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A message from the bishop

Listening to the hopes, dreams and concerns of youth
(July/August 2017)

 
My dear friends,
 
The Synod of Bishops is a group of Catholic bishops who have been chosen from different regions of the world to meet every three years or so to assist the pope by considering topics pertaining to the activity of the Church in the world. The last two synods produced Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortations The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) and The Joy of Love (Amoris laetitia), the first of which addressed the task of the New Evangelization, while the latter dealt with the pastoral care of the family. Both synodal documents continue to be studied as a guide for the life of the Church.
 
The next Synod of Bishops is looming into view, to be celebrated in October 2018. Its title is “Young
People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” These are three important topics and they are inter-related when it comes to the life and vitality of the Church. The target population for the synod’s reflection will be Catholics between the ages of 14 and 29.
 
The rate of attrition in the Catholic Church in general, and among young people in particular, is quite alarming. Nearly 50 percent of Catholic teenagers lose their Catholic identity by their late 20s, according to a 2015 University of Notre Dame study. Even though the number of Americans identifying themselves as “nones,” or nonaffiliated with any religion, has risen to more than 20 percent (Pew Research Center, 2017), leaving the Catholic Church rarely means becoming an atheist. Many former Catholics still believe in God, and some of them still pray. But they tend to identify themselves as “spiritual, not religious.” They embrace the attitude that they can believe in Jesus, but leave the Church behind. Feelings, not the institution, are important: “I’m happy, I’m fine and so are my friends.” Moreover, some young Catholics believe Catholicism is incompatible with what they are learning in high school or college.
 
Other formidable challenges exist. The Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame issued a
2015 report entitled “Understanding Former Young Catholics: Findings from a National Study of American
Emerging Adults.” While the study identified some promising avenues for approaching young Catholics, it
also noted challenging realities:
• Catholic teachings strike teens and young adults as narrow and rigid.
• There is much more pluralism and churchhopping today, which makes youths hesitant to make religious commitments.
• The faith of parents influences whether children grow up to be committed Catholics. Today’s Catholic parents tend to be less committed, less consistent, less vocal and less sophisticated about their faith.
• There is a widespread conviction among youths that faith and reason, revelation and science, are
fundamentally incompatible.
 
It is within this challenging environment that the worldwide Church begins to prepare for its next synod.
As is the case with all synods, every diocese has been asked to consult with those who can assist in forming the document to be used as the starting point for the synod’s discussion. During this preparatory period, I intend to spend time listening to young people across the diocese. I hope to learn about their hopes, concerns, dreams and desires. I am inviting our young people to one of our diocesan listening sessions as a way of gathering important feedback for the synod’s consideration. I will be asking pastors and parish ministers to spend time listening to our young people as well. These listening sessions will take place in their local communities.
 
As Catholic adults, we have a rich legacy of faith to pass on to our children throughout their years as emerging adults and beyond. The upcoming synod’s focus upon youth is an important aspect of the overarching mission of evangelization. We who are today’s Church must be inspired to find a clear and inviting way to proclaim our faith to all young people, Catholic or not. Let us pray together for the success of this synod and for Pope Francis as he continues to shepherd the Church. May our efforts to assist in this preparatory process enable the Church, the family of faith, to encounter, encourage and accompany our young people along the spiritual journey that leads to a personal knowledge and love of Christ, the Good Shepherd. 
 
Sincerely yours in the Lord,
Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak
 
THE DIOCESE WANTS TO HEAR FROM YOUTHS AND YOUNG ADULTS TO PREPARE FOR THE SYNOD. PARTICIPATE IN A SURVEY AT bit.ly/DOGRSynod2018. WATCH FOR INFORMATION ON LISTENING SESSIONS AT YOUR LOCAL PARISH.