Jesuit superior general: Synod must discern ‘signs of the times’ through eyes of young people


  Father Arturo Sosa Abascal, superior general of the Society of Jesus, prays at the start of a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 11. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

The Synod of Bishops is seeking to discern “the signs of the times” through “the eyes of young people” in order to “respond to the calls of the Holy Spirit at this historic change of epoch which humanity is living through,” Arturo Sosa, S.J., the superior general of the Jesuits, told a Vatican press briefing on Oct. 15.

The church is trying to do so, he said, at a time of “growing social inequality both between countries and within each country,” when there is a “lack of political will to put a brake on the deterioration of the environment,” and “the weakening of democracy” that “gives way to naif populisms, discriminating nationalism and arbitrary cults of personality,” as well as “the increasing presence of new and old faces of violence.”

He identified three “signs of the times”: the universal process of secularization, the digital world and the multicultural face of the globalized world. When these are looked at from the perspective of young people, he said, the synod is able “to perceive the action of the Spirit.”

The Synod of Bishops is seeking to discern “the signs of the times” through “the eyes of young people.”

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Referring to “the process of secularization,” Father Sosa said it has extended across the world, moving at different rhythms according to the characteristics of each society. But it produces one “generalized effect” that affects all religions: “the increasing absence of the social transmission of religious behavior and knowledge.” He noted that in the secularized world “religious practice is more tied to the free decisions of each person than to feeling part of a collective that professes a particular religion.” But, he said, this provides the Catholic Church with “an opportunity to renew the mission of the first proclamation of the Gospel and to promote the vitality of Christian communities so that they are able to accompany the processes of the maturing of the faith.”

Father Sosa identified the second “sign of the times” as “the digital world,” a subject that is being given considerable attention at the synod. He said there is a “growing consciousness that we are living in a new world, the digital world,” which “does not limit itself to the development of new technologies” but also entails “an authentic anthropological transformation whose characteristics and consequences we can barely glimpse.” This new world presents “many challenges,” he said, and raises the crucial question of how to educate people today “for a world that is unprecedented and impossible to predict.” He recalled that the Catholic Church and religious communities are committed to providing education to people “on the margins” of society, but “in this new epoch” they receive a new call: “to renew our educational proposal” so as “to respond to the challenges that surprise us every day.”

The Catholic Church “has as its mission to show the multicultural face of God that Jesus Christ revealed to us.”

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The Jesuit superior general sees “a third sign of the times” in “the multicultural face of the globalized world,” which he contrasted with “a cultural homogenization that attacks the authentic human richness expressed in multiculturality.” He recalled that the Catholic Church “has as its mission to show the multicultural face of God that Jesus Christ revealed to us” and “to promote a universal citizenship, which, recognizing the riches that cultural diversity represent, consciously builds an intercultural world capable of overcoming poverty, social injustice, arbitrariness in the exercise of political power and offers the conditions for a dignified life for all human beings of whatever age.”

He drew attention to the fact that “one of the most sensitive indicators of this [third] sign of the times is the migration phenomenon, the causes that produce it and the treatment that the internally displaced persons in many countries or the migrants that arrive in other countries in the search for better conditions of life receive.”

Father Sosa was one of three heads of religious orders at today’s briefing. The others were Bruno Cadoré, O.P., the French-born master general of the Dominican Order, and Marco Tasca, O.F.M.Conv., the Italian-born minister general of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor Conventual.

The synod—and through it the church—“wants to move from the time of listening to the time of conversation.”

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Father Cadoré said the synod—and through it the church—“wants to move from the time of listening to the time of conversation [with young people], as happens in a family.” He noted that the preparation for the synod revealed “a very great diversity of young people,” in terms of living conditions and situations, education and traditions. He recalled that the tradition of the Order of Preachers is “to be open to diversity.” He noted that people change when they find “a welcome to openness” and said that “the future of the church” demands “openness to change.”

Father Tasca recalled the young Francis of Assisi “was a party guy” who had to make a radical choice to follow a different lifestyle. He listened to God’s call, and “listening was the key.” He told a story about a bishop who visited a family and a young person in that house told him, “You are a fake.” The bishop, unfazed, responded, “Help me to be less fake!” The Franciscan leader gave this as an example of what listening to young people means, to be open to what they say. He said they had come to the synod “not to complain” but “to build the church together,” and “young people are part of the church and want to be part of the solution.”

As usual at these briefings, the fourth panelist was a woman: Silvia Teresa Retamales, a lawyer from Chile who is an auditor at the synod. She told the press that when young people in Chile, including many non-Catholics, heard that she was going to participate in the synod, they told her “they want a multicultural church that is open to all, not a church that is judgmental. They want a church that makes everyone feel at home, a church that does not discriminate against minorities, especially the poor and people of different sexual orientation.”

Young people want “a church that does not discriminate against minorities, especially the poor and people of different sexual orientation.”

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She said young people in Chile “believe that gay people have the same rights as everyone else and that they, too, want to live their faith in the church.” She emphasized that “the church’s first mandate is to love” and said that “gay people must be recognized as brothers and sisters that need to be accompanied by us.”

Ms. Retamales told the press that in Chile women are being empowered and young people “want women to be given greater responsibility, too, in the church.” She is one of the 36 women participants at the synod, but none of them have the right to vote.

At the briefing, journalists again asked the three superior generals to explain why religious superiors, including two brothers, who are not clerics, can vote but women cannot. Fathers Cadoré, Sosa and Tasca said the fundamental reason is to be found in the fact that this is a synod of bishops, not a pastoral synod such as happens in dioceses. But this did not explain the exception made to allow for religious brothers to vote in the 2015 synod and this one.

Jesuit, Dominican, Franciscan leaders see no reason why women shouldn’t vote at synod

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Father Tasca said that, unlike in earlier centuries in the history of his order, Franciscans today have to ask the Holy See for permission to elect persons who are not priests as superiors in the order. He revealed that they have spoken with the pope about this, and he seemed hopeful that the situation could change.

Father Sosa offered what he said was only his “personal opinion.” He recalled that 50 years ago the Second Vatican Council in its constitution on the church (“Lumen Gentium”) described the church as the “people of God,” meaning bishops, priests, women and men religious and lay people. He suggested that this opened new horizons, but “we have not yet realized the fullness of that teaching.” He envisaged that developments could come in the church through “deepening” the concept and process of synodality, as is happening through the synod.

The synod, which opened on Oct. 3 and ends on Oct. 28, has completed its discussion of the second part of its working document that focused on “Interpreting: faith and vocational discernment,” and tomorrow the 14 groups will present their reports to the plenary session, which the Vatican will release later. The synod will then move onto the third and final section of the working document, which deals with “Choosing: paths of pastoral and missionary conversion.”