Getting ready for Synod-2018

The upcoming Synod in October, which will discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment, could benefit from inviting some American leaders in youth ministry and vocational discernment.

Pope Francis poses for a selfie during a pre-synod gathering of youth delegates at the Pontifical International Maria Mater Ecclesiae College in Rome March 19. The meeting was in preparation for the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment this October at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The headline on March 3rd story at the CRUX website was certainly arresting — “Cardinal on charges of rigged synods: ‘There was no maneuvering!’” The cardinal in question was Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, and not only were his voluble comments striking, they were also a bit disconcerting. Did I simply imagine the uproar on the floor of the Synod on October 16, 2014, as bishop after bishop protested an interim report generated by Baldisseri and his colleague, Archbishop Bruno Forte, that did not reflect the discussions of the previous two weeks? Were the complaints about the suffocating Synod procedures Cardinal Baldisseri outlined prior to Synod-2015 an illusion? Didn’t thirteen cardinals write Pope Francis in the most respectful terms, suggesting alterations in those procedures to ensure the open discussion the Pope insisted he wanted?

But, hey, memory is a tricky thing and this is the season of mercy, so let’s let bygones be bygones and concentrate now on Synod-2018, which will discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment. Those are very important topics. The Church in the United States has had some success addressing them, despite challenging cultural circumstances; so perhaps some American leaders in youth ministry and vocational discernment could be invited to Synod-2018 to enrich its discussion, on the Synod floor and off it (where is where most of the interesting conversations at these affairs take place).

Curtis Martin is the founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), which is arguably the most creative campus ministry initiative in the post-Vatican II Church. FOCUS sends recent college graduates back to campuses as missionaries and has had such success in the U.S. that FOCUS missionaries are now working in Europe. There’s a lot the bishops at Synod-2018 could learn from Mr. Martin’s experience.

Then there’s Anna Halpine, president of the World Youth Alliance: a network of pro-life young people all over the world, who witness to the joy of the Gospel and the Gospel of life in an extraordinary variety of social and cultural settings. WYA has also designed and deployed innovative educational programs and women’s health centers that, building out from the Church’s teaching on the inalienable dignity of the human person, offer life-affirming alternatives to the moral emptiness of too many elementary school curricula and the death-dealing work of Planned Parenthood on campuses. Surely there’s something to be shared at the Synod from this remarkable enterprise.

Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa was the director of campus ministry at Texas A&M for eleven years, where St. Mary’s Catholic Center has set the gold standard in traditional campus ministry and created a model for others to emulate. Over the past twenty years, Konderla and his predecessors have fostered more vocations to the priesthood and religious life than that school with the golden dome in northwest Indiana, while helping many Aggie men and women prepare for fruitful and faithful Catholic marriages. Bishop Konderla would make a very apt papal nominee to Synod-2018.

Msgr. James Shea, president of the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, has taken up the mantle of the late Dr. Don Briel in creating a robust, integrated Catholic Studies program on his growing campus. Shea’s goal, like Briel’s, is to form mature young men and women intellectually, spiritually, and liturgically, so that they can be, in the twenty-first century, Pope Francis’s “Church permanently in mission.” He has things to say about how to do this, and Synod-2018 should hear them.

Then there is Father Thomas Joseph White, OP, a banjo-playing, bourbon-appreciating theologian of distinction who (with his Dominican brother, Father Dominic Legge) has created the Thomistic Institute, to bring serious Catholic ideas to prestigious universities across the U.S. The Institute’s lectures and seminars fill the intellectual vacuum evident on so many campuses today — the vacuum where thought about the deep truths inscribed in the world and in us used to be. Fr. White is being redeployed by his community to Rome this Fall, so he’ll be a #64 bus ride away from the Vatican. The Synod fathers should meet him, and perhaps he and Cardinal Baldisseri, an accomplished pianist, could jam.

So by all means, let’s have “no maneuvering” at Synod-2018. But let’s also have some American expertise there, for the good of the whole Church.

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About George Weigel 478 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).


  1. Because of the deceitfulness and lying that flows from the various spokesmen of what Austin Ivereigh calls “Team Bergoglio,” the word Synod now indicates subversion.

  2. Perhaps John Allen will address the Synod and declare that all who refuse the oath of solidarity with Francis are now “the Taliban” and will be excommunicated?

  3. “The Church in the United States has had some success addressing them, despite challenging cultural circumstances; so perhaps some American leaders in youth ministry and vocational discernment could be invited to Synod-2018 to enrich its discussion, on the Synod floor and off it (where is where most of the interesting conversations at these affairs take place).”

    Very questionable — who are the Roman Catholic normies who have been formed by the programs mentioned in the essay and are challenging the status quo with respect to feminism and the influence of the corporatist state? If there is anyone who has anything close to a reasonable strategy of response it is the Latin traditionalists.

  4. American Roman Catholics who are confused about sex roles because of their adoption of egaliatarianism (even in the attenuated form of “sex complementarity”) probably shouldn’t have a platform.

  5. Until the Roman Catholic Church figures out what the modern nation-state is (and how it is not an authentic political community) it will have very little to say on the “lay vocation” and vocational discernment that is practical.

  6. The group of orthodox bishops attending would be well advised to bring along a secretary of their own to produce an alternate interim report that can be compared to the official report – once it is made manifest.

  7. The Pope told young people don’t be afraid to ask tough questions (except dubia questions I would imagine). It’s not the questions I’m afraid of it’s the ‘answers’ that will be given.

  8. “Then there is Father Thomas Joseph White, OP, a banjo-playing, bourbon-appreciating theologian…” I like White, but this description… I guess we should be reacting with, “Oh, the youth will love him!” But the whole Synod seems primed to be mashup of American Idol with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and the cast from Glee as introduced by Jim Martin, as opposed to a simple attempt to amplify the reach of youth ministry. Makes me think of lines from Romano Amerio… long, yes…

    From ancient times down to our own, youth has been regarded by philosophy, ethics, art and common sense as a time of natural and moral imperfection, that is, incompleteness. St. Augustine goes so far as to call the desire to return to childhood stupidity and folly and writes in this sermon Ad iuvenes flos aetatis, periculum tentationis, insisting on youth’s moral immaturity. Because his reason is not yet settled and is liable to go awry a young man is cereus in cereus in vitium flecti, and in his youth needs a ruler, adviser and teacher. He needs a light to see that life has a moral goal, and practical help to mold and transform his natural inclinations in accordance with the rational order of things. …

    Given that youth is the beginning of life, it is important that a view of the whole of life ahead be presented to it and that it keep that view in mind; a view of the goal in which the beginner’s potential will be realized, the form in which his powers will unfold. Life is difficult, or, if you prefer, serious. Firstly; this is because man’s nature is weak and in its finitude it collides with the finitude of other men and of the things around, all these finitudes tending to trespass on each other. Secondly it is part of the Catholic faith that man is fallen and inclined to evil. Man’s disorderly propensities mean that he is beset by opposing attractions and that his condition is one of struggle, of war, even of siege. That there is a potency within life which must be brought out means that life is not only difficult but interesting, since interest consists in having something lying within (interest).

    This does not mean, however, that man should realize himself in the current phrase, but rather that he should be transformed by realizing the values for which he is created and which call him to that transformation. It is curious that when post-conciliar theology so often uses the word metanoia, which means a transformation of the mind [or repentance], it should go on to put so much emphasis on the realization of the self. It is pleasant to go with one’s inclination, and rough to resist one’s own ego in order to mold it. The difficulty of it is recognized in philosophy, poetic adages, politics and myths. Every good is acquired or achieved at the price of effort. The Greek sage says the gods have put sweat between us and excellence, and Horace says: multa tulit fecitque puer, sudait et alsit. lt was a commonplace of education in ancient times that human life is a combat and an effort, and the letter upsilon became a symbol of the fact, but not the upsilon with equally sloping arms, Y, but the Pythagorean one with one arm upright and the other bent, P. Antiquity also applied to life the much told tale of Hercules at the fork in the road.

    Life is today unrealistically presented to young people as joy, taking joy to mean the partial sort that comforts the soul in via rather than the full joy which satisfies it only in termino. The hardness of human life, which used so often to be referred to in prayers as a vale of tears, is denied or disguised. Since the result of this change in emphasis is to depict happiness as a man’s natural state and thus as something due to him, the new ideal is to prepare a path for the young man which is secura d’ogn’intoppo e d’ogni sbarro. Thus so many obstacles they have to overcome is seen by young people as an injustice, and barriers are looked upon not as tests, but as a scandal. Adults have abandoned the exercise of their authority through a desire to please, since they cannot believe they will be loved unless they flatter and please their children. The prophet’s warning applies to them: Vae quae consuut pulvillos sub omni cubito manus et faciunt cervicalia sub capite universae aetatis.

  9. As I read this, I was glad to hear that someone feels that American Catholicism has made some progress with the youth. I am not sure I see this, not even at the Newman Center parish I attend. It is discouraging. However, there has been progress within the pro-life movement, engaging strong faith-filled young people. I hope that the successes here can be noted and emulated. I also hope we might have the humility to learn from others: the success of the Mormon Church in developing community and ties among their followers, and the success of many evangelical churches in converting and evangelizing teens and college age youth.

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