Watch the video above of Grotto’s LIVE Conversation from Rome.
Director Sarah Yaklic hosted and Christina DiSalvo interpreted in American Sign Language.
You can still join the conversation in the Facebook comments!
What’s going on?
Back up — what’s the Synod?
Every few years, the pope calls bishops and Church leaders to Rome to listen to the signs of the times and talk about how to respond. The gathering is called a synod, which is a Greek word that means “walking together.” This October, the synod will address young people, the faith, and vocational discernment. The gathering comes at a unique moment in history when the Church is looking for renewal, and she turns to us — the young people of the world — to lead the way.
Ok, so what?
On Monday, Oct. 15, Grotto is hosting a LIVE conversation on Facebook (and on Instagram and YouTube, too!) with fellow young adults who are in Rome for the synod. We’ll be talking about our hopes and fears, and our dreams for the Church.
But how do I fit in?
We want your voice to be represented! What would you ask the young adults we’re speaking with?
Imagine you are in the crowd at St. Peter’s Square, mashed against the metal barricade as Pope Francis makes his way through. People are cheering and holding babies for him to bless, and he stops and looks your way. He leans in and turns his ear to you — quick! You have 15 seconds to tell the pope what is on your heart. What do you say?
It’s not too late to join the conversation in the Facebook comments!
Sarah Yaklic: Welcome to our live discussion from Rome. My name is Sarah Yaklic, and I’m the Director of Grotto Network. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been joined with my colleagues, Javi and Josh, and we’ve been taking to the streets of the Eternal City to bring to you stories from the Synod on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment. Today, we’re trying to do something similar, but with a little different approach. What we’re trying to do is to bring Rome home to you and, by your participation in this dialogue, for you to bring a little bit of home back here to Rome. How does that look like? What’s that going to feel?
I’m joined here with truly an A-list panelist. We have my new friend, Christina. She’s going to serve as our ASL interpreter, and she currently works in the Department of Faith, Deafness, and Disability at the Archdiocese of Washington. We have Jonathan. Jonathan has been an auditor in the Synod. What that basically means is he’s been one of the voices representing our generation in the Synod Hall. Just last week, Jonathan delivered an address to Pope Francis and over 300 bishops and cardinals. No pressure or anything, right, Jonathan?
Jonathan Lewis: No.
We also have Brian. Brian works with the Catholic Apostolate Center, and he’s a junior at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Through his work with the Apostolate Center, he is trying to bring to life the Synod along the digital highways.
In a very special note, we have you, our online community. Everything that we’re going to do tonight is focused around you. We’ve invited you to share comments and questions in advance. I’m happy to share that all of the questions that we’re going to address this evening directly come from you. Thank you in advance for your willingness to be brave and to share with us your questions and concerns and to really be present with us tonight as we journey along the digital highways.
Before I ask our panelists our first question, I want to get the folks back home thinking a little bit. You were great in submitting those questions, but now I want to throw a question out to you. A lot of our Synod content, both the videos we’ve been releasing and our editorial pieces, have really focused on our hopes and our fears, our dreams for the Church and how we as a generation can really truly rejuvenate the Church that we know today.
I want to start by asking you, what brings you joy? Think about too the hopes and also your fears. We’re all about authenticity and so we want to invite you to think about that. If you’re brave enough, comment online. If you’re following by way of YouTube or Instagram or Facebook, use that comment area. If there’s any ground rules for this evening, it’s only this, that we use this opportunity as a way to use digital media unlike most people do today.
We know that it’s often filled with negativity and people frankly bashing each other and tearing each other down. Let’s do something different. Let’s make this space someplace safe and respectable. Let’s usher in a new way of engaging online when we recognize the person behind the screen, that we’re no longer just a social media profile, but a person that has infinite value and worth. Those are the only ground rules. The rest of it is just going to be a lovely and hopefully engaging conversation.
Our first question. Our first question comes to us from Susan. She’s curious to know, what are some of the most unexpected topics that have been taking place in the Synod Hall? Jonathan, tell us what you have to think about that and what’s been happening inside that great space.
Jonathan Lewis: Thank you for the invitation to be here in the dialogue. It’s been an amazing experience being in the Synod Hall, packed in with the Pope and hundreds of bishops and cardinals. Lots of common themes that people would think and really a diversity. A friend, Safa from Iraq, talking about religious persecution to people in Malawi or to Asia talking about their experience. It reminds me how big the world is.
