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  1. Youth say they want a Church that's transparent, up-to-date

    Vatican City, Mar 24, 2018 / 09:11 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At the end of a week-long meeting held at the Vatican, young people from around the world have urged the Church to be more authentic, modern and creative in the way it interacts with young people, and in addressing controversial contemporary issues.

    “We want to say, especially to the hierarchy of the Church, that they should be a transparent, welcoming, honest, inviting, communicative, accessible, joyful and interactive community,” the youth delegates said in the final document of this week's pre-synod meeting in Rome.

    “A credible Church,” they said, “is one which is not afraid to allow itself be seen as vulnerable.”

    The document, released March 24, is the product of a week-long discussion with some 300 young people from different cultural and religious backgrounds, who gathered in Rome for a March 19-24 pre-synod meeting, which is a precursor to the October synod of bishops on “Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation.”

    Youth were divided into 20 different languages groups, in which they reflected on a several questions throughout the week. Those who weren't able to attend the meeting took part via social media, specifically through six different Facebook groups in different languages, which were moderated by other youth and discussed the same topics addressed in the Rome gathering.

    Between the Rome gathering and social media participation, some 15,300 young people took part in the discussion. Drafting groups were tasked with taking the conclusions of the 26 different groups and compiling them into one comprehensive text.

    An initial draft was written and presented to the group Thursday, and several of the youth participants made comments. Adjustments were made and the final draft was approved Saturday morning. It will be given to Pope Francis during his March 24 Palm Sunday Mass, which also marks the diocesan celebration of World Youth Day.

    The 16-page document is divided into three sections: the challenges and opportunities of young people; faith, vocation, discernment and accompaniment and the Church’s formative and pastoral activities.

    According to the document's introduction, it is not intended to be “a theological treatise” and nor was it written “to establish new Church teaching.” Rather, it is meant to serve as “a compass” for bishops in their October discussion as they seek to understand the reality of youth today.

    The text said that young people want to be listened to and taken seriously, and noted that they often seek communities that are supportive and which “empower them,” giving them a sense of identity and belonging.

    "Young people look for a sense of self by seeking communities that are supportive, uplifting, authentic and accessible: communities that empower them," the document said, while noting that for some religion is now “a private matter,” and said that at times, it seems that “the sacred appears to be something separated from our daily lives.”

    “The Church oftentimes appears as too severe and is often associated with excessive moralism,” they said, adding that “sometimes, in the Church, it is hard to overcome the logic of 'it has always been done this way.'”

    Rather, the text said “we need a Church that is welcoming and merciful, which appreciates its roots and patrimony and which loves everyone, even those who are not following the perceived standards.”

    “Sadly not all of us believe sainthood is something achievable and that it is a path to happiness," the document said.

    Young people, they wrote, “are deeply vested in and concerned about topics such as sexuality, addiction, failed marriages, broken families as well as larger-scale social issues such as organized crime, human trafficking, violence, corruption, exploitation, femicide, all forms of persecution and the degradation of our natural environment.”

    However, one paragraph mentioned that  among young people there is clear disagreement on certain “controversial” Church teachings dealing with issues such as contraception, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation, the permanency of marriage, and the priesthood.

    The paragraph noted that many don't understand Church teaching on these issues, and that of those who do, not all of them are in agreement. Young people “may want the Church to change her teaching as a result, or at least have access to a better explanation,” they said, but “even so, they desire to be part of the Church.”

    Other young Catholics, the document said "accept these teachings and find in them a source of joy. They desire the Church to not only hold fast to them amid unpopularity but also to proclaim them with greater depth of teaching."

    Youth disagree on the topic of migration, the document said, but converge on the need to promote social justice, saying “although we acknowledge our common call to care for the dignity of every human person, there’s no consensus on the question of welcoming migrants and refugees.”

    They also pointed to specific challenges such as globalization, an increase in secularism, racism, the difficulties faced by people in countries where Christianity is a minority, and the increasing number of Christian martyrs.

    “As we grapple with these challenges,” they said, “we need inclusion, welcome, mercy and tenderness from the Church – both as an institution and as a community of faith.”

    On new technologies, they outlined both the benefits and the risks, noting that while there are endless possibilities for increased connection, education and knowledge, there is also the danger that technology leads to “isolation, laziness, desolation and boredom.”

