In Christus Vivit, Pope Francis writes, “Youth ministry has to be synodal” (206). The original Spanish text gives this more emphasis: “it is the only way.” What does Pope Francis mean by “youth ministry” and what does he mean by “synodal”?
“Youth Ministry” in Christus Vivit
For many of us, “youth ministry” refers to ministry with adolescents, either in junior high or high school (12-18 years old). The Synod for Youth, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment classifies a young person as 16-30 years old, an age group that the USCCB had previously defined as “young adult” (16-39 years old).
This distinction is important. Francis is not suggesting that a ministry to 14 to 15-year-olds should be synodal. I would argue that the synodal nature of ministry to those in their late teens and twenties is what distinguishes it from the kind of ministry needed by adolescents.
Ministries with young adults in the United States have suffered when methodologies that were effective with teenagers (at least in certain contexts) were also applied to that older age group. Though the groups may only be a few years apart in age, they are at very different stages of development and live in different cultural contexts.