By Laura Ieraci
WASHINGTON — Accompanying young people in a style similar to that of Pope Francis can help to “bridge the ever-widening gap” between the church and young people, said Cardinal Joseph Tobin, C.s.S.R.
The archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, was the main speaker at The Lay Centre benefit evening Feb. 5, where he shared his reflections on the theme, “You Will Be My Witnesses: A Mentoring Church.”
Cardinal Tobin pointed out that the “growing tide of unbelief in the U.S. is driven by the youngest cohort,” with young women leading the way.
He urged his listeners in the packed Heritage Room at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School to respond to this “changed landscape” by helping young people “to discover their true face, their own voice and reflect the face of the Church, which is always reflective… of the light of Christ.”
“In the task of accompanying the younger generation, the church accepts her call to collaborate in the joy of young people rather than be tempted to take control of their faith,” he said.
The cardinal’s talk hinged on the upcoming Synod that will gather Catholic bishops from around the world in Rome in October to pray, discuss and reflect on the theme, “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.”
He began his presentation saying he would not be offering a guide to accompanying young people “in 10 easy steps.”
Rather, Cardinal Tobin pointed out how Pope Francis demonstrates the importance of accompaniment through his actions. He said to accompany, according to the pope’s example, means, “You meet people where they are. You presume the good in them and hope they will presume the good in you. You have a conversation. You open your heart and mind. You prepare to learn something from them. You go where they are going, if only for a little while, trusting that something good will come of it. You keep your wits about you but you don’t let scruples rule you.”
However, accompaniment also means more than “simply walking beside” young people, Cardinal Tobin said.
The Church’s rich spiritual tradition emphasizes the importance of spiritual discernment as a tool that helps people to recognize the Lord’s call in their lives and respond to it.
Referring to the preparatory document for the Synod, Cardinal Tobin emphasized that “one who accompanies others has to realize that each person’s situation before God and their life in grace are mysteries, which no one can fully know from without.”
As well, an adult who accompanies a young person in discernment must have “the hard personal experience of interpreting the heart to recognize the action of the Spirit,” he said.
He warned against casting judgment on young people, and he distinguished between psychology and spiritual guidance.
“Spiritual guidance orients the person toward the Lord and prepares the ground for an encounter with him,” he said. It seeks to foster a young person’s relationship with God and helps to remove any obstacles that may hinder it, he added.
He offered the Biblical example of the Apostle Paul and his relationship with young Timothy and Titus, noting that Paul’s accompaniment occurred in the midst of apostolic activity. While entrusting Timothy and Titus with their respective missions, Paul also gave them “rules for their personal lives and for their pastoral activity.”
The cardinal said Jesus’ encounters with various Gospel characters also highlight “the ideal profile” of someone accompanying a young person in vocational discernment: a loving look, which Jesus cast on his disciples when he called them; an authoritative word in his declaration in the temple in Capernaum; an ability to become a neighbour in his recounting of the Parable of the Good Samaritan; a choice to walk alongside others in his accompaniment of the disciples on the road to Emmaus; and an authentic witness of fearlessly going against preconceived ideas in washing his disciples’ feet.
Cardinal Tobin added that the narrative of the Gospel of John, which begins with Jesus asking the vocational question, “What are you looking for?” and ends with Jesus telling Peter to follow him, could also serve as a helpful guide in the process of spiritual accompaniment.
After his presentation, the cardinal took questions from the floor from several young adults in attendance. Lay Centre almuna Dr. Susan Timoney, who serves as secretary for pastoral ministry and social concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington, moderated the question-and-answer period.
Prior to his presentation, Cardinal Tobin presided and preached the Vespers service in the chapel of the Visitation Monastery. Guests also enjoyed a dinner reception.
Watch the full 54-minute video of Cardinal Tobin’s presentation here.