    They also pointed to poor uses of technology such as online pornography, which “distort a young person's perception of human sexuality” and creates a “delusional parallel reality that ignores human dignity.”

    In this regard, the document at one point makes two key suggestions, first encouraging the Church to view technology, particularly the internet, as a “fertile place for the new evangelization.” Reflections on this point, they said, “should be formalized through an official Church document.”

    Second, they requested that the Church “address the widespread crisis of pornography, including online child abuse, and the toll it takes on our humanity.”

    On the role of women, the youth said women are still not given equal spaces in the Church or in society, and questioned how and where women can “flourish” in these environments. They said the role of women often isn't clear, and asked the Church to specify what their role entails.

    The document stressed that youth want to be taken seriously, and that despite often being accused of not having a vision for life, young people do envision a better future for themselves.

    “Sometimes, we end up discarding our dreams,” the said, adding that “we are too afraid, and some of us have stopped dreaming. At times, we have not even had the opportunities to keep dreaming.”

    Young people, the document said, “value the diversity of ideas in our global world, the respect for others' thoughts and freedom of expression.” At the same time, youth want to preserve their cultural identity and “avoid uniformity and a throw-away culture.”

    They said that many young people frequently feel “excluded for being Christians in a social environment that is adverse to religion,” and highlighted the need to “encounter ourselves and others” in order to form deep bonds.

    False images of Jesus – that he is out-of-date, distant or rigid – often make young people unattracted to him, making Christian ideals seem “out of reach to the average person,” they said. “Therefore, for some, Christianity is perceived as an unreachable standard.”

    "Ultimately, many of us strongly want to know Jesus, yet often struggle to realize that He alone is the source of true self-discovery, for it is in a relationship with Him that the human person ultimately comes to discover him or herself," the document said.

    "Thus, we have found that young people want authentic witnesses – men and women who vibrantly express their faith and relationship with Jesus while encouraging others to approach, meet, and fall in love with Jesus themselves."

    Scandals within the Church damage the confidence young people have in it, the delegates said, but stressed that the Church can still play a “vital role” in ensuring that youth are accepted, and no longer marginalized.

    In terms of vocation, youth said the concept is still “abstract” to many, and therefore doesn't cross their minds.

    “Young people understand the general sense of bringing meaning to life and being alive for a purpose, but many do not know how to connect that to vocation as a gift and call from God,” they said, and voiced their desire for mentors who are able to accompany them with wisdom and without judgment.

    Youth also voiced their desire for more authenticity, transparency and openness in the Church's life and structures, saying at one point that “a credible Church is one which is not afraid to allow itself be seen as vulnerable.”

    “We want to say, especially to the hierarchy of the Church, that they should be a transparent, welcoming, honest, inviting, communicative, accessible, joyful and interactive community,” they said, adding that the Church should also be “sincere in admitting its past and present wrongs, that it is a Church made up of persons who are capable of error and misunderstanding.”

    The document encouraged the Church to be firm in condemning scandals such as sex abuse and the “mismanagement” of power and wealth. If the Church does this with humility, they said, it will “undoubtedly raise its credibility among the world's youth people.”

    Young delegates also voiced their desire for a Church that is capable of spreading its message through modern means of communication and which is also able to answer young peoples' questions in a way that isn't “watered-down” or “prefabricated.”

    Rather, “we the young Church, ask that our leaders speak in practical terms about controversial subjects such as homosexuality and gender issues, about which young people are already freely discussing without taboo.”

    The document underlined a desire that youth would become leaders in their communities, and asked that young leadership programs offering continual formation and development be established. Specific mention was made of the lack of young female role models in the Church, who also with to contribute with “their intellectual and professional gifts.”

    Youth said they want to be “met where they are,” stressed the need for the Church to find “new and creative” ways of encountering people outside of the usual setting, such as in bars, coffee shops, gyms, stadiums or cultural centers.

    They asked the Church to engage with “the right instruments,” which the document listed in bullet-point format as having a multimedia approach; service in movements or charities; beauty and the arts; adoration and contemplation; testimonies and the synod process itself.

    Going beyond practical, functional and institutional decision-making roles, youth said that ultimately, they want to be “a joyful, enthusiastic and missionary presence within the Church.”

  2. What the 'Great Firewall' might signal for Vatican-China deal

    Washington D.C., Mar 23, 2018 / 09:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the Chinese government tightens control over Christian groups in the country, experts caution that Beijing is positioned to further restrict religious freedom, using the model of government-run social media.

