In his latest apostolic exhortation, released 2 April 2019, following last year’s Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, Pope Francis has urged young people to embrace their role as the present and the future of the Catholic Church by building relationships with their community and with God. The exhortation, Christus Vivit (Christ is Alive), is presented as a letter to young people and, through them, to the entire People of God.
Chris Duthie-Jung Director Marriage, Family and Young Church Ministries for the Archdiocese of Wellington, explores the document.
‘Christ is alive’, Pope Francis’ latest Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, is without doubt a shot in the arm for the contemporary Christian ministry with young people. In many ways the document can be likened to a ‘Pope Francis, Greatest Hits’ album, drawing, as it does, from all his major writings thus far. The expected themes from the recent Final Document of last year’s Synod of Bishops on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment are well covered, this time with the warm personal style we have come to appreciate in Francis’ writings. Wanting to speak both ‘to’ and ‘about’ the young, the document juggles two voices in a way that is not immediately apparent from chapter headings and subtitles.
In the first two chapters, the Scriptures are briefly surveyed along with the youth and young adulthood of Jesus himself. The example of the young Mary is examined, and a short litany of young saints is created amid the echoes of a Vatican II call for openness to renewal and attention to the signs of the times. Chapter Three then summarises much of the contextual material from the 2018 Synod on Young People describing the challenges faced by the Church and its young today.
With the self-explanatory title, ‘A great message for all young people’, Chapter Four switches to a personal address aimed directly at the young. Francis desperately wants all young people to know that God loves them, Christ saves them and the Spirit of Jesus is alive today! ‘If in your heart you can learn to appreciate the beauty of this message, if you are willing to encounter the Lord, if you are willing to let him love you and save you, if you can make friends with him and start to talk to him, the living Christ, about the realities of your life, then you will have a profound experience capable of sustaining your entire Christian life.’ (129)
Switching back and forth between ‘to’ and ‘about’ modes, Chapter Five urges young people to make the most of these youthful years. With some great lines like: ‘Don’t observe life from a balcony’; ‘Don’t confuse happiness with an armchair’; ‘Don’t be parked cars’; and ‘Make a ruckus!’ it is obvious this is a Pope who wants the young to be thoroughly involved. Faith as ‘friendship with Christ’ along with ‘rootedness’ are key themes setting the groundwork for Francis’ encouragement to the young to dream, envision and take risks.
The seventh chapter, entitled ‘Youth Ministry’, offers substantive food for thought for those who would work in the faith formation or religious education of young people. Two main courses of action are identified – outreach and growth. Francis strongly warns against burying the kerygma in preachy ‘formation’ talks that bore the young. Instead the educational project for young people must keep two goals in mind – to develop the kerygma and to foster growth in fraternal love, community life and service. ‘Youth ministry should always include occasions for renewing and deepening our personal experience of the love of God and the living Christ. It can do this in a variety of ways: testimonies, songs, moments of adoration, times of spiritual reflection on the sacred Scriptures, and even an intelligent use of social networks. Yet this joyful experience of encounter with the Lord should never be replaced by a kind of ‘indoctrination’.’ (214)
Youth ministry in educational institutions is tackled in three paragraphs, which highlight what educationalists here tend to know but still find very hard to concretely address. Evangelisation of the young is essential and the promotion of a culture of encounter is vital as Francis has addressed elsewhere in his 2017 Apostolic Constitution, Veritatis Gaudium. Above all, there is no place for bunker approaches; entrenched and defensive they reflect, ‘…in a chilling way, what many young people experience when they graduate from certain educational institutions: an insurmountable disconnect between what they were taught and the world in which they live.’ (221)
Francis also calls for a ‘popular’ youth ministry by which he seems to mean a young-led, fluid, broad and flexible way of working with the young. He sees it as essential if the Church is to reach the youthful peripheries, that there be ‘Popular’ leaders, ‘able to make everyone, including the poor, the vulnerable, the frail and the wounded, part of the forward march of youth. They do not shun or fear those young people who have experienced hurt or borne the weight of the cross.’ (231)
Christus Vivit walks somewhat disconcertingly at times between the world of the young and that of those who would work with them. Themes of discernment, vocation, listening and accompaniment feature strongly, and parishes are strongly encouraged to take these into consideration in the development of any pastoral plan or asset assessment as is currently taking place in the Archdiocese. Spaces that are truly welcoming of young people and future focussed rather than hinting of underlying ‘bunker approaches’ are well-advised. But most of all, the strategic development of mentoring and accompanying relationships between adults and young people are to be fostered – think volunteer teams rather than individual youth ministers. Whether you read CV as a young person or as someone who once was, there is enormous insight and wisdom summarised here. If we are to pay more than lip service to the inclusion of the young in today’s Church – this document must be applied with urgency in the life of every Catholic community.
