Bishops say young people need to be heard, not arrogantly lectured

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Catholic Church needs to communicate the beauty and intelligence
of faith to young men and women without resorting to condescending and
aggressive methods, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles told members
of the Synod of Bishops.

A “renewed apologetics and catechesis” can help
young people who are tempted to leave the church due to convictions “that
religion is opposed to science or that it cannot stand up to rational scrutiny,
that its beliefs are outmoded, a holdover from a primitive time, that the Bible
is unreliable, that religious belief gives rise to violence, and that God is a
threat to human freedom,” Bishop Barron said in his speech to the synod Oct.

“I hope it is clear that arrogant proselytizing has no
place in our pastoral outreach, but I hope it is equally clear that an
intelligent, respectful, and culturally sensitive explication of the faith (‘giving a reason for the
hope that is within us’)
is certainly a ‘desideratum’ (‘desire’),” he said.

Later that evening, Bishop Barron joined Nigerian Bishop Godfrey Igwebuike
Onah of Nsukka at an event dedicated to the synod on youth, faith and vocational

The University
of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture sponsored the event in Rome.

Notre Dame students spoke at the event about their faith, highlighting their
positive experiences while also expressing their concerns that internal
divisions and the scandal
of sexual abuse are wounding the church.

Bishop Onah, 62, told participants it was important for bishops to listen to young
men and women, otherwise the synod risks becoming a meeting of “only old
people” talking about young people.

“As one bishop rightly pointed out,” he said, “sometimes
we talk about our own experience of youth thinking that it corresponds with the
present experience of young people, not remembering that our experience 30, 40,
50, 60 years ago is quite different from the experience of young people today.”

Nevertheless, Bishop Onah added, “even though many old
people are talking about youth, it is still positive that they are doing that.”

The Nigerian bishop said he was moved by the testimonies of the students, including
Aly Cox, a Notre Dame law student, who said that the church — wounded by the
scandal of division and abuse — “is in need of healing.”

Bishop Onah said that like Christ’s wounds, which were still
visible after his resurrection, the church’s wounds do “not deprive the
church from being a healer.”

“The wounds on the body of the church, the wounds on
the body of Christ, will never destroy the church,” he said. “That is
my feeling because that body is risen.”

He also said
one root of the scandal is that seminarians, priests and bishops are
“wrongly made to believe that we are different.”

“We are not (different),” Bishop Onah said. “We
are struggling with the same emotions, the same passions and rejoicing over the
little achievements we make on our road to holiness as you do.”

If church leaders had realized that sooner, he added, “we
wouldn’t have had to cause all this harm in hiding the fact that we are just
men, ordinary men.”

Earlier that day, Bishop Barron told the synod that his work
as founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries confirmed that inadequate education about church
teaching is among the “crucial stumbling blocks to the acceptance
of the faith among young people.”

Among the major religions, he explained, “Catholicism
was second to last in passing on its traditions,” and the “army of
our young who claim that religion is irrational is a bitter fruit of this
failure in education.”

While some may view apologetics as “something rationalistic,
aggressive, condescending,” he said he would propose a new way of explaining and defending
religious doctrine that “would not be imposed from above but would
rather emerge organically from below, a response to the yearning of the mind
and the heart.”

The works of St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, often emerged
from lively debates over disputed questions “that stood at the heart of
the educational process in the medieval university,” he said. “Thomas
was deeply interested in what young people were really asking. So should we.”

He also told the members of the Synod of Bishops that,
without “denigrating the sciences,” a renewed catechesis can show
young men and women that there are “non-scientific and yet eminently
rational paths that conduce toward knowledge of the real.”

Bishop Barron said the beauty of faith as depicted in music, art, architecture
and liturgy as well as the compelling lives of the saints can also provide
“a powerful matrix for evangelization.”

The church, he said, “must walk with young people,
listen to them with attention and love, and then be ready intelligently to give
a reason for the hope that is within us. This, I trust, will set the hearts of
the young on fire.”

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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