérgio da Rocha, Relator General.


Greetings of His Holiness, Pope Francis
at the beginning of the XV Ordinary General Assembly
of the Synod of Bishops

Dear Beatitudes, Eminences, Excellencies,
Dear brothers and sisters, and beloved young people!

Entering this hall to talk about young people, we already feel the strength of their presence that emanates a positivity and enthusiasm capable of filling and gladdening not only this hall, but the whole Church and the whole world.

That is why I cannot begin without saying thank you! I thank you who are present, I thank the many people, who throughout this two-year period of preparation have worked with dedication and passion – here in the Church of Rome and in all the Churches of the world – to enable us to reach this moment. I warmly thank Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod, the President Delegates, Cardinal Sérgio da Rocha, the General Relator, His Excellency, Fabio Fabene, the Undersecretary, the Officials of the General Secretariat as well as their Assistants; I thank all of you Synod Fathers, Auditors, experts and consultors; I thank the fraternal Delegates, translators, singers and journalists. I thank you wholeheartedly for your active and fruitful participation.

A profound thank you is due to the two Special Secretaries, Jesuit Father Giacomo Costa, and Salesian Father Rossano Sala, who have worked generously with dedication and selflessness. They have worked themselves to the bone in preparation!

I would also like to sincerely thank the young people connected to us now, and all the youth who in so many ways have made their voices heard. I thank them for having wagered that it is worth the effort to feel part of the Church or to enter into dialogue with her; worth the effort to have the Church as a mother, as a teacher, as a home, as a family, and, despite human weaknesses and difficulties, capable of radiating and conveying Christ’s timeless message; worth the effort to hold onto the boat of the Church which, despite the world’s cruel storms, continues to offer shelter and hospitality to everyone; worth the effort to listen to one another; worth the effort to swim against the tide and be bound by lofty values: family, fidelity, love, faith, sacrifice, service, eternal life. Our responsibility here at the Synod is not to undermine them; but rather to show that they are right to wager: it truly is worth the effort, it is not a waste of time!

And I thank you in particular, dear young people who are present! The path of preparation for the Synod has taught us that the universe of the young is so varied that it cannot be fully represented, but you are certainly an important sign of it. Your participation fills us with joy and hope.

The Synod we are living is a moment of sharing. I wish, therefore, at the beginning of the Synod Assembly, to invite everyone to speak with courage and frankness (parrhesia), namely to integrate freedom, truth and charity. Only dialogue can help us to grow. An honest, transparent critique is constructive and helpful, and does not engage in useless chatter, rumours, conjectures or prejudices.

And humility in listening must correspond to courage in speaking. I told the young people in the pre-Synod Meeting: If you say something I do not like, I have to listen even more, because everyone has the right to be heard, just as everyone has the right to speak. This open listening requires courage in speaking and in becoming the voice of many young people in the world who are not present. It is this listening that creates space for dialogue. The Synod must be an exercise in dialogue, above all among those of you who are participating. The first fruit of this dialogue is that everyone is open to newness, to change their opinions thanks to what they have heard from others. This is important for the Synod. Many of you have already prepared your interventions beforehand – and I thank you for this work – but I invite you to feel free to consider what you have prepared as a provisional draft open to any additions and changes that the Synod journey may suggest to each of you. Let us feel free to welcome and understand others and therefore to change our convictions and positions: this is a sign of great human and spiritual maturity.

The Synod is an ecclesial exercise in discernment. To speak frankly and listen openly are fundamental if the Synod is to be a process of discernment. Discernment is not an advertising slogan, it is not an organizational technique, or a fad of this pontificate, but an interior attitude rooted in an act of faith. Discernment is the method and at the same time the goal that we set for ourselves: it is based on the conviction that God is at work in world history, in life’s events, in the people I meet and those who speak to me. For this reason, we are called to listen to what the Spirit suggests to us, with methods and in paths that are often unpredictable. Discernment needs space and time. And so, during the work done in plenary assembly and in groups, after five interventions are made, a moment of silence of approximately three minutes will be observed. This is to allow everyone to recognize within their hearts the nuances of what they have heard, and to allow everyone to reflect deeply and to seize upon what is most striking. This attention to interiority is the key to accomplishing the work of recognizing, interpreting and choosing.

