Just imagine. Sunday after Sunday going to church yet only getting to celebrate the Eucharist once or twice a year. Or sitting with something weighing on your conscience and longing to hear the words of absolution - but there is no priest available for the next few months. Just imagine you are sick or dying and want to be anointed but can’t be. Isn’t the comfort and power of the sacraments at the very heart of what it means to be Catholic? Of course, our faith has many dimensions, but the sacraments sustain us in our mission to spread the Good News.
The people of the Amazonian region don’t have to imagine. For many of them, this is and looks set to remain their reality. Distances are vast and there are few vocations. This week the Pope’s much anticipated post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the Amazon Synod held 6-27 October 2019, entitled Querida Amazonia (“Beloved Amazon”), was released. This is the letter that traditionally follows a synod and the document released by the Synod. There was hope that some of the recommendations of the Synod document would usher in change so that the people of the Amazon (and in time potentially other places too) would have regular access to the sacraments.
Despite the fact that the possibility of ordaining suitably trained married men as priests (so-called “viri probati”) was voted in favour of by two-thirds of those with voting rights, Pope Francis has not made changes to allow for this - even as an experiment limited to the Amazon. Women run 70 per cent of parishes in that region. If they were ordained to the diaconate, they could witness marriages, conduct funeral services, baptise and preach. It seems clear, however, that they will not be ordained to the diaconate anytime soon. Many women are, in reality, already doing many of these things without the grace of the Sacrament of Orders.
The issues of allowing married priests and the ordination of women to the diaconate are ones on which we as Catholics, sadly, have starkly divergent views. In recent days conservative groups have been extremely vocal about maintaining mandatory celibacy for priests. Pope Francis may feel that he cannot move on these issues and still preserve the unity of the church.
The Pope may, understandably, be trying to keep the focus firmly on the key issue of environmental concerns and protection of the Amazon, not wanting these critical issues to be overshadowed by other “hot-button” issues. Nonetheless, the fact that these other issues have become focal in the Catholic media shows their profound impact on people. They will not go away.
Lay leadership must be developed and encouraged but, ultimately, only ordination allows one to confer the sacraments. There are committed married men and women who feel called by God to minister sacramentally. People are longing to encounter Christ regularly in the sacraments, but there are not enough ordained priests to minister to them.
Should their longing for Christ not be our sole focus?
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Youth is not something to be analysed in the abstract. Indeed, “youth” does not exist there exist only young people, each with the reality of his or her own life. In today’s rapidly changing world, many of those lives are exposed to suffering and m
We acknowledge with sorrow that “many young people today live in war zones and experience violence in countless different forms: trafficking, slavery and sexual exploitation, wartime rape and so forth. Other young people, because of their faith, struggle to find their place in society and endure various kinds of persecution, even murder. Many young people, whether by force or lack of alternatives, live by committing crimes and acts of violence: child soldiers, armed criminal gangs, drug trafficking, terrorism, and so on. This violence destroys many young lives. Abuse and addiction, together with violence and wrongdoing, are some of the reasons that send young people to prison, with a higher incidence in certain ethnic and social groups”.
Many young people are taken in by ideologies, used and exploited as cannon fodder or a strike force to destroy, terrify or ridicule others. Worse yet, many of them end up as individualists, hostile and distrustful of others; in this way, they become an easy target for the brutal and destructive strategies of political groups or economic powers.
“Even more numerous in the world are young people who suffer forms of marginalization and social exclusion for religious, ethnic or economic reasons. Let us not forget the difficult situation of adolescents and young people who become pregnant, the scourge of abortion, the spread of HIV, various forms of addiction (drugs, gambling, pornography and so forth), and the plight of street children without homes, families or economic resources”. In the case of women, these situations are doubly painful and difficult.
As a Church, may we never fail to weep before these tragedies of our young. May we never become inured to them, for, anyone incapable of tears cannot be a mother. We want to weep so that society itself can be more of a mother, so that in place of killing it can learn to give birth, to become a promise of life. We weep when we think of all those young people who have already lost their lives due to poverty and violence, and we ask society to learn to be a caring mother. None of this pain goes away: it stays with us, because the harsh reality can no longer be concealed. The worst thing we can do is adopt that worldly spirit whose solution is simply to anaesthetize young people with other messages, with other distractions, with trivial pursuits.
Perhaps “those of us who have a reasonable comfortable life don’t know how to weep. Some realities in life are only seen with eyes cleansed by tears. I would like each of you to ask yourself this question: Can I weep? Can I weep when I see a child who is starving, on drugs or on the street, homeless, abandoned, mistreated or exploited as a slave by society? Or is my weeping only the self-centred whining of those who cry because they want something else?” Try to learn to weep for all those young people less fortunate than yourselves. Weeping is also an expression of mercy and compassion. If tears do not come, ask the Lord to give you the grace to weep for the sufferings of others. Once you can weep, then you will be able to help others from the heart.
Christus Vivit, 72-76
Father grant me the gift of tears. Change my heart from one of stone to flesh. Give me the grace to see the pain of young people and offer them the comfort of my understanding and love. Help our leaders to combat the scourge of human trafficking and all forms of marginalization and indifference in the face of suffering so that we can live in communities that serve all humanity. Amen.
You are the now of God, and he wants you to bear fruit.~ Final Document of the Synod of Bishops on Young People,The Faith and Vocation Discernment, 178 ~
We cannot just say that young people are the future of our world. They are its present; even now, they are helping to enrich it. Young people are no longer children. They are at a time of life when they begin to assume a number of responsibilities, sharing alongside adults in the growth of the family, society and the Church. Yet the times are changing, leading us to ask: What are today’s young people really like? What is going on in their lives?
The Synod recognised that the members of the Church do not always take the approach of Jesus. Rather than listening to young people attentively, “all too often, there is a tendency to provide pre-packaged answers and ready-made solutions, without allowing their real questions to emerge and facing the challenges they pose”. Yet once the Church sets aside narrow preconceptions and listens carefully to the young, this empathy enriches her, for “it allows young people to make their own contribution to the community, helping it to appreciate new sensitivities and to consider new questions”.
We adults can often be tempted to list all the problems and failings of today’s young people. Perhaps some will find it praiseworthy that we seem so expert in discerning difficulties and dangers. But what would be the result of such an attitude? Greater distance, less closeness, less mutual assistance.
Anyone called to be a parent, pastor or guide to young people must have the farsightedness to appreciate the little flame that continues to burn, the fragile reed that is shaken but not broken (cf. Is 42:3). The ability to discern pathways where others only see walls, to recognise potential where others see peril. That is how God the Father sees things; he knows how to cherish and nurture the seeds of goodness sown in the hearts of the young. Each young person’s heart should thus be considered “holy ground”, a bearer of seeds of divine life, before which we must “take off our shoes” in order to draw near and enter more deeply into the Mystery.
Christus Vivit, 64-67
Father, give me the grace to encounter young people with respect, sensitivity and compassion. Help me to see You at work in them, and to share You with them. Grant me the grace to learn from them, and to see the world with the hope and optimism they do Amen.
My name is Barnabas Sibusiso Nqindi, rector of St Barnabas-Bluff. I enjoy a good debate and I love to see people grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