Some initial responses to Christus Vivit:
If I had to choose one word to summarise Pope Francis’ new exhortation addressed to young people it would be: ‘dream!’.
Woven throughout the 299 paragraphs – amidst the discussions on discernment, scripture, society, and faith – is a repeated call from our Holy Father to aspire ‘to beautiful and great things’ , ‘keep dreaming’ , ‘look to the future’  and ‘never to give up on your dreams, never completely bury a calling’ .
Reading this exhortation left me feeling ‘exhorted’ and encouraged. I was reminded – as I so often need to be – that God isn’t calling me find some place I fit, some role I can fulfill, or some task I can complete. Instead God is calling me to be radically open to Him! He is asking me to dream of the good and beauty I wish to see in our world and to passionately work alongside my community to bring it about!
This exhortation gives a powerful message for young people to hear; indeed for ‘the entire people of God’ to be reminded of: To be a disciple of Jesus means to ‘stake everything on the Lord’  and ‘offer the world new testimonies of holiness’ .
So – whatever age and whether you are tired, excited, wild, or confused – let’s come together and start dreaming God’s dreams.
Thom Saywell is Diocesan Youth Minister and Communications Assistant, Catholic Diocese of Palmerston North.
Christus Vivit reads almost like a compilation of Pope Francis’ trending quotes from the past seven years. Throughout his pontificate, it has been these words that have been a constant source of encouragement in my own faith journey and continue to inspire me in my ministry.
Mostly I am just excited we have this document in our hands! It’s been interesting to engage with a document that speaks to me personally as a young person as well as my own pastoral ministry with the Young Church. I can feel Pope Francis’ desire for young people, for me, to encounter daily the love of God and the living person of Christ. Our Shepherd shows how much he cares for his people and points us back to what is most essential.
This document may be lengthy, but it is a great gift to the Church and acknowledgement of the importance of our young people. However, the challenge remains, as this document cannot signal to the Church permission to close the door on the last two years of active listening and journeying with young people. We must be bold in engaging with what is proposed and be willing to respond.
Pope Francis’ final words address young people directly once again, urging us to keep running since ‘the Church needs your momentum, your intuitions, your faith’ (299). It is my hope that the Church in Aotearoa continues to make radical room for the young and allow this momentum to drive us forward.
Isabella McCafferty is a member of the Family and Young Church team, Wellington Archdiocese.
Christus Vivit follow up actions for diocesan youth team services:
Be in touch with your diocesan youth ministry staff for:
- support and guidance for youth ministers and volunteers;
- resource and training in prayer & liturgy, youth activity, presentation and facilitation;
- policy advice and best-practice guidelines for working with young people;
- training in youth ministry and leadership skills;
- formation on a range of topics (eg evangelisation, theology, pastoral practice…);
- information about available programmes, camps and training opportunities;
Check list: Christ is Alive! Let’s make sure we…
- constantly return to our source – God’s Word, the Eucharist, the daily presence of Christ and the power of the Spirit in our lives’ (35);
- come together – gather young people and the elderly to exchange dreams, with a look to the future (192);
- don’t get stuck asking ‘who am I?’ or even ‘who are we?’, but rather be bold enough to ask, ‘for whom am I?’. Who are we called to live for – our lives must always look to the other (286);
- risk engaging with the document – not stopping there, let’s be willing to listen, accompany.
Published in WelCom May 2019