Have you read the CCCB’s newest letter to the youth of Canada?
It’s called A Pastoral Letter from the Catholic Bishops of Canada to Young People, and it was released on 12 October, 2022 (in honour of the anniversary of the death of Blessed Carlo Acutis, the first beatified millennial, who features in the letter — more on that in a minute).
Why a letter to young people, and why now?
You may know that in the fall of 2020, the CCCB had a series of virtual conversations with over 200 young people from across Canada between the ages 12 to 25. The goal of these conversations was to intentionally invite young people into the synodal process whereby the bishops of the Church and the faithful were invited by Pope Francis to listen to each other and journey together. This letter is the response to those conversations.
With input from various theological, youth ministry, and family life specialists, this letter was issued by Most Rev. Raymond Poisson, President of the CCCB, and is directed toward young Catholics. It is intended to speak directly to youth, in their current context, and can be used both for individual reflection and in groups like Catholic schools.
What does the Canadian Church have to say to young people today?
In many ways, the purpose of this document is not to say something completely new to the young people of Canada, but to speak the Gospel message into the context youth find themselves in today, and to show young people that the Church values their contributions, cares for them, and wants to listen to them. “These [Zoom conversation] activities are part of what we call a “synodal” experience… . As Bishops of Canada, we wish to walk with young people, not only to understand better the world through their experience of it, but also to encourage and support them as they grow in their own faith.”
In this article, we’ll highlight two of the major themes from this Canadian letter and share how you can share the hope of the Church with the young people in your classroom.
First Theme: Young People Are Valuable and Can Make a Unique Contribution
The pastoral letter highlights, over and over again, that young people are not a peripheral part of the Church: they are filled with the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, and therefore capable of great things. “God’s love and Christ’s example empower you to challenge and change the world! What a difference you make to those who love you, and how valuable you are to our community of faith,” (Pastoral Letter, page 2, emphasis added).
As a young person, Jesus himself made contributions in the religious sphere, though his public ministry was still many years away. The pastoral letter specifically highlights the story of the finding of Jesus in the temple as a young man, illustrating that “teachers valued Jesus’ voice as prophetic, just as we recognize the importance of young voices today,” (page 2).
“In his Apostolic Exhortation Christus vivit — which is Latin for “Christ is alive!” — Pope Francis observes that “Jesus does not teach you, young people, from afar or from without, but from within your very youth, a youth he shares with you. … he was truly one of you.” (page 3, emphasis added).
The lives of several young saints are held up as further examples of how young people gave witness to their faith in Jesus and had an impact on the world around them: the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, and Blessed Carlos Acutis, the first millennial to be proclaimed blessed, along the road to canonization. “Pope Francis reminds us of the words of Blessed Carlo Acutis: ‘everyone is born as an original, but many people end up dying as photocopies.’ Be an original! Arise and become who you are meant to be!” (Page 9).
In Your Classroom:
- Read pages 2-3 and pages 7-8 of the pastoral letter with students, and discuss the Reflection Questions:
- Who were the people in your life who have helped you grow in faith?
- Where do you feel most comfortable talking about and sharing your faith with others?
- How does Mary’s “yes” help you better understand God’s plan for your life?
- Following in the footsteps of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, how do you find the strength to overcome the difficulties and challenges of life?
- How does Blessed Carlo Acutis’ legacy inspire you to be an extraordinary, ordinary young person of faith?
- Learn more about the lives of young saints and blesseds, especially those who lived in modern times.
- Trust that your students are conduits of God’s grace and wisdom. Find more opportunities for young people to discern and make decisions that will impact your classroom and your school.
Second Theme: Anxiety and Isolation must be met with Consolation and Communion
As more and more young people experience the isolation that sometimes accompanies technology use, as well as the anxiety of the climate crisis and a general fear of the future, the Bishops of Canada clearly state that the Church community must be a place of consolation and communion.
It likely comes as no surprise to many who work in Catholic schools today that, as a generation, today’s young people face very high levels of anxiety and depression; in fact, a 2018 study found that anxiety in young people is dramatically increasing across Canada, with professionally diagnosed anxiety disorders in youth 12 to 24 years old doubling from 6.0% in 2011 to 12.9% in 2018. Other recent studies indicate that anxiety during and since the COVID-19 pandemic rose even higher.
Furthermore, technologies that may have been originally intended to bring us together oftentimes lead us to more isolation: “While the benefits of technology are numerous, young people told us that their use of social media can become all-consuming, meaningless, and even hurtful, which leads to feelings of isolation, loneliness and diminished self-worth” (page 4). The Bishops encouraged young people to develop meaningful in-person relationships, where strong bonds of communion can be formed. ““Pope Francis reminds us that virtual spaces cannot replace human relationships… ‘[Jesus] calls us to embrace a reality that is so much more than virtual.’” (page 4).
The Bishops of Canada rely on the immediate communities of young people to support their mental health directly, first and foremost. “While we understand that it can be difficult to take the first step, we encourage you to reach out and seek support from your family. You can also talk to a priest or a youth minister, a teacher, a guidance counselor, or a doctor. Together, we want to help you find balance in your lives through the care of your mind, body, heart, and soul. We want to help you flourish,” (page 5, emphasis added).
In Your Classroom:
- Evaluate the use of technology in your classroom. How can you facilitate the building of in-person relationships and friendships among your students?
- Understand and speak openly about the mental health resources available in your school and in the community.
- Read the section entitled “Technology and Faith” on page 4 and discuss the reflection questions with your students:
- How do you balance time spent online with time spent in-person with family and friends?
- How might the Church make better use of technology to connect with young people?
- What does “becoming what/who you are” mean to you?
Conclusion: Let’s Support Our Youth
One of the great values of this pastoral letter is to remind young people, as well as those who support them, just how important they really are to the life of the Church: “The Church needs your vitality and enthusiasm now.” “Your faith, hope, and love are needed to bring about a more just and compassionate Church and world.” “Your Christian witness will inspire others and will at times ‘heal the wounds of the Church and of the world.’” (page 9).
These are no meager words.
The Bishops of Canada in this letter clearly uphold that all the young people of the Church, from the shy and thoughtful junior high student to the exuberant and creative high schooler, have a meaningful and irreplaceable contribution to make to the life of the Church, not just in the future, but today. As Pope St. John Paul II said in his letter to the Americas in 1999, “Young Christians … must become apostles to their contemporaries.”
But despite their great call, they face many challenges — unprecedented challenges, especially around feelings of anxiety, isolation, and fear. Our role, as leaders and supporters of Catholic education, is not to forget or take for granted the value of the young people in our lives.
Imagine a world where Catholic school teachers, administrators, and supporters truly understood the gifts of each young person, and helped to amplify their voices and develop their talents. Many of us are in a privileged position to do just that, maybe not for every young person, but for those we love and care for.
In our Catholic schools and communities, we can help our young people arise, and become who they are.