A “revolution.” Not in content but in language, not in formalities but in the way of being. This is what the Church is called to do so that European youths may experience the joy of living the Church, so they may know and find God. Msgr. Jean Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg, in charge of the “youth” Commission of the European Bishops’ Conference (CCEE) has no hesitation to use the term “revolution.” SIR interviewed him on the sidelines of the meeting of spokespersons and media officers of Bishops’ Conferences held in Rome June 26-28, that included a moment of reflection and dialogue on the Synod on Young People. Mons. Hollerich, President of the EU Bishops’ Commission (COMECE), is probably the best person to address the theme of the young: he lived many years in Japan where he taught and served as chaplain at Sophia University in Tokyo.
Mons. Hollerich, who are young people?
Young people are very secularized, they no longer know the Church. While in the past there was a generation against it, today young people do not know what the Church is anymore. I believe it is a challenge for us, because we can develop youth ministry without the resistance of the past. These young people want to be happy and they are afraid they won’t find happiness, the meaning of life. They are afraid of committing to a relationship because they saw that it didn’t work with their parents. They are even afraid of love, of long-lasting commitments. These young people are open to the quest for God. But I also think that in order to respond to this quest, we need to change our language. We are too theological and young people do not understand what we say. We must use the languages of images, of the films that young people watch. We must enter into their world and not wait for them to enter into ours, and bring God with us in the awareness that we are not the ones to convert but it is only God who can do it. We must then try to create a space for God in their world.
And who are the adults?
In many cases these adults are no longer Catholic. We have young people in Luxembourg telling us that their grandparents have stopped going to church. So there is a whole generation who knows nothing about religion. These adults have chosen material well-being, and young people have seen that well-being did not work, that wealth has not given them happiness. At the same time they yearn for the well-being of their parents and they are afraid of not being able to achieve it.
Young people who are poorer than their parents. Are we experiencing a new poverty in Europe?
A new form of poverty and insecurity has taken over young people who are aware, for example, that when they will have reached the age of their grandparents the present pension system will no longer be working. They are worried, but they don’t express it in words. Rather, it’s a burden they carry inside their hearts.
Could it be said that the Church is afraid of young people?
I really hope not; I’m not afraid of young people. I need young people. Only through a personal relationship with them can I truly see them for who they are, what they think, what they feel. Only through deep understanding, through sincere friendship, can we speak to the young. The Church has made a beautiful step with the pre-Synodal meeting. I am very grateful to the Pope and to Cardinal Baldisseri for this opportunity, because on that occasion young people experienced dialogue with the Church, and most of all, they made the experience of being taken seriously by the Church with their questions, their doubts, their faith. The young man from Luxembourg who attended the pre-Synodal meeting was impressed by the fact that the Pope wanted to know his opinion.
So, in your opinion, what do young people expect from the Church?
I think it varies greatly from one Country to the next. Here young people no longer go to the parish because – we are told – the people attending Mass are too old. The intermediate generation was lost. They also don’t understand the language in full. Some of them say they disagree with what is said, others claim that the Christianity of adults is more cultural than it is religious. Yet they all seek authenticity. I think that in their eyes the Pope represents the Christian authenticity they are seeking. We should take the Pope as our role model, be authentic persons and speak – I say it also to the bishops – with young people. We must talk about the doubts we also have had, of the experiences we have made of God and also admitting what we have not been able to do. Young people are asking for a conversion. We must be what we say and live out what we proclaim.
Do you think that the Church should undertake a revolution at internal level so that young people may return to enter her doors?
I do, and this revolution consists first of all in being Christians who read the Holy Scriptures and find their lifelong inspiration in the Gospel. It means becoming disciples of Christ, being those who follow Christ, not those who know everything but those who are on the move to find the answers, not those who have a solution to all problems. In a word, to be a dynamic Church, not a static one.
What do you expect from the Synod?
I hope it will usher in a new beginning. For a youth pastoral ministry made “with” and not “for” young people. At European level we held a meeting in Barcelona in preparation for the Synod and, if the bishops agree, we plan to hold a similar gathering in the post-Synodal meeting in Krakow. This will be my contribution for renewed momentum, for a new restart.