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‘Young people must learn the significance and historical context of the Second Vatican Council’ — Archbishop Rino Fisichella

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization's section for new evangelization, speaks at a conference titled "Vatican II in the age of Millennials" at Rome's Pontifical Lateran University Jan. 12, 2024. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

ROME — To understand how the Catholic Church interacts with contemporary world, young people must learn the significance and historical context of the Second Vatican Council, the head of the Vatican office for new evangelization said.

Overlooking Vatican II would mean failing to communicate to future generations “something that was truly an event that changed the face of the church,” Archbishop Rino Fisichella, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization’s section for new evangelization, said while opening a conference on Vatican II and millennials at Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University Jan. 12.

Instead, millennials and other young people need to understand the council’s coherence with the church’s history and take up its teachings to develop them within the magisterium, he said.

The council “was not a revolution,” he said, but a “normal, decisive development that must be present in evangelization.” Quoting St. Paul VI, he said that Vatican II was “nothing more than the presentation of a new face of the church in the contemporary world.”

For young people who feel disconnected from God, the documents of the Second Vatican Council articulate Christ’s centrality in the church and his close relationship with each person, Msgr. Andrea Lonardo, director of pastoral outreach to university students for the Vicariate of Rome, explained.

He said that young people would benefit from understanding Christ as the “mediator and fullness of revelation” as stated in the council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (“Dei Verbum”).

With ready access to information at their fingertips, millennials and other young people often think in terms of “immediacy,” he said, and “for them, something is true when it is not mediated,” even love.

Such a mentality makes it difficult for them to feel God’s love, which is mediated through Christ, he said, noting that for young people, having a mediator “means that there is something between me and God that I don’t understand.”

Yet, he said, Dei Verbum is a “personal” document that explains how one can form a relationship with God through Christ and his “charity, his words, the cross, the blood, the sweat, the food, the bread, the wine, the resurrection.”

Presenting Christ as the fullness of revelation can speak to the hearts of many young people who are constantly active but are not fulfilled in their lives, he said.

And, Msgr. Lonardo said, more than describing the liturgical reforms promulgated by St. Paul VI, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (“Sacrosanctum Concilium”) also expresses the personal component of one’s relationship with Christ during liturgical celebrations.

“It’s secondary that the priest is over here and the people over there; Christ is present,” he said. “Christ speaks to each person” during the liturgy, and the “personal presence of Christ is the development that the council gives us even today.”

Oratorian Father Maurizio Botta said that millennials, raised in a world saturated by technological advancement, can often be disoriented by the acritical acceptance of progress in society, but they can find refuge in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (“Gaudium et Spes”).

“The social context (of the world), says Gaudium et Spes, can lead to the bad, not only the good,” he said. Yet “today when it comes to innovation, to technology, the attitude is preconditioned to be positive” and people unquestionably adopt technological advancements.

While he said he did not want to “demonize technology,” Father Botta said young people respond well when he encourages them to develop a healthy criticism toward new developments which are often designed to capture and retain a person’s attention.

However Niccolò Reale, a Catholic blogger and social media content producer, said that engaging with the digital world is essential to evangelization with millennials and young people.

While priests dedicated to evangelization used to go out into the streets to spread the Gospel to children and young people, “today the street has become Instagram, it’s become TikTok,” he said.

Reale shares Catholic ideas through his blog and Instagram pages, where he posts content ranging from personal testimonies of faith to memes promoting Catholic teachings. He said that as a layperson he is able to communicate the faith to people in an uncomplicated way that resonates with his followers. Several of his videos on Instagram have gained more than 1 million views.

Although he noted that discussing the faith on social media does not mean one cannot be critical of social media, he said if Catholics “want to reach people’s hearts today, because of the way the system works, we have to go to where young people spend their time,” namely, on social media.