One topic that maybe is more surprising to me and I think to a lot of people is how much trust the bishops have in young people. One theme that’s been consistent from Asia to Africa to the Americas and Europe is we have to trust our young people. That’s coming from the mouths of bishops. They get four minutes to talk to the Pope about anything. Their comment is we need to encourage young people’s freedom. We need to trust young people more.
Sarah Yaklic: Are you seeing that when you leave the Synod Hall that your fellow young people are both as surprised and happy as you are by sharing tonight? Are they feeling that same energy as they leave the Synod Hall and go back to their various spots around the city?
Jonathan Lewis: Yeah, I think we’ve all been dumbfounded at how many bishops have come up to us to one-talk or in meetings have stopped the conversation to say, “We haven’t heard from a young person in a while. Hey auditors, what do you think about this?” That’s not always the sense people have when they expect things of the Church or maybe not even people’s experience, but I’ll say in terms of the leaders of the Church here in Rome, they’ve absolutely been focused on listening and engaging in dialogue. I hope that everyone has that experience. Maybe this is the spark so that the same thing is happening back in all of our home churches and universities.
Sarah Yaklic: It’s funny that you talk about that, about the idea of listening and accompaniment. We hear that word a lot today in our Church, but I think it’s something that we really have to be open to and learn and discern what that means.
I want to turn the attention to Brian for a moment. You shared with us … We did a video on you. I think it was last week. I’m kind of losing track of time here now that we’ve been here. We’re on our third week. You bravely spoke to us about the idea of mentorship and what it means for people to walk with you on your faith journey.
I like to call it a ‘Godwink’ when we have these moments where things just happen to fall into place at the same time. The same day that we released your video, Paul submitted some questions to us. He really was focusing on the idea of mentorship and what that means. I want to ask you a question from Paul. He wants to know, how did mentors and faith leaders get you to where you are today?
Brian Rhude: First, I want to say thank you. Just like Jonathan, it’s an honor to be here, to be representing the Center and to be a voice here for the Synod that’s going on, as a young person here in Rome. I had a different journey than I think a lot of my friends did to come into the Church. I was baptized young and then didn’t really come back to any sort of organized religion, let alone the Church until I was in high school.
It was really in high school, two of my teachers who showed me the faith for the first time as something that was more than just a class. I think sometimes that can be really easy to … Because the Church has so much richness and so much beauty and depth to it, it can be easy to get caught up in that and then not see the reality of what it is. My junior year religion teacher who’s a great friend of mine, Mike Tenning, at my high school, he taught Sacraments and Spirituality and really showed me the personal faith for the first time. He taught us different spiritualities, Ignatian, Franciscan, and how these play an active role in our life.
Then the deacon who taught at my high school, who’s now moved away, Deacon Brandon Justice, he taught me about the Church kind of as an institution and how beautiful that is, despite its flaws, how important that it is.
To get to the Church, it was those two. After that, I’ve had so many, especially in college, who have walked with me, our chaplain, Father Jude DeAngelo, my spiritual director, Father Frank Donio. There’s so many in my life, but that listening and that walking with I think is so crucial to getting someone to God and getting them to have … That’s our goal is to get each other to heaven. We can’t do it alone, and I don’t really think anyone wants to just, as I said in the video, just grab by the collar and drag there and being told you don’t have an input.
Sarah Yaklic: Thanks for sharing. We actually have someone joining us online, Alejandro from Miami. He has this question for the Synod Fathers. He wants to know, “Synod Fathers, do you hear us? Do you hear us when we talk about our struggles, our hopes and our dreams?”
While we don’t have our Synod Fathers here in the room, I want to turn the experience to Jonathan who has been walking the journey with our Synod Fathers. Can you say that in your experience of being with the Synod Fathers that as you share, they’re actually hearing? Do you feel that sense that it’s authentic listening to you and the other young people gathered?