    While introducing more restrictive rules on religious practice, President Xi Jinping's repeatedly stated goal has been the “Sinicization” of religions, or to diffuse “religious theories with Chinese character” into the five official religions supervised by the government, including the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

    On March 22, China instituted a major change in its religious oversight by abolishing the State Administration for Religious Affairs and shifting direct control to the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department (UFWD). As a result, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association will now be under the day-to-day direct supervision of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This is similar to another bureaucratic change in China earlier this week, that gave the CCP direct control of movies, television, books, and radio.

    “They are folding the state into the party … It is one thing when the party does that with regards to the media, but there is something particularly ironic now in the sense that you have a department of an avowedly Marxist atheist communist party that is going to be managing religious affairs,” said Freedom House’s Senior Research Analyst for East Asia, Sarah Cook.

    “Now the Bishops' Conference is even less explicitly autonomous and more clearly directly managed by an atheist communist party department,” said Cook. This change could result in more pressure for religious entities in China to make clear that their first and foremost allegiance is to the party and not to their religion.

    The UFWD is the CCP’s “soft power” instrument for “winning the hearts and minds” for China’s political goals at home and abroad, according to the Financial Times. It seeks to manage groups outside of the CCP, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjian, ethnic minorities, and religious groups.

    The UFWD is “basically trying to make sure that these entities are also in some way following the party line even though they are not part of the communist party itself,” explained Cook.

    China has long been known for its strict control of information, through means including internet access restriction and the creation of alternative social media platforms that are completely controlled by government surveillance and censorship.

    So while Twitter is inaccessible in China – blocked along with Google, Facebook, and YouTube by “the Great Firewall” – one can express himself in 140 characters or fewer on the Chinese website “Sina Weibo” instead, as long as the message is not critical of President Xi Jinping.

    Critics fear this model could increasingly be adopted in the realm of religion as well.

    The Vatican has been in negotiations with Xi’s regime on the appointment of bishops. Some speculate an agreement will resemble the Vatican’s deal with Vietnam, in which the Holy See picks bishops from a selection of candidates proposed by the episcopal conference, which, as of this week, is more directly controlled by the CCP.

    As the Vatican considers the possibility of a deal with the Chinese regime, China-watchers are warning technology companies that engaging directly with the Chinese government could lead to their complicity with censorship and surveillance, or lead to the arrest of Chinese citizens.

    One early example of this was Yahoo, which provided sensitive information about writers to the Chinese authorities. More recently, Apple removed VPN software that helped Chinese citizens circumvent its Great Firewall from its China App Store.

    Formerly, technology “companies had good faith that by going in there [China] they really were helping to provide these open platforms for communication... It would be very difficult to make that argument right now,” explained Shanthi Kalathil, the director of the International Forum for Democracy Studies at a panel on PEN America’s new report on social media censorship on March 19.

    “All of the trends are pointing in a negative direction. The intent of the Chinese government is clear that anybody that does go in will absolutely not have the space to provide what these companies may profess to be providing on paper. We know enough now about both the censorship machine as well as Xi Jinping's intentions – I think that's been made quite clear,” continued Kalathil, referring to the increase in censorship, surveillance, and punishment of Chinese social media users in the past three years.

    China has increasingly used its control of domestic social media alternatives to criminalize internet users who express dissenting opinions.

    In China, people talk about how “it used to be that we afraid that our account would be closed or our posts would be deleted. Now we are afraid that we are just going to be taken away. Some are sentenced to administration detention for a few days, but there are a good number of people who have been sentenced to very long prison terms," Cook said at the panel.

    The trends in freedom of religion are similarly pointing in a negative direction under Xi Jinping.

    An analysis published by a Chinese Communist Party think tank scholar in 2012 identified both religion and “internet freedom” as future threats to China’s rise. The years that followed saw crackdowns on both freedom of the internet and religious freedom.

    No member of the Chinese Communist Party is allowed to practice a religion. In March, the same parliamentary meeting that gave Xi Jinping lifelong rule also granted the atheist Communist party direct oversight of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

    According to the latest reports, a deal between the Vatican and Beijing could be signed as early as next week.


