VATICAN CITY — Bishops from Chile and Puerto Rico told the Synod of Bishops that the church must do more to help young people live out their faith and involve them in the life of the church rather than leaving them to find guidance elsewhere.
Bishop Moises Atisha Contreras of San Marcos de Arica, Chile, told synod members Oct. 16 that young people have not stopped believing in God, and they continue to search for the transcendent “in other places and experiences.”
“There are studies that indicate an increasing dissatisfaction among young people within the ecclesial institutional experience because it does not respond to their most profound seeking,” Bishop Atisha said.
The 49-year-old Chilean bishop said young people need a sincere accompaniment that gives them a true experience of being loved as they are “without condition, without prejudices and freely.”
Bishop Atisha made several suggestions for how the church could respond to the needs of young men and women, especially their longing for a church that is “a place of refuge and care for the excluded.”
A servant church, he said, is a “church that accompanies without persecuting or ‘flattening out’ the expectations of those being accompanied; a sincerely free accompaniment is longed for, where what matters is that each young person encounters the meaning of their existence.”
Bishop Atisha said the church must find ways to reach out to the places where young people spend their time, especially on social media “where the Gospel message can be placed in an efficient matter.”
“The church, its pastoral ministry and way of being today,” he added, “is perceived as slow in its response, like a ‘grandmother church,’ that is not in line with the current times and media; with good reason there are complaints since it continues doing the same thing it always has, without reading into what is happening, responding with new methods, or new actions and priorities.”
Also speaking to the synod Oct. 16, Bishop Ruben Gonzalez Medina of Ponce, Puerto Rico, said young Catholics have an “urgent need” to have a “personal and communal encounter” with Christ in the church.
Speaking on behalf of the Puerto Rican bishops, the bishop offered six concrete proposals to help young people experience a “conscious and committed discernment” that responds to the Gospel message.
Among the proposals was a two-year “missionary discipleship” formation program before the young person receives the sacrament of confirmation.
The program, he said, would allow young people to obtain “an adequate catechesis that lays the foundation and strengthens the gift of faith received at baptism.”
Young people would learn the importance of maintaining a life of prayer and would spend time doing community service so that “they may discover that we Christians are called to serve.”
Bishop Gonzalez highlighted the need for young people to take an active role in decision-making bodies within the church and the diocese, such as by serving on parish and diocesan councils.
They also must feel welcomed in liturgical celebrations that correspond to their own way of speaking, which would increase their appreciation of the sacraments and the important tenets of the Catholic faith.
The church should develop a Eucharistic Prayer for celebrations where the majority of participants are young people, he said. The prayer would use language that is clear and closer to their language, but would express fully Catholic faith in the paschal mystery, he said.
He also suggested the church develop a program for newlyweds that would last “at least a year” after the wedding and would help young couples “realize what it means to establish a domestic church.”