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NOTE: The following letter was published in the January 24, 2019 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
My dear brothers and sisters,
Last week, I participated in the March for Life in Washington, D.C. The excitement of our youth at the Masses and the March itself was so contagious. Youth from our schools and St. Peter's University Parish/Catholic Center at Rutgers University attended in very good numbers, joining so many others from throughout our region and country. One of the many blessings I have found since coming to our diocese are our youth. It is always a joy to be with them. Whether I meet them in a parish after Mass, at a service project in the community where they are assisting others, at confirmation or at one of our Catholic schools or religious education programs, I always come away with a renewed sense of hope and joy. These are the young people that will lead the “revolution of tenderness” envisioned by Pope Francis. I am blessed to be their Shepherd and embrace being with them in this revolution!
Young people today are faced with so many challenges and opportunities, it really takes all of us to help guide and prepare our youth to be vigilant against evil in their future. With that in mind, Pope Francis specifically convened a worldwide synod in October 2018 on the theme: Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment. When he initiated the process, he addressed a letter to the youth of the world, telling them that he wanted this synod because, “I wanted you to be the center of attention, because you are in my heart.” It was his intention that the synod would be a process of discernment “so that young people can discover their life goals and realize them with joy, opening themselves up to an encounter with God.”
Uniquely, prior to the Synod a questionnaire was sent around the world to hear directly from our youth about the world in which they live. The questionnaire stated that “the Church has decided to examine herself on how she can lead young people to recognize and accept the call to the fullness of life and love, and to ask young people to help her in identifying the most effective ways to announce the Good News today.” Young people around the world answered enthusiastically, and not surprisingly, very honestly. In our diocese, our youth and young adults convened in a variety of ways to respond to the challenge of the document.
They spoke candidly about their concerns relating to racism, immigration, the economy and family life/marriage, same sex attraction, the role of women in the Church and environmental issues. They questioned the role of the young in the day to day life of the parish and how the weekly homilies apply to them. They expressed concerns about the ability of the Church to engage in the digital world.
In other parts of the world, the young people spoke of the fear of being persecuted for their faith, war, and poverty. Though my concerns were different at that age, like our youth today, I also desired authenticity, Gospel truths, and a challenge. Today, we are able to face these challenges together.
Before the Synod last October, 300 young people from all over the world met in Rome to produce a document on their ideas and feelings, their view of the world and their recommendations. This document was used by the bishops as they did the work of the synod, and has helped to inform the final report issued by the Vatican earlier this month. I have asked the Catholic Spirit together with our new Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, John Glynn, to publish some articles on the final document, to help us understand where the Church would like us to go with ministry to and with our youth.
As you can imagine, I consider this to be an important document. As I read it, and read the many concerns expressed by the young people and the bishops, it confirmed for me the need for all of us to be in meaningful dialogue with young people. How can we lead them towards discovering their goals and Christ if we do not listen to and empathize with their current experiences? With that in mind, during Catholic Schools Week, I am meeting with a group of students from our four high schools, and another group of eighth-graders so that we can begin together to chart our way. This follows up on a previous “listening session” I have had with students from our high schools, and will be the first of the listening sessions I will have since the Synod report has been issued. This will lead us to conducting more “listening sessions” with youth throughout our diocese.
By convening the Synod on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment, the Holy Father is very clearly declaring that we, as a Church, must invest time, energy and resources in our young people. As we all know, the young are in the heart of God and in the heart of the Church. We, young and old, are all called now to collaborate by using the gifts of the Holy Spirit to guide and protect the young people entrusted to our care.
I am grateful to the many youth ministers who labor in our diocese, and to the many teachers, administrators and staffs in our religious education programs and Catholic schools. Each year, the Church celebrates Catholic Schools Week and I certainly want to thank all those who make them such great places in our diocese; they are a blessing which carries on throughout the school day, what our parents try to pass on to their children at home. A sacrifice, yes, but one well worth it.
I want our youth to know that we love them and are here with and for them. With all the challenges in our world, with increasing anxiety and depression amongst so many youth in our day, Jesus Christ is the answer, and while growing closer to Him ourselves, He awaits us to help bring our youth closer to Him. May He help us in our efforts, and thank you for making this a priority in our Church, too. God bless you all.
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen