Catholic Bishops Conclude Synod on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment


From October 3-28, the Catholic Church hosted a synod of bishops in Vatican City. Their focus: young people, faith, and vocational discernment.

According to Religion News Service, Millennials played a significant role in the summit, and while they were not given a vote on decisions before the bishops, they were pleasantly surprised by the humility of the Catholic hierarchy, the questions they asked, and their emphasis on listening. Pope Francis took an active role in encouraging the enthusiasm of the young people, who responded to several of the bishop’s remarks with applause.

David Gibson reports:

The churchmen themselves, from Pope Francis on down, seemed just as surprised, and delighted, by the effect of the young delegates. The young people sometimes whooped or cheered the brief speeches that each of the more than 300 participants delivered, grading them according to a “clap-o-meter” they developed.

Francis at one point walked up into the youth section in the theater-seating lecture hall where the closed-door meeting is held to encourage them to keep making noise.

In his homily during closing Mass, Pope Francis addressed the young people who attended the summit, saying, “As Christ’s Church, we want to listen to you with love, certain of two things: that your lives are precious in God’s eyes, because God is young and loves young people, and that your lives are precious in our eyes too, and indeed necessary for moving forward.”

Crux reports that the bishops also had a message for the young people of Catholic Church, and issued a letter following the closing Mass. In the letter, the bishops urged young people to remain steadfast in faith despite the failings of their leaders, to companion those who are suffering and poor, and to continue to pursue their dreams with enthusiasm. The bishops wrote, “You are the present; be a brighter future.”

Crux also reports that the young delegates responded with a letter of their own, expressing thanks to Pope Francis and optimism regarding the church’s future.

One of the more intriguing exhortations from Pope Francis that emerged from the synod was the call to an “apostolate of the ear,” a way of leadership among the bishops and clergy to listen more closely to those that they serve within the church and also within the broader community.

The Catholic Church is well known for its hierarchical structure, one that is at times criticized for its top-down style of leadership. In this synod, that model of leadership held. But the bishops made space to listen carefully across the generational divide, in some instances stretching established rules of decorum or ignoring precedent in order for young people to be heard. Though the young people did not have a vote, they did feel as though they had been given voice. And while they now expect to see action, they were encouraged by the leadership’s efforts to listen.

This model is instructive, as are the results. Churches that create space for young people to voice their criticisms, concerns, and ideas foster connection and a shared sense of purpose. Leaders who listen demonstrate that they care.

But once the listening sessions are over and the conversations conclude, emerging generations will continue to look for action, results, for fruit. They will continue to measure the church’s witness by whether or not their words and deeds align.