  3. Papal Foundation responds to multi-million dollar hospital grant controversy

    Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 23, 2018 / 08:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Controversy over a $25 million grant from The Papal Foundation to a Rome hospital at the request of Pope Francis has prompted the foundation to say some claims about the issue are inaccurate, but that it will review its mission and take corrective measures where necessary.
    The Philadelphia-based foundation said March 22 that its executive committee and board made “an inadequate effort” to address and correct “the anonymous, inaccurate and misleading information related to the grant request” as well as “unsubstantiated claims that called into question the integrity of the request by the Holy See and of members of the board.” These claims created “confusion and unnecessary division among the membership of the Foundation.”
    “This unfortunate chapter, which distracted from the great success of The Papal Foundation to serve the Holy See and the global Catholic Church, also served to highlight the need for a time of serious self-reflection by the Foundation,” the organization said.
    The Papal Foundation said it is committed to taking any necessary corrective measures. It pledged to provide members with the facts of the grant and a clear understanding of the foundation’s mission and governance. It also committed itself “to renewing its bond of trust with the Holy See.”
    The foundation was not able to respond to questions from CNA by deadline.
    Since 1990, the foundation has given over $100 million in service to the Catholic Church, working in union with the Pope “to bring the love of Christ to a world in need.” Grants are made for needs that are particularly significant for the Pope, and often go to Third World institutions and organizations. They typically do not exceed $200,000 per grant.
    The foundation is governed by a board of trustees comprised of the eight cardinals residing in the U.S., who serve as ex officio members. They approve the seven bishops and archbishops and nine laypeople who serve as elected members.
    In summer 2017 Pope Francis asked Cardinal Donald Wuerl for a $25 million grant through the foundation for the Church-owned hospital Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata, which specializes in researching and treating skin diseases. However, the Holy See has since declined half the grant after objections from some board members. The critics went to the media, resulting in news coverage that questioned the integrity of the hospital and the wisdom of the foundation’s grant-making process.
    The board’s audit committee had questioned the $25 million grant and no lay members voted in favor of it, the National Catholic Register reported in February.
    Opponents of the grant said due diligence was not followed, citing reports that the hospital leadership had been accused of embezzlement, fraud and bankruptcy. In 2013 a priest who was its chief executive through 2011 was arrested for allegedly taking money from the hospital and running up a massive debt.
    Tens of millions of euros had allegedly been diverted from the hospital, while it allegedly evaded taxes on hundreds of millions euros. Financial police said its debt was 845 million euros, the U.K. newspaper The Guardian reported in 2013.
    The foundation said it is re-evaluating its mission, its approach to grant-making, and its relationship with the Holy See. These actions are the result of the foundation’s “intensive, six-month review and approval of a special request by the Vatican for assistance with a three-year financial reform plan for the Istituto Dermopatico dell’Immacolata in Rome.”
    The Holy See has expressed “full support” for the review of the foundation and is working to assist the review process, The Papal Foundation reported. In addition to declining half the grant, the Holy See has postponed a papal audience until the foundation’s review process is complete and until the foundation members and stewards agree upon the foundation’s “mission, governance structure and relationship to the Holy See.”


  4. Cardinal Tong says opposing Vatican-China deal is 'unreasonable'

    Vatican City, Mar 23, 2018 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal John Tong Hon has voiced support for a proposed deal on the appointment of bishops between the Vatican and China, saying he believes the Chinese government has generally become more tolerant, and an accord would help bring further openness and unity to the Church.

    Tong is the Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, and spoke at a March 22-23 conference titled “Christianity in the Chinese Society: Impact, Interaction and Inculturation” taking place at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University.

    Tong is one of two Chinese cardinals, the other being his predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Zen. While Zen has consistently been an outspoken critic of the proposed deal, Hon holds a different opinion.

    In an interview with a small number of journalists, one of which was CNA, Hon said opposition to the accord is “unreasonable,” because the deal aims at unity. He called the agreement “far-sighted” and said at times, sacrifice is necessary in order for Catholics to become “members of one family.”

    The deal – which would allegedly follow the model of the Vatican's agreement with Vietnam, allowing the Holy See to pick bishops from a selection of candidates proposed by the government – is rumored to be “imminent.”

    In a recent blog post, Cardinal Zen indicated that the agreement could be signed as early as March 23 (tomorrow) or March 27. If the deal is reached, Zen said he would “retire in silence” and would “hide and pray,” but that he would not oppose the pope.

