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An apostolic exhortation and young people

Hanging in our kitchen is a basic wall calendar, littered with the comings and goings of six Ganucheaus. At my parents’ house, my mom uses a weekly calendar not only for her and my dad, but anything going on with her kids and grandkids, especially events she needs to attend. Here at the office, I use my desktop calendar, which syncs to my phone that tells me where to be and when to be there.

My mom jokes, “If it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t exist.” In other words, you can tell her what is happening up and until that event, but it’s not on her radar unless pen or pencil touches the calendar and sets in ink or lead. If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening.

As we set our calendars for the next school year and the programming that we offer in the archdiocese, I’m struck by the wealth of good things we have going on in our little corner of God’s Kingdom and that while we put a date to the program months or even years in advance, we have no idea until the event happens how God is going to move in the hearts and minds of those who participate.

One date that I recently marked is March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation. While this issue of “The Catholic Week” is released ten days prior to that date, and due to print deadlines I’m writing this column almost twenty days before, I’m anxiously looking forward to that last Monday of March this year.

The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis will present his post-synodal apostolic exhortation on Monday, March 25, 2019, during his visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto in Italy. The anticipated topic is young people, the faith, and vocational discernment, which was the theme of a synod of bishops in October 2018.

I imagine that Pope Francis is not like me, waiting to write it at the very last minute, so I am hopeful that the bulk of his post-synodal document is complete, also allowing time for it to be translated in the many languages of the world. Once the document is released, it is not the end but just the beginning of unpacking its challenges and lessons.

While the date is marked, and I hope that I have a good general idea of what the Pope may write, I don’t know for certain how that document will impact our ministry to and with young people. I don’t know what graces God has in store through the document and its implications throughout the Church.

I do know, however, that this post-synodal apostolic exhortation comes at a time when it is needed and when it can usher in the next “golden age” of youth and young adult ministry. With this synod and the national Encuentro, our local and global Church has been prayerfully discussing and listening to young people, arguably more so than ever before.

Young people want to be heard. Young people want to be seen. Young people want to be accepted. Young people want to be known. How does the Church respond to these truths about young people?

Young people want to be accompanied but also want to be the main protagonists of their own stories. Young people want mentors who don’t do the work for them, but witness in their actions what it means to be merciful, kind, virtuous. How does the Church respond to these desires of young people?

Ultimately — whether they can articulate this or not — young people want to be saints. They see the saints of our Church, especially those who are near their age or share similar interests, and deep down they want to be a saint. They want to be holy. How does the Church not only respond but lead by example on what it means to be a saint?

The synod fathers write, “We must be saints so that we can invite the young to be saints. The young are crying out for an authentic, radiant, transparent, joyful Church: only a Church of saints can measure up to such requests!” (166) They go on, “The young need saints who can form other saints, thus showing that ‘holiness is the most attractive face of the Church.’ There is a language that all men and women of every age, place and culture can understand, because it is immediate and radiant: it is the language of holiness.” (166)

Let us take these next few days of Lent to not only prayerfully read the final synod document on young people, but to pray that this post-synodal apostolic exhortation will be one spark to fan the flame of young people’s holiness. We need young people and their holiness in our Church more than ever before.

Each and every one of us has a calling, a vocation, to holiness. We remind ourselves of that each Sunday when we fully participate in Mass. This Lent, let us purposefully and intently strive for holiness, our first vocation. Strive for sainthood, strive to have the day you enter the heavenly banquet considered a feast day for your family and friends — you can bet on that day being marked on our calendars.

— Adam Ganucheau is the Director of the Office of Youth Ministry for the Archdiocese of Mobile. He may be emailed at aganucheau@mobarch.org

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