Pope Francis blesses the unborn child of Gina and Jonathan Lewis after a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment, at the Vatican Oct. 26. Jonathan Lewis was a synod observer. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Synod document: Listen to, support, guide, include young people
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Catholic Church and all its members must get better at listening to young people, taking their questions seriously, recognizing them as full members of the church, patiently walking with them and offering guidance as they discern the best way to live their faith, the Synod of Bishops said.
While the synod’s final document spoke of friendship, affection, sexuality and “sexual inclinations,” those issues were not the center of concern in the lengthy final document, which was released Oct. 27.
The synod, which began Oct. 3 and was to conclude with a Mass Oct. 28, brought together 267 voting members — cardinals, bishops, 18 priests and two religious brothers — and 72 experts and observers, including three dozen men and women under 30 to discuss “young people, the faith and vocational discernment.”
For the vote on the final document, 249 bishops and priests participated; two-thirds approval or 166 votes, were required to keep a paragraph in the document. The version they voted on had 167 numbered paragraphs.
The focus of the final document was on improving ways to support young Catholics’ baptismal call to holiness, to welcome the contributions they make to the church and help them in their process of growing in faith and in deciding the state of life that would best correspond to what God wants from them.
The emphasis on the church listening to young people also led to an emphasis on the church listening to all people — including women — renewing communities and structures for a “synodal church” where all members listen to, support and challenge one another and share responsibility for the church’s one mission of spreading the Gospel.
“Listening is an encounter in freedom, which requires humility, patience, willingness to understand and a commitment to working out responses in a new way,” the document said. “Listening transforms the heart of those who live it, above all when they take on an inner attitude of harmony and docility to the Spirit of Christ.”
The bishops said they heard from many young people a need for “courageous cultural conversion and a change in daily pastoral practice” to promote the equality of women in society and in the church.
“An area of particular importance in this regard is the presence of women in church bodies at all levels, including in leadership roles, and the participation of women in church decision-making processes while respecting the role of the ordained ministry,” the document said. “This is a duty of justice.”
However, the final document was amended before passage to remove one specific suggestion on where to begin promoting greater equality in the church. The draft document had called for “avoiding the disparity” at the synod between the men’s Union of Superiors General, which has 10 voting members at the synod, and the women’s International Union of Superiors General, which had three non-voting observers at the assembly.
The document acknowledged how, in some countries, young people are moving away from the church or question its teachings, especially on sexuality.
The church’s response, the synod said, must be a commitment of time and patience as it helps young people “grasp the relationship between their adherence to faith in Jesus Christ and the way they live their affectivity and interpersonal relationships.”
Church teaching that all people are called to chastity and to refraining from sexual relations outside the bond of marriage between a man and a woman must be presented clearly, but not with a judgmental attitude, it added.

