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Christopher White: Unfettered message from youth to help church get to the truth

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Christopher White
Christopher White is co-writer and co-curator of the Catholic News Service column "In Light of Faith." White is national correspondent for Crux. (CNS photo/courtesy Christopher White)

By CHRISTOPHER WHITE

Speaking at a recent ordination of new priests in Ireland, Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said changes in the today’s culture must lead to changes in the church — particularly as it pertains to young people.

“Change is painful. There is however no alternative,” he said. “Catholics must learn new ways in which they can win young hearts for what the teaching of Jesus involves.”

“The Irish church has to relearn the ability to speak the language of faith authentically in a world where that language may be alien. The church in Ireland needs a radical overhaul in its outreach in faith toward young people,” he continued.

Archbishop Martin’s words come just two months after the majority Catholic country voted overwhelmingly to legalize abortion and just one month before the World Meeting of Families, where Pope Francis will visit the island country for two days.

While an entirely separate event — the World Meeting of Families takes place every three years and is targeted at addressing the specific challenges of family life — in some respects, this year’s event can be considered a teaser for the upcoming synod on “Young people, the faith and vocational discernment,” which will take place in Rome this October.

For starters, organizers of this year’s World Meeting of Families have made a deliberate point of not avoiding the messiness of family life throughout the world. While making clear that the church’s ideal for family cannot be compromised, the programming for the event was designed in a way to acknowledge that a multitude of Catholics are at varying stages of striving toward that ideal without yet achieving it.

It’s for that reason the organizers have emphasized that all are welcome at this event, regardless of how imperfect their family life may be — pledging to be the most open World Meeting of Families to date. It’s not a compromise, they’ve maintained, but rather a condition for welcoming and inviting everyone into a deeper understanding of what the church teaches.

Similarly, the upcoming synod — while intent on serving as an occasion to better understand the needs of young people today — isn’t trying to whitewash the realities that many young people find themselves living in today. It’s for that reason Pope Francis has urged the honest participation of young people so he can hear directly from them, rather than being filtered by other members of the church.

While such an approach has risks — many outside critics have said this risks capitulation to secular values or a blurring of doctrinal boundaries — for Pope Francis, this approach is the only way the church can prove that she is trustworthy: real people striving toward real solutions.

The “instrumentum laboris,” the synod’s working document that was released last month by the Vatican, concludes with a meditation on holiness and declares that the witness of the great saints of the faith, particularly young ones, can serve as a guide for young people today.

The stories of many of those saints are ones in which their holiness was forged by suffering, struggles, temptations — and to use Archbishop Martin’s phrase, “pain,” — and to gloss over those realities would be to tell a story that is incomplete. Both the World Meeting of Families and the synod are offering a more credible and complete witness by acknowledging that reality, as well.

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White is national correspondent for Crux. Follow him on Twitter @cwwhite21.

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