We are a sign of a Church that listens and journeys. The attitude of listening cannot be limited to the words we will exchange during the work of the Synod. The path of preparation for this moment has highlighted a Church that needs to listen, including those young people who often do not feel understood by the Church in their originality and therefore not accepted for who they really are, and sometimes even rejected. This Synod has the opportunity, the task and the duty to be a sign of a Church that really listens, that allows herself to be questioned by the experiences of those she meets, and who does not always have a ready-made answer. A Church that does not listen shows herself closed to newness, closed to God’s surprises, and cannot be credible, especially for the young who will inevitably turn away rather than approach.

Let us leave behind prejudice and stereotypes. A first step towards listening is to free our minds and our hearts from prejudice and stereotypes. When we think we already know who others are and what they want, we really struggle to listen to them seriously. Relationships across generations are a terrain in which prejudice and stereotypes take root with proverbial ease, so much so that we are often oblivious to them. Young people are tempted to consider adults outdated; adults are tempted to regard young people as inexperienced, to know how they are and especially how they should be and how they should behave. All of this can be an overwhelming obstacle to dialogue and to the encounter between generations. Most of those present do not belong to a younger generation, so it is clear that we must pay attention, above all, to the risk of talking about young people in categories and ways of thinking that are already outmoded. If we can avoid this risk, then we will help to bridge generations. Adults should overcome the temptation to underestimate the abilities of young people and not judge them negatively. I once read that the first mention of this fact dates back to 3000 BC and was discovered on a clay pot in ancient Babylon, where it is written that young people are immoral and incapable of saving their people’s culture. This is an old tradition belonging to us old ones! Young people, on the other hand, should overcome the temptation to ignore adults and to consider the elderly as archaic, outdated and boring, forgetting that it is foolish always to start from scratch as if life began only with each of them. Despite their physical frailty, the elderly are always the memory of mankind, the roots of our society, the pulse of our civilization. To spurn them, reject them, isolate or snub them is to yield to a worldly mentality that is devouring our homes from within. To neglect the rich experiences that each generation inherits and transmits to the next is an act of self-destruction.

It is therefore necessary, on the one hand, to decisively overcome the scourge of clericalism. Listening and leaving aside stereotypes are powerful antidotes to the risk of clericalism, to which an assembly such as this is inevitably exposed, despite our intentions. Clericalism arises from an elitist and exclusivist vision of vocation, that interprets the ministry received as a power to be exercised rather than as a free and generous service to be given. This leads us to believe that we belong to a group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen or learn anything, or that pretends to listen. Clericalism is a perversion and is the root of many evils in the Church: we must humbly ask forgiveness for this and above all create the conditions so that it is not repeated.

We must, on the other hand, cure the virus of self-sufficiency and of hasty conclusions reached by many young people. An Egyptian proverb says: If there is no elderly person in your home, buy one, because you will need him. To shun and reject everything handed down across the ages brings only a dangerous disorientation that sadly threatens our humanity, it brings a disillusionment which has invaded the hearts of whole generations. The accumulation of human experiences throughout history is the most precious and trustworthy treasure that one generation inherits from another. Without ever forgetting divine revelation, that enlightens and gives meaning to history and to our existence.

Brothers and sisters, may the Synod awaken our hearts! The present moment, and this applies also to the Church, appears to be laden with struggles, problems, burdens. But our faith tells us that it is also the kairos in which the Lord comes to meet us in order to love us and call us to the fullness of life. The future is not a threat to be feared, but is the time the Lord promises us when we will be able to experience communion with him, with our brothers and sisters, and with the whole of creation. We need to rediscover the reasons for our hope and, above all, to pass them on to young people who are thirsting for hope. As the Second Vatican Council affirmed: We can justly consider that the future of humanity lies in the hands of those who are strong enough to provide coming generations with reasons for living and hoping (Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 31).

The meeting between generations can be extremely fruitful for giving rise to hope. The prophet Joel teaches us this – I reminded young people at the pre-Synod meeting – and I consider it the prophecy of our time: Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions (2:28) and they will prophesy.

There is no need for sophisticated theological arguments to prove our duty to help the contemporary world to walk towards God’s kingdom, free of false hope and without seeing only ruin and woe. Indeed, when speaking about those who consider reality without sufficient objectivity or prudent judgment, Saint John XXIII said: In the current conditions of human society they are not capable of seeing anything except ruin and woe; they go around saying that in our times, compared to the past, everything is worse; and they even go as far as to behave as if they had nothing to learn from history, which is our teacher (Address on the solemn opening of the Second Vatican Council, 11 October 1962).

