Christus Vivit strongly resonated in several communities around the world. And how do the Jesuits feel about it? Two of them, Leonard Altilia and John O’Brien, members of the Youth Education Commission, graciously agreed to comment upon the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation through a Jesuit and Canadian perspective.
God is love
The very first words, then, that I would like to say to every young Christian are these: Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive! – Christus Vivit
The exhortation is rather long (299 paragraphs!) and covers various themes. Which is the most important, according to them? Their response is unanimous: God’s love and the love of God. “To know God is to love God, and to love God is to serve God,” states Father O’Brien. Immersed in this love, young people are asked to change the world.
To do so, the two Jesuits suggest that young Canadians practise discernment, namely to “seek a glimpse of that unique and mysterious plan that God has for each of us,” according to the Pope’s words. This practise is essential to find peace in a hyperconnected world, to avoid going astray, to connect with the Lord and with others.
Reaching a new generation
With great affection, I address this Apostolic Exhortation to all Christian young people. It is meant to remind you of certain convictions born of our faith, and at the same time to encourage you to grow in holiness and in commitment to your personal vocation. – Christus Vivit
Fathers Altilia and O’Brien highlight that Christus Vivit fits perfectly into the new apostolic preferences of the Society of Jesus. “Let me say that the entire exhortation is deeply rooted in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius,” states Father Altilia.
The most obvious connection with the apostolic preferences is simply this address to young people, this emphasis on youth ministry. The pope wishes to unite young people beyond their differences to find what most “effectively communicates the joy of the Gospel.” How? Among other things, by looking for new ways of bringing the kerygma – the foundational experience of encounter with God through Christ’s death and resurrection – to a new generation – for such generation to embody it. This brings us to the next point, which is the practical implementation of Christus Vivit among young Canadians.
A call to openness and listening
Along these lines, our institutions should provide young people with places they can make their own, where they can come and go freely, feel welcome and readily meet other young people, whether at times of difficulty and frustration, or of joy and celebration. – Christus Vivit
According to Father O’Brien, while the physical needs of most youth in Canada are being satisfied, their spiritual hunger is immense. The Apostolic Exhortation specifically intended for them therefore meets the needs of our youth, for they are words that come from the heart of a father. Encouraging, comforting and stimulating insights. However, as Father Altilia states with honesty, few of them will read it or even know that the pope meant it for them.
Hence, it is up to the Church of Canada to bring them the message of the Christus Vivit and to provide them with safe spaces, such as Catholic schools or pastoral centres, where they will be able to discuss it. In these types of environments, respectful listening must be the governing principle – as much for leaders, youth and elders. In fact, the pope has asked not to create a schism between groups and not to set aside the wisdom of elders. “Perhaps in Canada, our indigenous brothers and sisters, as well as new immigrant communities, can teach us better about belonging and intergenerational enrichment,” said Father O’Brien.
The Holy Spirit will be able to inspire participants in these listening conditions. And Father Altilia is very optimistic. Based on his experience, “when stirred by the Spirit, young people bring all their energy, idealism, and passion to the fight for justice. I know this to be true because I have seen it for myself.”
The pope also highlights other opportunities to develop the growth of and openness to faith in young people, from contemplative prayer to the arts through sports, contact with nature and popular pastoral ministry.
In addition to the ordinary, well-planned pastoral ministry that parishes and movements carry out, it is also important to allow room for a “popular” youth ministry, with a different style, schedule, pace and method. Broader and more flexible, it goes out to those places where real young people are active, and fosters the natural leadership qualities and the charisms sown by the Holy Spirit. It tries to avoid imposing obstacles, rules, controls and obligatory structures on these young believers who are natural leaders in their neighbourhoods and in other settings. – Christus Vivit
Hence, there are many ways to “accompany and encourage them [young people], trusting a little more in the genius of the Holy Spirit, who acts as he wills,” which we can develop here in Canada.