VATICAN CITY — A prominent South African cardinal said Saturday that the 2018 Synod of Bishops on “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment” can be a model for the way that Church leaders engage with youth in parishes and dioceses around the world.
Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durbin also called for revisions to a synod working document he called “Eurocentric,” saying that the synod’s work must take into account the situation of young people and the Church in other parts of the world, noting especially the needs of the Church in Africa.
The bishops meeting for the Oct. 3-28 synod are not only talking “about young people, but we’re talking with them and to them,” Cardinal Napier said at an Oct. 13 news conference. He praised the contributions of 34 young people invited by Pope Francis to be active participants in a meeting predominantly comprised of bishops.
The cardinal said that those young people are active participants in the synod, offering short speeches, called interventions, just as bishops do, and participating in the small discussion circles that will help to shape the synod’s final report.
“More important than just their being in the synod hall is their presence and participation in our small groups,” he said.
The cardinal said that this is the eighth time he has participated in a synod of bishops and that the participation of young Catholics in this synod makes it a very different experience from those he has previously attended. He added that the “proactive involvement” of Pope Francis in the synod process has also made the experience unique.
Cardinal Napier said that he hopes the active involvement of young people at the synod will become a model of the Church’s engagement with youth.
For most Catholics, he said, “The daily face of the Church is the face of the priest.” For that reason, synod fathers should encourage parish priests to listen and actively engage young people in parish life and planning in the same way the synod has.
He also said that the synod’s working document is written from an “Eurocentric” perspective.
African delegates to the meeting, he said, should “present the African reality much more clearly from our perspective.”
He noted that the document does not sufficiently recognize the impact of mass migration from Africa on the continent’s countries. Africa is losing some of its most gifted young people to migration, he said, because of the exploitation of natural resources and the environment.
“Those who would have been living off the land are now unable to do so,” so they migrate, he said, because of the effect of deforestation and aggressive mining techniques.
He also decried the economic conditions that lead to child labor in Africa, saying that because children are put to work at a young age, they “are not getting the education they need in order to have a good start at life.”
Because of corruption within many African governments, “this cycle of exploitation just continues.”
The cardinal said there is another African reality that is not reflected in the synod’s working document.
“While many young people in the West are leaving Jesus, or at least his Church, and they’re doing this for a variety of reasons … in Africa there is a very different kind of phenomenon and that is that young people are looking for Jesus and looking for answers to their problems” in the Church.
The growth of Christianity among young Africans, he said, has important lessons for more developed nations.