April 4, 2019


When the Church holds a "synod" or "extraordinary synod", the Pope issues a document called an "Apostolic Exhortation" in which he shares the principal lessons and messages that came out of the month-long meeting of bishops. The October 2018 synod on "Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment" captured the attention of the whole Church, because it invited young people from around the world to give their input - especially via internet - directly to Rome. Some Ukrainian Catholic Bishops and Bishops from Canada participated in the Synod sessions. When Pope Francis visited the amazing shrine in Loretto, Italy, he completed the Exhortation by signing it on the altar in the house in the centre of the Basilica there. He gave the Exhortation the title "Christ is Alive!" It is really worth the read. Some will find some parts "inspiring" and "reaffirming" and perhaps sometimes "radical" and "challenging". Perhaps like Sacred Scriptures themselves, one may want to interpret the text as it suits them. But it will certainly be food for thought and a great source to instigate conversation among young people and anyone interested in youth in the Church or in the mission of the Church.

What follows a video of the Vatican press conference at the presentation of the document and then a summary of a summary. However the reader is encouraged to read the document itself or at least the longer synthesis. The links are given on this page...

Presentation of the exhortation


Andrea Tornielli of the Vatican's Communication dicastery put together a "detailed" synthesis of the Apostolic Exhortation. Her synthesis posted on the Vatican News website can be read [HERE] і по-Українськи [ТУТ]. What follows is a very abbreviated version of the synthesis just to give the reader an idea of the main messages throughout Pope Francis' document.


Chapter one: "What does the Word of God have to say about young people?"

Francis recalls that "in an age when young people were not highly regarded, some texts show that God sees them differently" He presents figures of young people from the Old Testament, then he moves on to the New Testament. The Pope recalls that "Jesus had no use for adults who looked down on the young or lorded it over them. On the contrary, he insisted that "the greatest among you must become like the youngest" "We should never repent of spending our youth being good, opening our heart to the Lord, and living differently" .

Chapter two: "Jesus, ever young"

The Pope addresses the theme of Jesus' youthful years. We should not think, Francis writes, that "Jesus was a withdrawn adolescent or a self-absorbed youth. His relationships were those of a young person who shared fully in the life of his family and his people", "no one regarded him as unusual or set apart from others". These aspects of Jesus' life should not be ignored in youth ministry, "lest we create projects that isolate young people from their family and the larger community, or turn them into a select few, protected from all contamination". Rather, we need "projects that can strengthen them, accompany them and impel them to encounter others, to engage in generous service, in mission ".

Jesus teaches you, "from within your very youth, a youth he shares with you".

Francis then speaks of the youth of the Church and writes: "Let us ask the Lord to free the Church from those who would make her grow old, encase her in the past, hold her back or keep her at a standstill. But let us also ask him to free her from another temptation: that of thinking she is young because she accepts everything the world offers her, thinking that she is renewed because she sets her message aside and acts like everybody else. No! The Church is young when she is herself, when she receives ever anew the strength born of God's word, the Eucharist, and the daily presence of Christ and the power of his Spirit in our lives".

It is true that "as members of the Church, we should not stand apart from others", yet at the same time, "we must dare to be different, ... testifying to the beauty of generosity, service, purity, perseverance, forgiveness, fidelity to our personal vocation, prayer, the pursuit of justice and the common good, love for the poor, and social friendship". The Church can be tempted to lose her enthusiasm and revert "to seeking a false, worldly form of security. Young people can help keep [the Church] young".

The Exhortation recognizes that there are young people who feel the presence of the Church "a nuisance, even an irritant". This attitude that has its roots "in serious and understandable reasons: sexual and financial scandals; a clergy ill-prepared to engage effectively with the sensitivities of the young;... the passive role assigned to the young within the Christian community; the Church's difficulty in explaining her doctrine and ethical positions to contemporary society".

There are young people who "want a Church that listens more, that does more than simply condemn the world. They do not want to see a Church that is silent and afraid to speak, but neither one that is always battling obsessively over two or three issues.

He gives an example about the risk of being continuously critical of "efforts to defend the rights of women, and constantly point out the risks and the potential errors of those demands", while a Church that is "a living Church, can react by being attentive to the legitimate claims of women", while "not agreeing with everything some feminist groups propose".

Francis then presents "Mary, the young woman from Nazareth", and her Yes as that of "someone willing to take a risk, ready to stake everything she had, with no more security than the certainty of knowing that she was the bearer of a promise. So I ask each one of you: do you see yourselves as the bearers of a promise?" For Mary, "challenges were no reason to say "no"" , and thus putting herself at stake, she became "the influencer of God". The heart of the Church is also full of young saints..

Chapter three: "You are the 'now' of God"

We cannot just say that "young people are the future of our world", says Pope Francis. "They are its present; even now, they are helping to enrich it". For this reason it is necessary to listen to them even if "there is a tendency to provide prepackaged answers and ready-made solutions, without allowing their real questions to emerge and facing the challenges they pose".

Each young person's heart should thus be considered "holy ground ". Francis also invites us not to generalize, because "the worlds of today's 'youth' are so many.

"Many young people are taken in by ideologies, used and exploited as cannon fodder or a strike force to destroy, terrify or ridicule others. Worse yet, many of them end up as individualists, hostile and distrustful of others; in this way, they become an easy target for the brutal and destructive strategies of political groups or economic powers".

"As a Church, may we never fail to weep before these tragedies of our young. May we never become inured to them... The worst thing we can do is adopt that worldly spirit whose solution is simply to anesthetize young people with other messages, with other distractions, with trivial pursuits" . The Pope invites young people to learn to weep for their peers who are worse off than they are.

Sexuality and the Internet

The Pope writes that: "in a world that constantly exalts sexuality, maintaining a healthy relationship with one's body and a serene affective life is not easy". For this and other reasons, sexual morality often tends to be a source of "incomprehension and alienation from the Church, inasmuch as she is viewed as a place of judgment and condemnation", despite the fact there are young people who want to discuss these issues.

The Exhortation then turns to the theme of the "digital world" which has created "a new way to communicate", and which can "facilitate the circulation of independent information". In many countries, the web and social networks "already represent a firmly established forum for reaching and involving young people" (87). But they can also be a place of "loneliness, manipulation, exploitation and violence, up to the extreme case of the 'dark web'. Digital media can expose people to the risk of addiction, isolation and gradual loss of contact with concrete reality... New forms of violence are spreading through social media, for example cyber-bullying. The internet is also a channel for spreading pornography and the exploitation of persons for sexual purposes or through gambling". It should not be forgotten that in the digital world "there are huge economic interests", capable of creating "mechanisms for the manipulation of consciences and of the democratic process". There are closed circuits that "facilitate the spread of fake news and false information, fomenting prejudice and hate... The reputation of individuals is put in jeopardy through summary trials conducted online. The Church and her pastors are not exempt from this phenomenon". In a document prepared by 300 young people from all over the world before the Synod it is stated that "online relationships can become inhuman", and immersion in the virtual world has favored "a kind of "digital migration", involving withdrawal from their families and their cultural and religious values, and entrance into a world of loneliness".


The Pope also speaks of child abuse, makes the Synod's commitment to the adoption of rigorous measures of prevention his own, and expresses gratitude "to those who had the courage to report the evil they experienced". He recalls that, "thank God", those who committed these horrible crimes are not the majority of priests, who carry out their ministry with fidelity and generosity". He asks young people, if they see a priest at risk because he has taken the wrong path, to have the courage to remind him of his commitment to God and to his people.

Chapter four: "A great message for all young people"

To all young people the Pope announces three great truths. 1. A "God who is love". "God loves you, never doubt this". You can "find security in the embrace of your heavenly Father". The second truth is that "Christ saves you". Never forget that "He forgives us seventy times seven. Time and time again, He bears us on his shoulders". Jesus loves us and saves us because "only what is loved can be saved. Only what is embraced can be transformed. The Lord's love is greater than all our problems, frailties and flaws"/ And "His forgiveness and salvation are not something we can buy, or that we have to acquire by our own works or efforts. He forgives us and sets us free without cost" The third truth is that "He is alive!". "We need to keep reminding ourselves of this...because we can risk seeing Jesus Christ simply as a fine model from the distant past, as a memory, as someone who saved us two thousand years ago. But that would be of no use to us: it would leave us unchanged, it would not set us free". If He lives, "there can be no doubt that goodness will have the upper hand in your life... then we can stop complaining and look to the future, for with him this is always possible".

Chapter 5: Paths of Youth

Thinking of a young person, the Pope sees him or her as someone "who wants to fly on their two feet, always with one foot forward, ready to set out, to spring ahead. Always racing onward". Pope Francis invites young people not to observe life from the balcony, not to spend their lives in front of a screen, not to be reduced to abandoned vehicles and not to look at the world as tourists: "Make a ruckus! Cast out the fears that paralyze you...live!"

"With a friend, we can speak and share our deepest secrets. With Jesus too, we can always have a conversation".

The Pope, indicates the importance of seeking "a spiritual development", of "seeking the Lord and keeping his Word", of maintaining the "connection" with Jesus... since you will not grow happy and holy by your own efforts and intelligence alone".

Pope Francis proposes that young people "go beyond their small groups and to build social friendship, where everyone works for the common good. Social enmity, on the other hand, is destructive. Families are destroyed by enmity. Countries are destroyed by enmity. The world is destroyed by enmity. And the greatest enmity of all is war. Today we see that the world is destroying itself by war" because we are unable to sit down and speak" (169).