Bishops to consider endorsing sainthood cause of Sister Thea Bowman at meeting
WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. bishops will consider endorsing the sainthood cause of Sister Thea Bowman, the granddaughter of slaves and the only African-American member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, who transcended racism to leave a lasting mark on Catholic life in the United States in the late 20th century.
The request from Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of Jackson, Mississippi — where Sister Bowman grew up and also where she ministered in her last years while taking care of her aging parents while subsequently fighting cancer herself — will be considered during the bishops’ Nov. 12-14 fall general meeting in Baltimore.
In ecclesiological terms, Bishop Kopacz is asking whether it is advisable to initiate the sainthood cause at the local level, which is required by a 2007 instruction from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Sister Bowman has been declared a “servant of God.”
“Consideration of the opportuneness of advancing the cause on the local level is an important expression of episcopal collegiality, and a helpful indicator of the servant of God’s ‘fama sanctitatis,’” or “odor of sanctity,” said a letter by Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland, Maine, chairman of the U.S. bishops’’ Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance.
The Jackson Diocese plans to celebrate a special Mass Nov. 18 at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle, during which the edict that opens the investigation into her life will be read.
Sister Bowman was a trailblazer in almost every role: first African-American religious sister from Canton, Mississippi, first to head an office of intercultural awareness, and the first African-American woman to address the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Bertha Bowman was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi, the daughter of a doctor and a teacher. She attended Canton Holy Child Jesus School, and at age 8 decided she wanted to become a Catholic. She knew by her early teenage years that she was called to consecrated life.
She studied at Viterbo College in La Crosse, Wisconsin, while preparing to enter the convent. She went on to study at The Catholic University of America in Washington. She returned to Canton to teach and inspire the people in her community.
Sister Bowman led the Jackson Diocese’s Office of Intercultural Awareness, taught at several Catholic high schools and colleges, and was a faculty member of the Institute of Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans.
Renowned for her preaching, she took her message across the nation, speaking at church gatherings and conventions, making 100 speaking engagement a year spreading cancer slowed her. Music was especially important to her. She would gather or bring a choir with her and often burst into song during her presentations.
In addition to her writings, her music also resulted in two recordings, “Sister Thea: Songs of My People” and “Round the Glory Manger: Christmas Songs and Spirituals.”
When Sister Bowman spoke at the U.S. bishops’ meeting in June 1989, less than a year before her death from bone cancer and confined to a wheelchair, she was blunt. She told the bishops that people had told her black expressions of music and worship were “un-Catholic.”
Sister Bowman challenged that notion, pointing out that the church universal included people of all races and cultures and she challenged the bishops to find ways to consult those of other cultures when making decisions. She told them they were obligated to better understand and integrate not just black Catholics, but people of all cultural backgrounds.
Catholic News Service reported that her remarks “brought tears to the eyes of many bishops and observers.” She also sang to them and, at the end, had them all link hands and join her in singing “We Shall Overcome.”
That fall, the Thea Bowman Foundation was founded to support black Catholic education at all levels.

Abuse crisis, day of discernment, prayer top agenda for fall meeting
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Discussion and voting on concrete measures to address the abuse crisis and a day of spiritual discernment and prayer will top the agenda for the U.S. bishops when they meet Nov. 12-14 for their fall general assembly in Baltimore.
Public sessions of the assembly also will be livestreamed live tweeted and carried via satellite, said an Oct. 29 news release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The assembly will begin Nov. 12 with an address by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who is USCCB president, as well as remarks by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States.
The body of bishops will then adjourn to an on-site chapel for a full day of spiritual discernment and prayer. This will be followed by a Mass celebrated at the site of the assembly that evening.
In a letter sent late Oct. 26 to all U.S. bishops, Cardinal DiNardo asked them to spend seven days before the meeting, from Nov. 5 to Nov. 11, in “intensified” prayer, fasting and reparation to prepare for their general assembly in Baltimore.
During their business sessions, the U.S. bishops will discuss and vote on a series on concrete measures to respond to the abuse, including those approved for their agenda at the September meeting of the Administrative Committee.
Actions approved by the committee Sept. 19 and to be voted on include approving the establishment of a third-party confidential reporting system for claims of any abuse by bishops.
Committee members also instructed the bishops’ Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance to develop proposals for policies addressing restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of allegations of abuse of minors or adults.

Listen to those in need, pope says in World Day of Poor message
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — How is it that God in heaven can hear the cries of the poor, but so many people watching or standing nearby either cannot or just do not care, Pope Francis asked.
People must make “a serious examination of conscience to understand whether we are really capable of listening to the poor,” the pope said in a message for the World Day of the Poor.
The recently established commemoration and the period of reflection and action preceding it are meant to give Christians a chance to follow Christ’s example and concretely share a moment of love, hope and respect together with those in need in one’s community, the pope said in the message dated June 13, the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, patron saint of the poor. The Vatican released the message to the public June 14.
The World Day of the Poor — to be marked each year on the 33rd Sunday of ordinary time — will be celebrated Nov. 18 this year and will focus on a verse from Psalm 34, “This poor one cried out and the Lord heard.”
“We can ask ourselves, how is it this cry, which reaches all the way to God, is unable to penetrate our ears and leaves us indifferent and impassive?” the pope asked in his message.
To become aware of people’s suffering and know how best to respond with love, people must learn to be silent and listen, the pope said