    In his interview with journalists, Cardinal Hon said he didn't want to speculate about when the deal might come, but said he was “optimistic” it would eventually happen.

    Below are excerpts of Cardinal Hon's conversation with journalists:

    Q: This conference is addressing the presence of Christianity in China. From your perspective, what is the current situation for Christians there? Some say there is persecution and an increase in restrictions for religions, but others say the situation has improved. What is your take?

    I am a Hong Kong citizen. Hong Kong belongs to one country, is a part of China, yet Hong Kong, after 1997, is one country run under two systems, meaning Hong Kong still continues to be a capitalistic administration, and China is under the socialist system for 50 years. So we are doing the same things as before. Regarding China, I am also a foreigner, so that means I'm not an insider. I can offer my impression with a limited knowledge of China...In a general picture I think China has already greatly improved, so sometimes you find this tightening in this part or that part, but China is huge. You cannot use this to describe...If we have a very far-sighted vision about China, I think China is [becoming] more civilized, closer to the outside world. And then I think the general situation, in the present, is better. Those would be my remarks.

    Q: So your perception is that China is more open to religion, is more tolerant?

    In the future also it should be, not the other way. Because the people can come out from China, now most of the people like to come to Hong Kong or outside of China for a week, so their eyes are opened after seeing the outside world. So they of course have higher expectations. And also the officials, knowing, they are not stupid, they know the expectations of most of the common people, and although on one hand they want to exercise their authority over the common people, but at the same time they have to compromise. So from time to time, sometimes [there's] a tightening, but other times [there's] a loosening policy. But in the long run China will be more and wider open, there is no other way. If I were the officials, I would do similar things. So I am optimistic.

    Q: In your opening remarks you spoke about the importance of dialogue and communication between Chinese authorities and Christianity. This reminded me of your remarks in February about a deal between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops and allowing the Church to be registered in China. You said you were optimistic if it followed the Vietnamese model. Some say it won't follow this model. Are you still optimistic?

    Yes, I'm still optimistic, because I always, this is my belief, whatever is reasonable can last for a long time. Whatever is unreasonable will fade out or has to be changed. You can see from the whole of human history, even the history of China. Even Mao, Mao was so cruel, so strong, but finally...and also the cultural revolution created a lot of chaotic situations in China, but finally those situations have been changed. So there is no other way.

    Q: So in this case 'reasonable' would be the deal, and 'unreasonable' would be against it?


    Q: A lot has been said in the media about your predecessor, Cardinal Zen, who has spoken out a lot against this deal. What is your opinion about this and what it says about the current dynamics in China?

    This is a free world, everybody can express their own opinion. Everyone can use their own mind, their wisdom, to discern. So when you open your eyes and also open your ears, you can hear many, many different voices. So this is a free world. What can you say? We, as persons, we respect everybody as a person. So different opinions, up to your own wisdom to discern. That's my [opinion], which I received from my teacher, it's the lesson I learned.

    Q: How is Pope Francis received in China? In the West he's very popular even among non-Catholics. Is it the same in China?

    Yes. Generally speaking, he's loved by Catholics and non-Catholics.

    Q: What's the appeal?

    He's a humble person. The first thing is that he is really humble, and a humble person will be loved by many people. If you are proud you get a lot of enemies. This is also biblical teaching by our Lord Jesus. So we have to be humble. Jesus humbled himself and came down to earth and finally received crucifixion, suffering. So humility is important, that's one thing. And second, he has a far-sighted vision. He's not only seeing [now], but how to achieve the reign of God. The reign of God is to make humanity whole, to be one family, and we are all brothers and sisters, the whole world. Also through the negotiations promoted and advocated by the Second Vatican Council...Sometimes we can lose something so we can achieve friendship and set an example for all others and all other people, so finally we become friends, and then eventually we become all members of one family. At that time the reign of God will be implemented on earth...I was trained here 50 years ago at the Urbanianum. At that time the Second Vatican Council was being held, and I witnessed the grand closing ceremony. And right away I was ordained a priest with more than 60 classmates by Pope Paul VI. So that is what we were taught, and we have also what we were taught to believe in. So if you don't believe that, that it's only looking for [certain] things, that's your business, that's not my faith. And finally, we have to pray for the Church in China.

    Q: People have been talking about a deal with China for years, and now it seems that is pretty sure...

    I don't want to make any guess, it's up to God's will.

