Synod on youth is a vital opportunity

“Each new generation and culture requires the imagination of everyone to develop and present the message of the Gospel”, writes Gerard Gallagher

Pope Francis announced the theme for the Synod of Bishops taking place in October 2018 will be “Young people, faith and vocational discernment”. I’d like to welcome this initiative and express the hope that the Church in Ireland responds enthusiastically. Secondly, I hope that an honest appraisal takes place on the role of young people. Most importantly, I hope the voices of young people in Ireland are invited to make an honest contribution.

The Irish Young Church might not be as robust as in previous decades. Some of these young people do extraordinary expressions of faith and charity in the midst of ‘secular aggression’. 

However, not all of them might be active in our parishes and dioceses. The Young Church includes the recent WYD pilgrims, those who attend summer faith conferences and those who volunteer in their parishes.

It has been a difficult journey for young people to remain part of the Church. This generation of Millennials (those just born pre and post the Millennium) are interesting to observe. They are a patchwork generation. Their faith is a mix of contemporary secular values and some religious experience. Commentators have observed that they are “over catechised and under- evangelised”. This generation is enthusiastic about whatever is popular. Priests comment that this generation doesn’t know much about faith.

While this is possibly true; many of our structures are no longer equipped to assist the passing on the Faith.

According to the Irish Bishops’ Council for Research, just about one quarter attend Mass regularly. The huge drop off is in the teenage years. Few parishes have programmes for teenagers or youth. Many young parents are barely cultural in the relationship with their faith, religious attendance and instruction. The integration of young people and young families into the life of the Church is most likely one of the biggest challenges now facing the Church. Some parishes have just abandoned youth.


There is a system fault. There is a disconnect between youth work and youth ministry. Also in the adult Church, there is a disconnect between many of the social services that the Church provides and the values of the Gospel, too. Most of our efforts are directed at the one quarter who attend. Pope Francis’ vision is that we reach out to the ‘peripheries’. Many of our young people are already there, but it would appear that the Church is not. Huge parts of our towns and cities have churches and no pastoral mission. Youth culture and the culture of the Church are worlds apart and has been for years.

Young people are one of the significant minority voices within Church. Their role in the Church depends on how the Church responds to them. Each new generation and culture requires the imagination of everyone to develop and present the message of the Gospel. 

There remains a great opportunity to respond to this invitation for a Synod. I do hope that many of our new bishops take seriously their initial enthusiasm in prioritising youth ministry in preparations for Synod 2018. Pope Francis repeatedly reminded people of the importance of “a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ”. The Synod hopefully might provide the catalyst for the Church in Ireland to reflect on not just what do we do for young people but how to listen to them.


Gerard Gallagher is author of Are We Losing the Young Church? and Your Child’s Confirmation.


Defining the young Church

Traditionally ‘young people’ referred to those aged 18+. In recent years this has changed and has confused practitioners. Young people refer to those mainly in their teens. ‘Young adult ministry’ is directed towards those aged 18+ to

Just to be clear, young people or young adults are those aged from their teens to late 20s. Whilst the over 30s are sometimes referred to as young adults in my opinion this is incorrect. 

The Young Church is an expression used to encompass everyone. 


2018 – a year of promise? 2018 promises to be an interesting year. In the USA they will commemorate the 25th anniversary of Denver World Youth Day – which was the catalyst for a renewal of young people in the US. The Australian bishops have called for a Year of Youth in 2018 to mark the tenth anniversary of WYD Sydney. Ireland will host the World Meeting of Families. Maybe it’s time to prepare the Young Church for great things – maybe even a future WYD Ireland!