Do not let yourselves be tempted, therefore, by the prophets of doom, do not spend your energy on keeping score of failures and holding on to reproaches, keep your gaze fixed on the good that often makes no sound; it is neither a topic for blogs, nor front page news, and do not be afraid before the wounds of Christ’s flesh, always inflicted by sin and often by the children of the Church (cf Address to Bishops participating in the course promoted by the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for Oriental Churches, 13 September 2018).

Let us therefore work to spend time with the future, to take from this Synod not merely a document – that generally is only read by a few and criticized by many – but above all concrete pastoral proposals capable of fulfilling the Synod’s purpose. In other words, to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another, and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands, and inspire in young people – all young people, with no one excluded – a vision of the future filled with the joy of the Gospel. Thank you.


Greetings of His Eminence, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri
Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops

Holy Father,
Your Eminences, Beatitudes and Excellencies,
Brothers and sisters,

With joy and emotion I speak at the beginning of the XV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, dedicated to Youth, faith and vocational discernment. On behalf of the Synod Fathers and the other participants, I would like to thank Your Holiness for having desired to entrust the Synod with reflection on such an important and universal theme, which concerns those who are in the heart of the Church and who constitute great hope for the present and also for the future of humanity. In fact, as Blessed Paul VI declares on the occasion of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, the Church "worked to rejuvenate its own face, in order to better correspond to the design of its Founder, the great Living, the eternally young Christ. And at the end of this impressive revision of life; it turns to you: it is for you young people, especially for you, that the Church, with its Council, has lit a light which brightens the future, your future (Paul VI, Message to young people, 8 December 1965). These words still retain their full validity as evidenced by the fact that Your Holiness reminded them of them in his inaugural speech at the pre-synodal meeting held in March this year. He then said: "The splendid Message to the young people of the Second Vatican Council comes to mind. It is also today an incentive to fight against all selfishness and to build a better world with courage. It is an invitation to seek new paths and to walk them boldly and confidently, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus and opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit, to rejuvenate the very face of the Church. Because it is in Jesus and the Spirit that the Church finds the strength to always renew itself, making a revision of life on its way of being, asking forgiveness for its fragility and inadequacies, not sparing the energies to put themselves at the service of all, with only intent to be faithful to the mission that the Lord has entrusted to her: to live and proclaim the Gospel (Francis, Speech on the occasion of the Opening of the Pre-Synodal Meeting, 19 March 2018). Therefore, this Synodal Assembly, which today enters its celebratory phase, is a real challenge for the whole People of God, Pastors and flocks, and for all the young people of the world, in view of the construction of the ever dreamed of civilization of love. It is opportune to remember what the Holy Father affirmed from the beginning of the Synod journey the Church wants to listen to the voice, sensitivity, faith and also the doubts and criticisms of the young (Pope Francis, Catechesis for the General Audience, 4 October 2017). So, not only do we have to listen to young people first of all, but also - and for this we are gathered here! - respond with a heart of shepherds to their challenges through appropriate proposals and good advice to the Holy Father.

I would like to extend a respectful greeting to the Members and to the other participants taking part in this XV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, who have come from all the particular churches to address this issue of paramount importance for the future of the Church and society. As you well know, this is the third Synodal Assembly convened by Pope Francis. In fact, the first was the III Extraordinary General Assembly, the second was the XIV Ordinary General Assembly, both on the family.

These two Assemblies were followed by the publication of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Lætitia, which widely availed itself of the results of the Synodal works, projecting them at the same time towards further horizons. The final documents of the two synodal Assemblies constituted, in fact, the fundamental basis of the pontifical document: the Relatio Synodi 2014 is mentioned 52 times, while the Relatio Finalis 2015 is cited 84 times, for a total of 136 citations. In this way, the Holy Father has shown that he attaches particular importance to collegial and synodal work, welcoming and integrating it.

Amoris Lætitia has undoubtedly constituted an obligatory point of reference for the renewal of the pastoral care of marriage and family, for which many Episcopal Conferences have been prepared, as well as many dioceses and parishes. The fulcrum of this renewal can be found in chapter IV, in which the Holy Father, applying the Saint Paul's Hymn to Charity to married life, presents the characteristics of a mature love, which finds its highest expression in Christ.

Also of great importance is chapter VII, which speaks about the education of children. It offers some very interesting ideas, which can also shed light on various issues that we are preparing to face in this XV Ordinary General Assembly, which is precisely the third of Pope Francis' Pontificate, dedicated to the theme of Young people, faith and vocational discernment . It is evident that these Synodal Assemblies are connected by a common thread that is the renewal of the Church and of society starting with its most essential categories, namely the family and young people.

