Christus Vivit


Christus Vivit is going to change the way we form our youth, and thus, how we form ourselves for the ministry. This is not a document that comes to us from the lofty perch of an ivory tower, but from the young people themselves who have been engaged in the synodal process since the initial inquiry went out in preparation for the 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Awareness. 

Some will read Christus Vivit and find it challenging, others will be affirmed. The document is best understood as a continuum that began with the Pre-Synod inquiry and continued with the Final Document of the Synod. Christus Vivit is Pope Francis’ reflection on these initial insights, which he delivers directly to youth, young adults, and all who are in their lives. 

Speaking to those who minister to youth, Pope Francis called for greater formation in mentorship. The greatest role that a youth leader can play is to be a person who accompanies a young person on their faith journey. The synod raised the concern that “there is a shortage of qualified people devoted to accompaniment.” With every challenge there is opportunity. 

The real issue behind the dearth in youth leadership is that we limit the ministry to people whom we have designated as the “youth minister.” Pope Francis made it clear that the whole community is responsible for forming and evangelizing youth. This is a role that requires a great capacity to listen and accompany. He went so far as to say that listening is a charism of the Holy Spirit that “should be given institutional recognition as an ecclesial service” [244]. 

The qualities of a youth leader are deeply rooted in social and Spiritual maturity, which is crucial to the role of mentor. Mentors must be well-rounded and non-judgmental, able to recognize that youth are still on a journey that is not yet complete. 

Pope Francis called upon the Church to offer ministry to the young that is inclusive and focused on reaching out to the margins. He used the term “popular” to describe this approach, but not in the same way that we use the word. “Popular” describes a ministry that is “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” [230]. 

“Popular” leaders, then, are those able to make everyone, including the poor, the vulnerable, the frail and the wounded part of the journey. “They do not shun or fear those young people who have experienced hurt or borne the weight of the cross” [231]. Youth ministry needs to be synodal, a term Pope Francis uses to describe a communal journey with the youth. The community takes co-responsibility for the formation of youth, which means we have to engage the parish, the schools, sports programs, indeed, wherever they are connected. This challenges us to embrace the greater community and partner with them to form our youth.

The traditional ways of gathering and forming youth were challenged by the synod, and will take great trust and courage to change. Youth do not want to be programmed. “The young make us see the need for new styles and new strategies. Youth ministry needs to become more flexible: inviting the young to events or occasions that provide an opportunity not only for learning, but also for conversing, celebrating, singing, listening to real stories and experiencing a shared encounter with the living God” [204]. 

Pope Francis described a two-fold approach to the young that begins with outreach and moves to growth. The young want to be empowered to be the protagonists of their faith journey. Those of us who minister to the young must be willing to minister with them, too. 

Pope Francis heard the youth when they talked about their catechetical formation, and we may not like what they said. He reiterated the importance of the kerygma as the Church’s greatest priority. The young must hear over and over again that God loves them, that Christ saves them, and that this same Christ is alive today. He talked about the importance of giving youth a “powerful experience of God, an encounter with Jesus that touches their hearts.” 

This experience needs to be nurtured, and this may take time. Too often our approach has been to inundate the youth with doctrine that does little to move their hearts, or moral teachings that do not take root in their uncultivated faith. As a result, many young people get bored, or worse, become downcast and negative. 

We have a great opportunity to refocus our mission on forming disciples of Jesus, but we need to allow the youth to show us the way. Christus Vivit announces to the world that Christ lives! The youth of the world who contributed to its recommendations and critiques are showing the world that Christ is alive within them, and that they are ready to walk together with us on the journey toward discipleship.

Anchor columnist Claire McManus is the director of the Diocesan Office of Faith Formation. 

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