TORONTO (CCN) — Canadian bishops heard it loud and clear. Young people are looking for accompaniment as the Canadian Catholic Church prepares for the 2018 Synod on Young People.
Diocesan youth offices across the country are submitting final reports based on months of consultation for the the 15th ordinary general assembly of the synod of bishops — titled “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment” — to take place in October next year.
In a Catholic Register survey of six dioceses across the country — Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Hamilton, Regina and St. Boniface, Man. — the message from the consultations was clear: young people are demanding more pastoral presence from their church.
“They are just coming of age and bumping into what would be the external Google search of the church,” said Rev. Frank Portelli, director of Toronto’s Office of Catholic Youth. “So what I would think the bishops are encountering is how do we make the information more accessible and . . . when you Google Catholic Church, who is controlling that message?”
Portelli, who authored the synod report for the archdiocese, said many points raised in the listening sessions so far have been concerns that the archdiocese’s youth office has heard for many years. Cardinal Thomas Collins, along with his four auxiliary bishops, heard young people’s concerns with building youth-friendly parish communities and more education in Catholic teaching.
“I think one of the biggest pieces of learning that came from the young people was that everyone was talking about the spirit of accompaniment,” said Christina Mines, youth ministry director in the Hamilton diocese in Ontario.
Mines spearheaded information gathering for Hamilton. In April she launched a streamlined version of the Vatican’s synod questionnaire. She also organized forums with focus groups in local parishes.
Hamilton young people, Mines said, named many concerns about secular issues and “tensions of faith.” She said the youth have a desire to be more educated about what the church teaches in issues about the sanctity of life, human rights for LGBT people and respecting the dignity of Aboriginal people.
Many dioceses approached consultations in a combination of one or all three methods: online surveys based on the Vatican’s synod questionnaire, consultations with key groups and open town-hall meetings for the general public.
“Specifically talking about the town hall, that was something that as we were running it, Michelle (Braden) and I kind of looked at each other and said, ‘Why haven’t we done this before,’ ” said Braden Kuntz, one half of the youth leadership team in the Archdiocese of Regina. “The town halls are something that we want to continue doing, not just in youth ministry, but really in all aspects of the diocese.”
Many of the concerns raised, like fewer people considering religious vocations, are nothing new, said Kuntz. But in every consultation, he said, young people consistently reminded leaders “don’t give up on us.”
In most diocesan consultations, youth directors are finding most of their respondents within the Catholic community. Although Pope Francis has commissioned dioceses to consult “the entire People of God,” Canada’s youth directors still find it difficult to reach people who are not in the pews.
Clayton Imoo, from the Archdiocese of Vancouver, said finding non-Catholic respondents meant that someone from the Catholic community sent them a link to the online survey. And so, he said, examining the “entry point” in which these non-Catholics were reached might become the key to their evangelization.
“With a lot of (non-Catholics), there’s definitely a lot of intrigue about Pope Francis, in just how approachable and responsive he seems,” he said.
“There’s also intrigue I think about how or if the church is going to change its teachings on different issues.”
However, like in many other dioceses across the country, resources for youth offices are limited.
In the Vancouver archdiocese, Imoo is the former youth director. His title recently changed to associate director of Ministries and Outreach office after an amalgamation of ministry offices. Imoo assured that all youth programs and youth office staff have been retained, but their duties now also include family ministry and general outreach.
“Everybody keeps saying we want training and formation. And then, we’re also faced with the reality of the lack of resources,” said Isabel Correa, director of the Montreal archdiocese’s Mission Jeunesse office.
A position was recently cut from the Jeunesse office’s four-person team. Correa said the consultations and the synod itself is an opportunity to keep these issues on the mind of the Canadian church.
“That’s been brought up in the synods a lot, the scarcity of our multipliers,” said Correa. “The busyness of people who work with young people and their lack of time to just be present . . . It keeps it on the dialogue table.”
All Canadian dioceses’ reports, along with reports from around the world, will contribute to the Vatican’s preparatory document to be published early 2018.