Jonathan Lewis: Yeah, I really do. I think that’s been one of the things that’s maybe taken all of us auditors, which is the word we’re called in the Synod, taken us all a bit by surprise. I think we expected it would be a friendly welcome and they would like having us there, but the extent to which people have looked in our direction or followed up with side conversations and gone out of their way. I’m one of the older ones there in my early 30s. You’ve 20-year-olds that 60- and 70-year-old cardinals are stopping to say, “Thank you for what you said. That really stuck with me.” I just don’t think most of us have that experience very often.
I’ve heard a number of bishops share this, too. The most profound moment in the Synod I’d say pretty much across the board was the intervention of this young Iraqi man, Safa, who shared the story of religious persecution in the Middle East and his experience of going to Mass with his friends and saying, “See you next week for mass,” and then next week, the church being bombed and losing friends. That was the most sustained … It was probably a minute plus of just straight applause. It’s normally a pretty polite applause after everyone’s talk. That was moving. He was brought to tears, and he had the chance to meet privately with the Pope.
Just challenge on challenge, he had to fly home early because his mom is struggling with cancer, so he left the Synod, the once in a lifetime opportunity for him to share his story. Happily, he got to talk, but he had to leave early. I hope we can all keep Safa and his mom in our prayers.
Sarah Yaklic: Please, yeah. And praise God that we had this moment where people could say, “People are struggling with for their faith. People are not just struggling, but they’re giving of their lives.” I think we, as young people, we have to take pause in that, great pause to know that we have this amazing gift in our faith and that it’s easy for us to practice our faith. We don’t have bombs in our church. We’re free to go to church. Yet, in other places of the world, that’s not the case. I think it’s something that we as young people in America … I think it’s something we need to pause and pray for that community and to also find the courage to give voice to our faith. It’s easy for us in the United States to do so.
Jonathan Lewis: It just struck me that this weekend we celebrated the canonization of these seven saints, one of whom is Oscar Romero, who was shot while celebrating Mass. Sometimes, just like with Jesus, we gloss over certain details or stories or we make them seem kind of romantic or really friendly like, “Oh, he’s really nice, Jesus,” but Oscar Romero is like an advocate for justice, but also a great Catholic in the fullness of our tradition. That just struck me with what you were saying. The New Yorker wrote an article on Oscar Romero, that’s great. He should be a voice for the whole world to see differently, but at the end of the day, he was a man who dedicated his life to Church and was willing to die for it. It makes me rethink, am I willing to do that?
Sarah Yaklic: Oscar Romero has this beautiful line about being a microphone for God. What does that mean for us? Is being a microphone for God simply our words or is that how we live our lives and that radical call that means that being a microphone for God is taking on his good news and living that in the most radical, authentic, profound way that we can in this world.
Going back to Brian, we need the help to do that. It’s a difficult world that we live in. We’re faced with a lot of challenges. We’re faced with struggles, and we know that we can’t do that alone; and our mentors, our spiritual guides really do walk with us. I think with of people in my life, with no doubt, I would not be here today without the help and support of the mentors who have so generously walked with me.
I just want to follow up a little bit on that earlier conversation and a little follow up. Paul had said, “What would you say to your mentors now that you’re here in Rome?” I thought, “What a great gift.” Sometimes we fail to help people to say thank you or to lift up what they do for us. If you had something to say to your mentors sitting here in Rome during this historic time of the Synod, what would you say to them?
Brian Rhude: I mean, way to be put on the spot. I think for so many of them … Deacon Justice’s birthday was last week and I shot him a text. With the eight-hour difference, it’s a little difficult sometimes, but I would say to them the same thing I said to him. “I wouldn’t be here without you. I wouldn’t be here physically, but I wouldn’t be a part of the Church. I wouldn’t feel the love and joy that I feel on a day-to-day basis if it weren’t for your witness, if it weren’t for the joy that you brought to me and that infectious zeal,” that I think so many of the people that we all as individuals can think of who have affected our lives, who have brought us to church. It’s not an, “Oh, that’s nice. He didn’t something for me,” but it’s a, “Now, I want to do that for someone else.” I think that’s, “I wouldn’t be here without you, so thank you.”
Sarah Yaklic: I think ‘thank you’ are probably the most suffice words that we can offer to all of our mentors and all those spiritual mothers, fathers, all those guides along the journey who really have walked with us. I mentioned a little bit earlier that Jonathan got to address the Holy Father and the Synod fathers. It’s interesting. I think there’s something to be said about this idea of mentorship that keeps coming up.