The Pope cites the positive example of young people from parishes, schools and movements who "often go out to spend time with the elderly and the infirm, or to visit poor neighbourhoods".

Young people are called to be "courageous missionaries", witnessing everywhere to the Gospel with their own lives, which does not mean "speaking about the truth, but living it"

Chapter six: "Young people with roots"

Pope Francis says that it hurts him to see "young people sometimes being encouraged to build a future without roots, as if the world were just starting now". "If someone tells young people to ignore their history, to reject the experiences of their elders, to look down on the past and to look forward to a future that he holds out, doesn't it then become easy to draw them along so that they only do what he tells them? He needs the young to be shallow, uprooted and distrustful, so that they can trust only in his promises and act according to his plans. That is how various ideologies operate: they destroy (or deconstruct) all differences so that they can reign unopposed".

The manipulators also use the cult of youth: "The youthful body becomes the symbol of this new cult; everything associated with that body is idolized and lusted after, while whatever is not young is despised. But this cult of youth is simply an expedient that ultimately proves degrading to the young". "Dear young friends, do not let them exploit your youth to promote a shallow life that confuses beauty with appearances".

Fundamental is "your relationship with the elderly", says the Pope, which helps young people to discover the living richness of the past. "The Word of God encourages us to remain close to the elderly, so that we can benefit from their experience". "This does not mean having to agree with everything adults say or approving all their actions". "It is really a matter of being open to receiving a wisdom passed down from generation to generation". "The world has never benefitted... from a rupture between generations... It is the lie that would have you believe that only what is new is good and beautiful".

Speaking of "dreams and visions", Pope Francis observes: "When young and old alike are open to the Holy Spirit, they make a wonderful combination. That is why we need "to take risks together", walking together, young and old. "Roots are not anchors chaining us" but "a fixed point from which we can grow and meet new challenges" (200).

Chapter seven: "Youth ministry"

The Pope explains that youth ministry has been affected by social and cultural changes and "young people frequently fail to find in our usual programmes a response to their concerns, their needs, their problems and issues". The young people themselves "are agents of youth ministry. Certainly they need to he helped and guided, but at the same time left free to develop new approaches, with creativity and a certain audacity". We need to help young people to "use their insight, ingenuity and knowledge to address the issues and concerns of other young people in their own language". Therefore, "youth ministry should always include occasions for renewing and deepening our personal experience of the love of God and the living Christ". It should help young people "to live as brothers and sisters, to help one another, to build community, to be of service to others, to be close to the poor".

"Always missionaries". For young people to become missionaries there is no need to make "a long journey". "A young person who makes a pilgrimage to ask Our Lady for help, and invites a friend or companion along, by that single gesture is being a good missionary". "Youth ministry is always missionary". Young people need to have their freedom respected, "yet they also need to be accompanied". The family should be the first place of accompaniment, and then the community.

Chapter eight: "Vocation"

"The first thing we need to discern and discover is this: Jesus wants to be a friend to every young person". Vocation is a call to missionary service to others, "for our life on earth reaches full stature when it becomes an offering". "To respond to our vocation, we need to foster and develop all that we are.

Despite all the difficulties, "it is worth your every effort to invest in the family; there you will find the best incentives to mature and the greatest joys to experience and share. Don't let yourselves be robbed of a great love".

"To think that nothing can be definitive is a deceptive lie... I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide".

the Pope writes: "I ask young people not to expect to live without working, depending on others for help. This is not good, because work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfilment.

Chapter nine: "Discernment"

The Pope recalls that: "Without the wisdom of discernment, we can easily become prey to every passing trend". "A particular form of discernment involves the effort to discover our own vocation. Since this is a very personal decision that others cannot make for us, it requires a certain degree of solitude and silence".

Three sensitivities are required of those who help young people in their discernment. "The first kind of sensitivity is directed to the individual. It is a matter of listening to someone who is sharing his very self in what he says". "The second kind of sensitivity is marked by discernment. It tries to grasp exactly where grace or temptation is present". "The third kind of sensitivity is the ability to perceive what is driving the other person", discerning "the direction in which that person truly wants to move".

The exhortation concludes with "a wish" from Pope Francis: "Dear young people, my joyful hope is to see you keep running the race before you, outstripping all those who are slow or fearful. Keep running, "attracted by the face of Christ, whom we love so much, whom we adore in the Holy Eucharist and acknowledge in the flesh of our suffering brothers and sisters. The Church needs your momentum, your intuitions, your faith... And when you arrive where we have not yet reached, have the patience to wait for us".


Read the whole Apostolic Exhortation "Christus vivit" online [HERE]

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