A - The Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis communio

Before entering into the life of this Ordinary General Assembly, it is right to mention an event of great historical significance for the synodal institution and for the whole Church. I am referring to the Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis communio which was recently promulgated by the Supreme Pontiff.

Since the beginning of this pontificate, the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, through the express wish of Pope Francis, has embarked on a long journey of revision of this institution and in particular of the Synod methodology. This process of revision was crowned by the promulgation of the aforementioned Apostolic Constitution. I thank the Holy Father for this important document of his papal magisterium, made public at the Press Conference of 17 September 2018.

The text of the Apostolic Constitution is divided into two large sections: a doctrinal section, composed of 10 paragraphs, and a disciplinary section, composed of 27 articles. There are four keys to reading this document.

The first is the reference to the Second Vatican Council, the generative womb of the Synod of Bishops, whose reference to the last ecumenical session is an opportunity for the Pope to resume and deepen some crucial theological cornerstones of the Council, particularly in the ecclesiological field.

The second key to reading the document refers to the theme of the renewal of the Church. Looking at the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis wants to inaugurate - as we read in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium - a new stage of evangelization (EC, 1), placing the Church in all the regions of the earth in a permanent state of mission (EC, 25).

The third key to understanding the document is to consider the Synod as an organism within the framework of a constitutively synodal Church, as proposed in the Holy Father's speech for the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops.

The fourth and last interpretation is given by the ecumenical dimension (cf EC, 10), which takes its cue from the aforementioned speech of the Holy Father, in which it was reiterated that the commitment to building up a synodal Church ... is filled with ecumenical implications.

The disciplinary section, is divided into five titles, for a total of 27 articles. The structure of this section highlights a fundamental novelty of the Constitution, the one that foresees the preparatory phase and the implementation phase, both of which are firmly incorporated in the synodal journey, transforming the Synod from a timely event to process that winds through time.

In this process, the preparatory phase actually acquires its own particular role. The activities, the initiatives can be multiple and varied. The Constitution provides, inter alia, the possibility of convening a pre-Synodal Meeting (Article 8), based on the model of the one celebrated last March, as an instrument for widening the scope of directly listening to the People of God.

The implementation phase is also important. The synodal conclusions, received by the Pope, which he will be able to take into account for the Post-Synodal Exhortation, remain a necessary reference. The Dicastery of the Roman Curia competent for this theme will work in harmony with the Synod toward its implementation.

The celebratory phase undoubtedly remains the central and fundamental moment of the synodal journey. It should be noted that the Apostolic Constitution provides for the possibility of celebrating the Synod Assemblies in more than one distinct period according to the judgement of the Roman Pontiff.

Two other documents follow the Apostolic Constitution: the Instruction on the celebration of the Synodal Assemblies and the activity of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops and a specific Rule concerning the development of the Synodal works. The Instruction came into effect on October 1, 2018, the date of its publication. The Regulations drawn up for this Ordinary General Assembly in their various language versions are available to the Synod Fathers and to the other participants in this Synod. They replace the Vademecum.

B - The XV Ordinary General Assembly

1. The participants of the Synodal Assembly

According to the Synodal Practices, confirmed and updated by the Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis communio, the Leaders of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, the Bishops elected by the Synods of the Bishops and the Councils of the Leaders of the Eastern Catholic Churches, the Bishops elected by the Episcopal Conferences, ten Religious elected by the Union of Superiors General and Heads of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia (Francis, Apostolic Constitution, Episcopalis communio, Article 2; Instruction Article 2). To these are added some Members appointed by the Holy Father (Instruction, Article 6).

Thus, as a whole, 267 Synodal Fathers are taking part in this Assembly: 32 ex officio (15 Patriarchs, Major Archbishops and Metropolitans of the Metropolitan Churches sui iuris of the Eastern Catholic Churches, 16 Heads of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the General Secretary and Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, 15 Members of the XIV Ordinary Council), 182 elected by the Episcopal Conferences (166), by the Eastern Churches (6) and by the Union of Superiors General (10) and 41 Members by papal appointment.

Among the members there are 51 Cardinals (including two Patriarchs and 3 Major Archbishops), 6 Patriarchs, 1 Major Archbishop, 45 Archbishops, 102 Residential Bishops, 37 Auxiliaries, 6 Apostolic Vicars and 1 Bishop Prelate), 10 Religious representing the Union of Superiors General and 10 members who have not received episcopal order, divided between diocesan and religious.

