TORONTO (CCN) - As Canada's bishop delegates prepare for this fall's synod on young people in Rome, one objective is immediately clear - the voices of the young must take centre stage.
"I hope there will be lots of representatives (of young people), so we can get together and reflect on the experience of being Christian and young in the world today," said Bishop Stephen Jensen from the Diocese of Prince George, B.C. "We want them to help us discern the sign of the times and how the church can support young disciples in their life and in their mission."
Jensen and Bishop Fred Colli from Thunder Bay, Ont., have been chosen as synod delegates for the English sector of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. The president of the CCCB, Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, will be joined by Sherbrooke Archbishop Luc Cyr to represent the French sector at the Oct. 3-23 synod.
Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Dowd from Montreal and Quebec Auxiliary Bishop Louis Corriveau were elected as substitute delegates for the English and French sector respectively.
"I see in young people a thirst for developing projects, a thirst for dreams and a thirst to find a meaning in life," said Cyr, in an email translated from French. "The objective is to know how, with the church, we can respond to these thirsts of our times."
The four bishop delegates received copies of the consultation reports Canadian dioceses submitted last year in response to a Vatican-issued questionnaire. Their first task will be to study the diocesan summaries and take the questionnaire responses to heart.
"A lot of (the responses) are what you would expect. It talks about the situation of young people in western society and what are the challenges of living in a secular world," said Jensen. "It kind of confirms what our own experience is in this diocese."
In the Prince George diocese, Jensen said he has witnessed first-hand the importance of community support for young people. He has found that youth tend to thrive in community because they feel free to share and grow in their Catholic life. "Through that experience, I've seen many times, young people discovering their sense of vocation," said Jensen.
Now more than ever, young people need support, he said, because they are exposed to many ideologies in secular society which pose a threat to Catholic morality.
Questions about love, courtship and sexuality were recurring topics in the questionnaire responses, said Jensen, and the Catholic Church must continue to be a part of these conversations.
"It's not only an issue for young people in the context of the synod," he said. "This whole gender ideology that the pope has decried as 'ideological colonization,' those are all the challenges that our culture is sending towards everybody and not just our young people."
In his 22 years as bishop, Colli said he has always found that young people respond best when the Gospel speaks to their experience. He said young people want to put their faith into action and the church must take advantage of that spirit. "I know that when I celebrate a mass at a high school, I'm better able to gear my talk to the young people and to their life needs and see how the Gospel relates in that way and they appreciate that," said Colli. "But it doesn't always happen on Sunday morning."
The synod, Colli said, has to be an opportunity for the church to be more attentive to their spiritual needs. The church must also be more attentive to the needs of the Aboriginal youth in the community. Thunder Bay has the highest proportion of Aboriginal people among major Canadian cities. A little more than 12 per cent of the city's population identify as First Nations, Mètis and Inuit.
There will be a pre-synod meeting March 19-24 in Rome, where youth delegates around the world are invited to discuss their concerns. Canada is selecting two youth delegates for that meeting.