Pope asks bishops, young people to drop their prejudices as synod begins

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis asked bishops to be bold,
honest, open-minded, charitable and, especially, prayerful as they begin a
three-week meeting on “young people, the faith and vocational

While many young people think no older person has anything
useful to teach them for living today, the pope said, the age of the bishops,
combined with clericalism, can lead “us to believe that we belong to a
group that has all the answers and no longer needs to listen or learn

“Clericalism is a perversion and is the root of many
evils in the church,” Pope Francis said Oct. 3 at the synod’s first
working session. “We must humbly ask forgiveness for this and above all
create the conditions so that it is not repeated.”

The pope formally welcomed 267 bishops and priests as
voting members of the synod, eight fraternal delegates from other Christian
churches and another 72 young adults, members of religious orders and lay men
and women observers and experts at the synod, which will meet through Oct. 28.

He also thanked the thousands of young people who responded
to a Vatican questionnaire, participated in a presynod meeting in March or
spoke to their bishops about their concerns. With the gift of their time and
energy, he said, they “wagered that it is worth the effort to feel part of
the church or to enter into dialogue with her.”

They showed that, at least on some level, they believe the
church can be a mother, teacher, home and family to them, he said. And they are
asserting that “despite human weaknesses and difficulties,” they
believe the church is “capable of radiating and conveying Christ’s
timeless message.”

“Our responsibility here at the synod,” the pope
said, “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!”

Pope Francis began the synod with an invitation that every
participant “speak with courage and frankness” because “only
dialogue can help us grow.”

But he also asked participants to be on guard against
“useless chatter, rumors, conjectures or prejudices” and to be humble
enough to listen to others.

Many of the synod participants arrived in Rome with the text
of the three-minute speech they intended to give, but the pope asked them
“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

A willingness to “change our convictions and positions,”
he said, is “a sign of great human and spiritual maturity.”

The synod is designed to be an “exercise in discernment,”
the pope told them. “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 based on the conviction that God is at
work in world history, in life’s events, in the people I meet and who speak to
me,” he said. It requires listening and prayer, which is why the pope has
added a rule that after every five speeches there will be a three-minute pause
for silent reflection and prayer.

Listening to the Spirit, listening to God in prayer and
listening to the hopes and dreams of young people are part of the church’s
mission, the pope said. The preparatory process for the synod “highlighted
a church that needs to listen, including to those young people who often do not
feel understood by the church” or feel they “are not accepted for who
they really are, and are sometimes even rejected.”

Listening to each other, especially young people and bishops
listening to each other, he said, is the only way the synod can come to any
helpful suggestions for leading more young people to the faith or for
strengthening the faith of young people involved in church life.

“Adults should overcome the temptation to underestimate
the abilities of young people and (should) not judge them negatively,” he said.
“I once read that the first mention of this fact dates back to 3000 B.C. 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.”

Young people, too, he said, must “overcome the
temptation to ignore adults and to consider the elderly ‘archaic, outdated and
boring,’ forgetting that it is foolish always to start from scratch as if life
began only with each of them.”

Pope Francis, who was asked by a couple of bishops to postpone
the synod because of the clerical sexual abuse scandal, said he knows the
present moment is “laden with struggles, problems, burdens. But our faith
tells us that it is also the ‘kairos’ (opportune moment) in which the Lord
comes to meet us in order to love us and call us to the fullness of life.”

The goal of the synod, Pope Francis said, is not to prepare
a document — synod documents, he said, generally are “only read by a few
and criticized by many ” — but to identify “concrete pastoral
proposals” that would help all church members reach out to, walk with and
support the faith of young people.

In other words, he said, the goal is “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.”

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