Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, out of pastoral concern for young people, has called for a Synod of Bishops which will take place this October. The topic is: young people, the faith and vocational discernment. A Synod is a gathering of bishops from around the world with the Holy Father. Unique to this Synod, young people will also be with the Pope and bishops for the meeting to lend their voice, their perspective, their hopes for the Church. Already, extensive preparation has taken place through surveying the opinions, needs and realities of the young. Large numbers of young people from our diocese have responded to the survey and their input has been forwarded to the Synod organizers.
I would like to share some of my recent encounters with young people who have encouraged my faith as I witnessed their love for the Lord and His Church.
On the first Sunday of Lent, I celebrated The Rite of Election in which 157 mostly young women and men from 35 of our parishes participated. The Rite of Election is a ceremony celebrated by the diocesan bishop during which those who will receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil are “elected,” that is, recognized, selected and approved by their bishop. They are called Catechumens, which is a word whose Greek root means those who have not been baptized and are seeking instruction in the faith.
Each Catechumen has a personal story of how he or she came to Christ and His Church. Frequently, they were encouraged by the example of faith they observed in a Catholic. A reminder that the witness of our lives to Christ and the Church can inspire others.
A Catechumen is prepared for the Easter Sacraments in his or her parish through The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). Catechesis (instruction) in the faith and rituals of initiation take place at Sunday Mass in the presence of the parishioners whose prayers and example encourage the catechumens. Catechists and sponsors accompany them during their preparation.
The Catechumens come from our many parishes for the Rite of Election to be with the bishop. Each Catechumen belongs to a particular parish. When their initiation is completed they will belong to the ONE Church in South Jersey (the Church of Camden) of which, as the bishop, I am the pastor. ONE is a mark of the Church which distinguishes it from other ecclesial communities who have many churches. The Catholic Church is ONE Church under the authority and care of ONE bishop who is appointed by the Holy Father whose Petrine Office guarantees that the Church is ONE.
There will be great rejoicing in their parishes on the night of March 31st when our 157 Catechumens are fully initiated into Christ and become members of His ONE, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I recognize and thank the commitment and ministries of those who work the RCIA in the parishes of the diocese. Their ministry is critical for the future of our Church as they guide the young to Christ.
The second encounter with young people took place when I invited Dreamers from our parishes to speak with me on Friday, February 23rd. Sixteen young women and men sat with me for an hour and a half. Dreamers are those enrolled in the DACA program created by our government to assist these young people brought to our country when they were children, usually by their undocumented parents. They have no recollection of the countries their parents were forced to leave. They have lived and grown up in these United States; they love this country; they work and pay taxes; they study and desire to complete their education; some hope to enlist in the military and serve this nation; they love their families; many have brothers and sisters who were born here, which makes them American citizens; and some have married and have their own children who are American citizens. They are scared and frightened because of the threat to deport them to a country that is foreign to them and where some even face danger. Most of them had no idea of their undocumented status until they began making application to colleges. They are not criminals.
This situation can be resolved with political will to pass a “clean” Dream Act. Not only is what is being threatened against the Dreamers cruel, but as a Pastor I say it is also morally wrong. These young people are not responsible for their status and to deport them from our country in which they have lived most of their young lives is unnecessary.
I ask for your prayers that this unfortunate situation in which these young people are victims be corrected. Please, God. Help them and help our government resolve this situation. God bless America and God bless the Dreamers.
Thirdly, during the Christmas break I invited to my residence a group of college students, recent graduates of our diocesan high schools whom I had gotten to know through my visits to their high schools. There was no agenda. I simply wanted them to know that I think about them, am concerned about them and pray for them. I wanted to encourage them in their faith. We shared a meal and spoke about what is going on in their lives as they continue their education and prepare for their futures. It was a very enjoyable evening for them and for me. They are the future of our Church and, even though they are at a distance as they pursue higher education, they are not invisible to me. God bless them as they find their way in the world. From what I could pick up in the conversation that evening, I am happy to report that their Catholic high school education and, of course, their home and families have produced very wholesome young people who will be leaders in society, business and the Church. They well represented the students I have met whenever I visit our diocesan high schools.
I will continue to find opportunities for future encounters with the graduates of our schools whom I have come to know.
Finally, as I write this, on Thursday, March 1st, I will meet with 40 teenagers, the Executive Student Council Members of our Catholic high schools, to listen to them and their feelings following the recent tragedy in Parkland, Florida. Inspired by the courageous witness of the teenagers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I look forward to hearing from our students how they feel their Church can respond to violence in our nation’s schools and communities.
You would take great comfort in the quality of the young people we have in the Diocese of Camden. They strengthen my faith. I pray that my musings about four recent encounters strengthen yours as well.
May we all find ways to listen to our young people. I encourage you to pray for them as well as the success of the upcoming Synod of Bishops dedicated to their interests.
Bishop of Camden