At the beginning of your address, you asked the question, how many people do you know by name? You had four minutes. All of the auditors have four minutes to address the Synod Hall. It’s timed pretty to the T, right?
Jonathan Lewis: Yeah, there was a buzzer.
Sarah Yaklic: We’ll have no buzzers tonight.
Jonathan Lewis: Papal buzzer.
Sarah Yaklic: We’ll have no buzzer, no papal buzzers tonight. You have four minutes. You sit as someone who has worked in such a dedicated way to serve the young people in the D.C. area. All the topics that you could have addressed, why is it that you started by asking the Synod Fathers, how many young people do you know by name?
Jonathan Lewis: I think I asked the question, because it’s personal. I think the faith is always personal for all of us. People got to know my name is the other way of saying that. In my family growing up; and I’ve had so many positive experience of faith and of church, but that’s not everyone’s experience. I really see a lot of young people, friends of mine, a few family members, who drifted in the Church and felt anonymous and sort of like nameless. It’s often in that drifting that people realize or come to the realization that the Church doesn’t matter to them, but that was never the way for me. I realize that’s a privilege. That’s not something I’ve earned or that I did. I just had markers along the way who kept guiding me in that direction, who kept calling me by name and said, “Jonathan, this way. Jonathan, this way.”
That opened up my understanding of the world, my understanding of God, my understanding of myself. I think at the end of the day, I’ve also practically been surprised in giving talks across the country when I ask parish leaders, “How many young people do you know by name?” I was giving a workshop to Church leaders. They had grant money nationally to focus on ministering to young adults, so I asked these teams, “Just write down on paper how many young people, young adults you know by name.”
There were like 50 people in this room and one person wrote down 12 names, and that was the highest number. A quarter of the US population are in their 20s and 30s, and we got 12 as the most. It’s personal to me, because it’s personal to every person who leaves. My observation is that people leave the Church for different reasons. Some people disagree with a teaching or question that, and no one’s been there to explain it to them or to dialogue with them about that question. Some people feel anonymous or lonely. We’re so connected nowadays, but everyone feels this deep well of loneliness and isolation when we just stay behind screens and don’t necessarily build those human relationships especially in communities like churches or schools.
Other people leave, because they don’t trust the Church anymore because they had a negative experience, because someone they know did or they hear about the sexual abuse crisis being back in the news. What’s needed? Someone who they know who knows them, who’s trustable, who’s a witness in a positive way. I think that’s why at the end of the day, we’ve got to start by knowing people’s names. You can’t love people if you don’t know them, so I just wanted to start asking what I think is a very rudimentary question, but an essential one for the Synod.
Sarah Yaklic: Thank you for being that voice. It’s kind of my prayer that more mentors will rise up and take that courageous step to walk with our generation, because the Church has a beautiful gift to offer. Jesus gives us the most beautiful gift that we could ever receive. We just need the help in walking closer to Him. Praying that more people may rise up. Then we as young people might be able to also, in our own way, mentor our peers too to cross generations. It is a multi-generational approach to living.
I want to take this a little bit deeper now. More personal so maybe less on what’s happening in the Synod, but still focused on the themes of the Synod and what’s being spoken about and what the Holy Father is calling us to. This is a question I’m interested to hear from both of you. It comes to us from Luke. Luke asks us … Or Luke asks you directly, “What are you willing to do to take ownership of your faith life and the Church that you have inherited?”
Both of you work for the Church in some capacity. Brian is studying theology at Catholic U, but I want you to take off your ministry hats. I want to invite Jonathan and Brian to step for a moment in their personal shoes, not shoes as minister, but as young people living and working in this world and answer Luke’s question. Here it is again, “What are you willing to do to take ownership of your faith life and the Church that you have inherited?” Who wants to go first?
Jonathan Lewis: Brian? It’s a great question. First off, I think we should all ask ourselves that question. It’s super easy working in ministry to get stuck into the leader mode and helper mode behind the scenes. I think two things. One, all the news of the sexual abuse crisis and thinking about preparing for the Synod raised up one thing in me, which is just this desire to be 100% in what I’m doing. It’s funny, because that’s exactly what Pope Francis said at the canonization mass homily.
