The October youth synod gave the Church in Canada an opportunity to examine its own youth ministry this year. Photo by Laura Jensen, CCO

2018: Year of Youth

By 
  • December 21, 2018

Youth issues took centre stage in the Catholic Church this year, and it’s very likely they will stay there in the new year.

As preparations for the Synod of Bishops ramped up for the October gathering in Rome, Church leaders in Canada took this opportunity to bring young people further into the life of the Church in Canada. 

“First of all, I listen. Before speaking, talking to them, I listen,” said Saint Jean-Longueuil Bishop Lionel Gendron, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Since the beginning, the Pope wanted young people to be able to express their mind... I tried, in my preparation, to attend all the meetings with young people.”

Gendron, like many of his fellow Canadian bishops, met with young people face-to-face in preparation for the Synod on Young People. If the Canadian Church is to move forward, he said, it was important to involve youth in the decision-making.

That same spirit is expected at World Youth Day Jan. 22-27, when more than a million pilgrims, including 1,400 Canadians, are expected in Panama City.

Canada’s World Youth Day co-ordinator Isabel Correa said the international gathering might be the first testing ground for lessons taken from the youth synod.

“I think (the synod) has been part of World Youth Day’s planning process from the very beginning. World Youth Day is being built upon the input of young people,” said Correa. “They look towards World Youth Day as a movement where they’re not shy about sharing their faith and it’s about making a global impact and it’s about feeding themselves this hope that keeps them alive.”

Preparations for the youth synod began in 2017 with the release of the synod’s first working document, which included a questionnaire and was later published online (synod2018.va). Consultations in the Canadian dioceses continued in 2018 as they ran their own versions of the Vatican questionnaire. 

Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO), a Canadian campus ministry organization, also conducted its own national survey in January based on the synod. 

“The synod itself was inviting feedback through a variety of formats but the Holy Father also requested for young people to make their voice known and so we wanted to give that opportunity as well to young people in Canada,” said CCO president Jeff Lockert. 

According to the survey, the three areas young people believe are most important for the Catholic Church are defending the truths of Catholicism, finding relevant ways to engage the world and evangelization/missionary work. 

The survey also indicated that 79 per cent of the 670 youth surveyed “struggle” with life issues, including abortion, physician-assisted death and stem cell research. That was followed by sexuality and marriage issues (78 per cent) and human rights and dignity (68 per cent). 

As the country continues to work on truth and reconciliation with its Indigenous communities, bishops wanted to make sure that Aboriginal youth were involved in the future of the Church. 

Twenty-one-year-old Cree native, Jacob Jason Genaille-Dustyhorn, was selected as a Canadian representative for the pre-synodal youth gathering in Rome March 19-24. Genaille-Dustyhorn said he approached the experience from an outside perspective, but he believed the virtues of religion are universal. 

“Every religion, they all have a Great Spirit that they look up to, so it’s kind of hard not to believe,” he said. “Believing is the greatest challenge for young people today…. They put their faith in something that can make them happy for maybe a year, instead of putting their faith in something that can make them happy their whole life.” 

Emilie Callan, a 29-year-old producer for Salt+Light Media, was the second representative at the pre-synod. She also went on to be one of two Canadian youth auditors at the youth synod. 

“From my part and I think for a lot of the young people there, we felt like we did have the freedom to speak,” she said. “There wasn’t one time where I felt I needed to hold back or anything like that.” 

The synod final report was released Oct. 27. It raised issues of human sexuality, the role of women and the fragmenting effects of the digital world. It also briefly addressed the Church’s response to sex abuse scandals that broke out in Pennsylvania in the summer. 

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