(CS file photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)
(CS file photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)

More than 300 cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and lay leaders will gather in Rome between October 3-28 for the Synod on young people, the faith and vocational discernment, to discuss how the Church can best help young people to navigate life.

Leading up to the synod, dioceses around the world held listening sessions to hear the concerns of young people and what they are looking for from the Church. The Vatican also conducted an online survey. Then, in March, about 300 young people gathered in Rome to prepare the working document for the synod, which will be the basis of discussion for the October meeting.

Jonathan Lewis, the assistant secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns in the Archdiocese of Washington, has been appointed by Pope Francis to attend the synod as an auditor, which means that he will be participating in the general sessions and in the English language working groups as they suggest edits or revisions to the preparatory document. He will also be giving a four-minute “intervention,” where he will talk about issues facing the young Church in the United States.

In that talk, Lewis plans to highlight the importance of mentorship in the life of young people. Studies have shown that in order for a young person to remain connected to the Church when they reach adulthood, they need to have 5 mentors in their life who are encouraging them in the life of faith.

The responses from the listening sessions in the Archdiocese of Washington confirmed the fact that young adults desire this sort of mentorship, which Lewis said “reinforces the need for churches to be places of spiritual friendship and mentorship, where everyone is known and encouraged to grow in their faith.”

In order to ensure this mentorship takes place, Lewis said it would require doing things differently, “not changing Church teaching, but changing how we teach.”  If every adult in the Archdiocese of Washington committed to mentoring and walking alongside at least one young adult, it would “lead to the transformation of an archdiocese who has more young adults than most,” he said.

Often, people cannot name many young adults in their parish, and, “if we can’t name the young people in our churches, we don’t really love them,” said Lewis.

While the transient nature of young adulthood can make it difficult to engage in accompaniment, Lewis believes that is also the reason why it is so necessary. Young adults are often living away from their family while navigating transitions like new jobs, marriages, or having children, and “it is in transitions that people leave the Church because they don’t have people walking with them,” said Lewis.

“Making the Church relevant begins with a face and name,” he added.

In addition to his own reflections, Lewis said he is “looking forward to listening to the experiences of young people and Church leaders worldwide, because at times Americans can be self-focused and forget the needs of the larger world.”

By gathering to discuss common values and principles, leaders will be challenged to act and then able to discern how to best move forward in their own local contexts, because the starting point will look different in South America than it will here, said Lewis.

From other Church leaders, he expects to hear about religious persecution and migration, which affect young people around the world. He also believes the abuse crisis in the Church needs to be discussed, and said he hopes that they do so in the context of a call to holiness, because “the response to the abuse crisis has to be both practical and spiritual.”

By calling the synod, Pope Francis identified young people as a priority of the Church, but Lewis said what he is most interested in is “what we do about it.” After all of the discussions and documents, Lewis believes the challenge to everyone going forward is “to ensure that things are different” in light of what they learn.

In particular, he hopes that new and creative outreach following the synod will result in more people coming to or returning to the Church, getting married in the Church, discerning a vocation, and praying every day to discern the daily decisions of life.

Lewis appreciates the synod’s focus on vocation not just as big decisions like being ordained or getting married, but also in striving for holiness every day. It is in this everyday discernment that he believes young people need the accompaniment of mentors to help them through the real-life experiences of being holy at their desk job, planning a wedding, saving to buy a house or raising a child.

“My hope is we will look back in 10 years and see the synod as a moment of renewal in the life of the Church because of the attention given to young people,” said Lewis.

Lewis plans to share stories from the synod through DCCatholic social media. Follow @DCCatholic on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to see updates throughout his time in Rome.