Some of the news that’s come out just reminds us we can’t give a public face of … We can’t be Instagram worthy, but on the other corner of the room, it’s messy. Our faith lives can’t be like that. We can’t give most things to God or put most things in the light, but behind that closet, we just shove a bunch of crap. We’ve got to be just 100% authentic. I think it reminds me and each of us like, “Take the next step up.” That’s going to look different for every person, but each of us can take one more step towards authenticity.
More practically, my wife and I are moving apartments. We moved out right before coming to Rome and are moving 48 hours after we land from Rome, which is such a young adult story that none of the bishops really get because they haven’t done that in decades.
Sarah Yaklic: And all the stuff’s in storage…
Jonathan Lewis: Oh yeah, we’re basically homeless, but it’s great… But I think the first step is we’ve got to register to parish, because it’s so easy when we’re moving to like, “Oh, check out this church. Check out that one,” but in the first couple of months … Follow back up with me if we don’t. You’ll do it, too.
Sarah Yaklic: I will. I will.
Jonathan Lewis: Like commit. We each have to just commit to something, because we can’t just float anonymously. People need us, and we need other people. That’s something we’re going to be looking to do more practically in the next couple of months.
Brian Rhude: I think to comment on something Jonathan said, at Catholic, we have a program of student ministry, and I think it’s so easy. The worst day on campus is the day that decisions come out because decisions for residents’ assistants and ministers come out the same day. There’s these people who are just so happy and so excited that they got the job they were looking for and then there’s the people that didn’t and there’s always more people who don’t than do.
Something that I’ve been reminded so many times and I’ve reminded others is that you don’t need a title to do the work of God. I think sometimes we can get so wrapped up in that and it’s not even the clericalism that Pope Francis has been talking so much about. It doesn’t have to be a priest versus a layperson. It can be a layperson versus another layperson who just has that job. I think one of the worst things we can do is to say, “I don’t have a title. I’ve got nothing to do. I’ll go to church on Sunday. That’s all I have to do.” I think for me, the thing is I’m going to tweak St. Paul, which is probably a dangerous thing to do.
Sarah Yaklic: It’s welcome here. It’s welcome.
Brian Rhude: St. Paul tells us to pray unceasingly. I’m going to tweak that a little bit and say, “Be joyful unceasingly.” The difference between joy and happiness is sometimes difficult to see. I think we have to live every moment of our lives with joy and even when those moments are difficult, joy isn’t happiness. Even if we’re sad or angry or this or that, when we live joyfully, we’re showing Christ to other people.
I know for me that’s something I have to work on. I think that’s something we all have to work on constantly, but doing the little things and sometimes doing the little things is so much harder than doing the big things. The more little things we can do with joy, the more we bring ourselves closer to God and the more that we bring other people to God. I think that’s what we owe the Church really is to help bring people to Christ. That’s the goal. We’re here to make saints.
Sarah Yaklic: You know it.
Brian Rhude: To join each other in heaven.
Sarah Yaklic: I think what you said, we don’t need a title, but you know we got, each of us, all baptized Catholics. When we were baptized, we got the best and most beautiful title. We are sons and daughters of a Father who loves us beyond imagination. That’s a title that I want to embrace and try to do my best to live up to that and knowing that I don’t have to do that alone. God is the one who is journeying with us, He’s our father, He’s the one who has called us by name. That is something to celebrate.
We have a couple of questions coming in online. Unfortunately, a lot more questions that came in prior, so we’re not going to be able to address them all tonight, but I do want to respond to Cammy or invite you to respond to Cammy. She asks, “If you could send one message to the growing number of unaffiliated young adults today, what would that be?”
Jonathan Lewis: I would say to start, maybe not the most Catholic answer of the Church, getting people back in the church first, but commit to community. Wherever you are, I think the biggest lie that we tell ourselves and that people tell us is that we can go alone. We can do it alone. We find spaces and places in life where we can live independently, where we don’t ask too much from other people and we expect that people don’t ask too much of us.
I just think life’s better with people, and we’re made to be human beings, social animals. I think our generation struggles a little bit to commit to things. I think committing to community is the great first step. Ask yourselves then, “Is this community worthy of my life’s purpose?” One author, who I love, talks about spirituality as this energy within us. It’s not as though like, “I’m not spiritual, but you are.” Everyone gives their life for a mission, for a purpose. The question’s just, is that worthy of your life?