Ours is a broad and composite Assembly, an admirable fresco of the catholicity of the Church, in which sensibilities are reflected and the voices of the different continents and cultural spheres resound. In fact, this Synodal Assembly is a particular manifestation of the unity of the Catholic Church that acts cum Petro (with Peter) and sub Petro (under Peter), the disciple chosen by the Master to confirm the brothers in the one faith (cf Lk 22, 32).

I also take this opportunity to cordially greet the eight Fraternal Delegates, representatives of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, and a special guest, whose presence revives in us the will to work together to achieve the full visible unity of the Church of Christ, in awareness that even on a theme that is so relevant to young people, all Christians are called to find and follow a common path, so that their shared witness is credible in the eyes of the world.

Thanks also to the 23 experts, appointed by virtue of their skills to contribute to the work of the Synod as collaborators of the Special Secretaries, and to the 49 Auditors, who have come from all over the world. Among them there are not only specialists and youth ministry workers, but above all there are 34 young people from different cultures and geographical areas who bring the emerging voices of the institutions of local churches.

Lastly, special thanks to the Assistants, the Translators, the Technical Staff, as well as the Consultors, Officials and Collaborators of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, who - thanks to the competent coordination of the Under-Secretary, His Excellency Monsignor Fabio Fabene - have worked diligently in preparation for this Assembly and will still be called, throughout its duration, to lend steady and generous effort.

2. Preparation for the Synodal Assembly

The present Synodal Assembly is at the end of a long journey, which began with the decision of the Holy Father on 6 October 2016 to convene the XV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme: Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment. The purpose of this Synodal Assembly was well explained by the Pope himself with the following words: to accompany young people on their existential journey towards maturity so that, through a process of discernment, they can discover their plan for life and realize it with joy, opening up to the encounter with God and with men and to participate actively in building up the Church and society.

Starting with this convocation, the General Secretariat, together with the XIV Ordinary Council and a group of experts, began the process of preparation by preparing of the Preparatory Document, a text that was discussed and approved during the second Meeting of the Ordinary Council on 21 and 22 November 2016. This document was published on January 13, 2017 together with a Letter to young people by Pope Francis, with which he invited all young people not to be afraid and to listen to the Spirit who [...] suggests daring choices, instead of hesitating when their consciences ... ask them to risk following the Master, because the Church wishes to listen to their voice, their sensitivity, their faith, even their doubts and their criticisms. And he exhorted them: Make your cry heard, let it resound throughout your communities and let it reach the shepherds.

And here we are, coming from the 5 continents, to hear the voice of the young and respond to them with the heart of a Pastor! The first process of listening to the voice of the young people took place through a wide-ranging consultation by means of the Questionnaire contained in the Preparatory Document, which was sent to the Episcopal Conferences, the Oriental Churches and other groups. To this first listening were added three other important moments organized by the General Secretariat: an online questionnaire, the International Seminar on the Status of Youth and the Pre-synodal Meeting with the participation of young people from all over the world.

a) The online questionnaire

This was an important space for listening to young people through the website www.synod2018.va, which was opened on 14 June 2017, with the aim of involving young people from all over the world in the Synod journey and to show them that they are protagonists. The site included an online ad-hoc questionnaire, which was different from that of the Preparatory Document, with questions more suited to their existential situation, their difficulties and their desires. It was welcomed by young people in a favourable way. Many have evaluated the initiative as interesting, useful, beautiful, brilliant, and a wonderful opportunity (these are the words that they themselves used ...).

To interact even more with them, three profiles were opened on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram under the name Synod2018, so as to be able to enter directly into the world of young people. This information technology initiative was a winning experience that allowed it to be used in different ways - retained confidentiality - and will be retained even for other upcoming synodal work.

The website, which I mentioned above, remains open, while the online questionnaire was closed at the end of December 2017. In six months it had about 221,000 hits. Overall, there were 100,500 young people who answered all the questions we asked: 58,000 girls and 42,500 boys. Almost 51,000 participants, which correspond to 50.6% of completed questionnaires, turned out to be boys between the ages of 16 and 19, proving that the younger youth proved to be more sensitive to this initiative. However, it is important to note that the country from which the largest number of responses to the questionnaire arrived is Uganda, with more than 16,000 complete answers.

(Translation in progress)


Greetings of His Eminence, Sérgio da Rocha
Relator General of the Synod of Bishops

(Translation in progress)

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