    Q: But if it does happen, is there something about Francis' pontificate or diplomatic style that would allow the deal to happen? Is there something about the way he does diplomacy that would make the deal more likely than in the past?

    If there's any breakthrough, it's God's will, I don't want to make any speculation. I'm not a prophet, I only follow our dogmatic teaching in the Church, and also the teaching of the constitutions issued by the Second Vatican Council. What I have learned in teaching in seminary, we pray for the Church in China, but I don't want to make any speculations...during the year, almost three years ago, during the year of divine mercy, the Church in China, particularly, during that period, was also very happy to respond to the appeal made by the Holy Father. So it shows that they are very positive about the Holy Father because they follow the instructions given by the Holy Father.

  5. US pre-synod delegates: Youth need authentic Catholic witnesses

    Vatican City, Mar 22, 2018 / 11:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The United States delegates to a pre-synod gathering in Rome this week have said they think young Catholics in the nation need – and desire – faithful and authentic accompaniment in order to live the faith and to form a relationship with Christ.

    “The common thread that we kept going back to… was the need for companionship for young people, and how there’s this real desire to meet authentic people who are authentic witnesses,” delegate Katie Prejean McGrady told CNA.

    “That word [authentic] came up frequently. And then the whole concept that it didn’t matter where you were from, and it didn’t matter what the state of the Church was, young people respond far better to personal relationships and one-on-one interactions with people of faith.”

    Prejean McGrady, a wife, mother, youth minister, and speaker from Louisiana, is one of four representatives – all in their 20s – who were chosen by the U.S. bishops as delegates to the Vatican’s pre-synod gathering happening ahead of the October Synod of Bishops on young people.

    Prejean McGrady spoke to CNA March 21 alongside Br. Javier Hansen, FSC, a LaSallian Brother who teaches religion in El Paso; Nick López, a single young adult who is the director of campus ministry for the University of Dallas; and Chris Russo, a Byzantine Catholic who works as a research technologist at a hospital in Boston.

    The pre-synod gathering has included discussion among young people from all over the world as they help to prepare and edit a document which will serve as a guide for bishops during the synod. The final document will be presented Saturday, and given to the Pope at Palm Sunday Mass.

    Speaking to CNA, all four delegates said that the growing number of young Americans not practicing the faith they were given is one of the major concerns they brought to the meeting, and something they would like to see addressed.

    Prejean McGrady said that she thinks one reason for the disaffiliation is that many Catholics in the US were catechized in a way that merely presented “bullet points to learn or these things to do”, rather than integrating these as part of the basis for a relationship with Christ.

    She also noted that it is her belief that having “companions on the journey” makes it “much easier to build that relationship.”

    Delegates also expressed frustration at feeling that older generations often place the blame of youths' disengagement from the faith on the young people themselves, and do not admit their own share in the responsibility.

    Russo said that people to whom he’s spoken are “very distressed about disaffiliation in the Church,” but those “who ask why young people are no longer involved in the Church, are the same people who then criticize, saying, ‘oh, well, you’re too young to understand or to express an opinion.’”

    Lopez agreed that it often feels like older generations think young people “don’t care” or are “too distracted,” but he takes hope in the fact that bishops are making an effort to listen to young people. He also expressed his desire that adults outside the hierarchy will also be inspired to listen more.

    The four acknowledged that disaffiliation is also a problem in other parts of the world, and that it is not the only challenge young Americans have in common with youth in other parts of the globe.

    They noted the increase in mental illness, the effects of media, and pornography use, in particular.

    Because the meeting's participants come from different backgrounds, including different religions, Prejean McGrady said that not everyone in attendance has had a positive view of the Church. But in general, the discussions have been instructive and focused on cooperating with the Church, not tearing it down.

    She said that she thinks there’s great hope “because we were already brought to the table. I think that’s the bishops appealing to us, saying we want to know how to meet you face-to-face.”

    Br. Javier expressed the desire that the same sort of discussions happening at the pre-synod meeting could take place on a national or local level, creating a conduit for communication with young people.

    In the end, the delegates all emphasized that young people are both the future of the Church and the Church now.

    Russo also requested that the world continue to pray for everyone involved in the Synod. “This is only an initial step – this isn’t the be-all-end-all,” he said. “This isn’t ending, this is something so, so much bigger. We have to talk to our communities… we’re the Church.”