Jonathan Lewis: There’s a lot of people who spent a lot of time and energy making money or getting ahead professionally, but as we step back at the end of the year … That’s why New Year’s Resolutions I think still are popular. We look back and be like, “Was this year worthy of what I spent my time and money and energy on?” I really believe that it takes something bigger than ourselves, something we call God. It’s founded in a real religious community. I call it church, the Catholic Church, that’s worthy of my life’s purpose. It’s a family that’s messy, but it’s worthy. Commit to community and ask yourselves, “Is it worthy?” Commit to make that better.
Sarah Yaklic: I love that. Thinking about the idea as our Church of a messy, but worthy place, worthy family. We are actually coming up on the end of our time. My team had said as we were preparing that it’s going to go by quickly. It’s going to feel like a few seconds. Does it feel like we’ve been here for 30 minutes or a few seconds?
What I think to me has been the most refreshing moment of our conversation is… I believe in young people. I believe in our generation. This is a great opportunity to really help rejuvenate the church. It’s such a beautiful, as you said, this community.” If we look at it as such and not just a community where community’s over there and the Church is over there, but as a place that we could actively engage and be connected and give our gifts and talents to that community. If we do that, what amazing … Not only what an amazing church it would be, but what an amazing world it would be. The Church exists to transform society. That’s why Jesus gave us the gift of his Church, to bring His love to the world.
As we close out our time together, I first want to say thank you, thank you to all of our online community who took time out of their day to join us, those who in advance of even this live conversation submitted questions, submitted their comments. We definitely did not get through them all so I encourage you to visit Grotto Network. We’re going to take those questions and bring them into our content development. We are grateful that you took that courageous step to be honest and authentic in sharing. We promise to do our best to address the rest of the questions in the coming weeks and months as we develop content.
Secondly, I want to say thank you. Thank you to Jonathan and Brian and Christina for being with us. Your witness is inspiring. Your presence is really important. We, as a community, are better because of you and your witness.
For all the folks out there, if you like what Brian had to say, check out Catholic Apostolate Center. Brian has been blogging, trying to bring the Synod to life. You could get more of his gems, his wisdom that he is sharing. Visit Catholic Apostolate Center.
Jonathan, you could check out DC Catholic. He’s been doing these awesome weekly recaps on what’s happening at the Synod. I just find them to be authentic moments of really, truly what’s happening on the ground and giving to life the young perspective.
Christina, if you know somebody who is deaf or living with disability, I invite you to check out her department’s social media platforms. One of the my favorite things that they do is signing the weekly readings.
We at Grotto Network try really hard to make our content accessible and really encourage all communicators out there to think more of how you could actively reach people who are deaf and not only provide content in a way that’s accessible, but really invite them into greater collaboration and partnership.
Then before we sign off, I can’t help, but say thank you to the Grotto Network team. Here in the room with us, we have Josh and Javi and Liz and Emily, who have been working really hard to make this possible for you. Back at our Grotto headquarters, we have Josh and Mariah and Brittany and Ben and Coty, just people who are really working day in and day out to provide inspirational content for you. Thank you to that team. Thank you to all the people who engaged with us. If you like this style of dialogue, I also encourage you to check out the national dialogue. There’s lots of opportunities where you could have in-person conversations and more online conversations.
Before we sign off, I can’t help, but say visit GrottoNetwork.com. We really do want to bring to you and walk with you sharing authentic stories. If you want a little preview about what is happening tomorrow, we’re bringing you a story of a young woman who made the journey from LA here to Rome to take part in Oscar Romero’s canonization. It’s just a beautiful story of faith. I really can’t wait for you to be able to watch that and hopefully it will inspire you and encourage you to go to Saint Oscar Romero and some of the other saints that were just named saints just yesterday.
Jonathan Lewis: Feels like a week ago.
Sarah Yaklic: Yeah, exactly. On that note, thanks so much again for joining us. We hope you have a great afternoon and evening or morning. Whatever time zone you’re in, know of our prayers. I can’t help but say, Pope Francis always asks us to pray for him, so let’s always remember to keep the pope in prayers and in a special way the Synod. Thanks again. Have a great night.