In his four-minute “intervention” to bishops gathered at the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment in Rome on Oct. 10, Jonathan Lewis, the assistant secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns in the Archdiocese of Washington, encouraged bishops to get to know young people by name and proposed a renewed culture of mentorship in the Church. In his role as an auditor of the synod, Lewis is participating in the general sessions as well as in the English language groups as they meet to discuss and suggest edits or revisions to the synod’s preparatory document. 

The full text of his address to bishops is below:

Dear Holy Father, Synod Fathers, and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. I would like to begin with a question: how many young people do you know by name?

When I was in university there was a priest who knew everyone by name. My freshman year he learned my name and invited me to begin spiritual direction. We would meet in the evenings and spend an hour walking together. Like a modern day Road to Emmaus, Christ was made known to me in those late-night conversations.

This priest was one of many religious and lay mentors who knew me by name and empowered me to be a missionary disciple. Each one of us had spiritual mentors when we were young. Yet most young Catholics today do not.

Young people are leaving the Church for different reasons but the absence of spiritual friendships and mentors in our families, schools, and parishes lies at the heart of this crisis of faith.

Some young people, like my friend Sarah, leave the Church because they no longer trust the Church. This summer, the United States has again been scandalized by the sexual abuse of Church leaders. Young people are asking for mentors, not who scandalize the Church with sin, but who scandalize the world with holiness.

Some, like my friend Matthew, leave the Church because they have serious questions that have never been answered. Young people are asking for mentors who listen to their questions and provide serious answers that offer a coherent Christian worldview.

Others, like my friend Adam, leave the Church because they find the Church irrelevant. The Church does not speak about their interests and experience. Young people are asking for mentors to befriend them and inculturate the faith into their lives.

Spiritual friends and mentors are urgently needed today since young people trust personal relationships more than institutions. “Modern man [still] listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if it does listen to teachers it is because they are witnesses” (Pope Saint Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41).

Young people are not asking for a new event or ‘program’ but a relationship with “a Person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1).

This is why our first task is to offer to young people an encounter with Jesus Christ through the witness of each baptized Christian. We must re-propose the pedagogy of Christ, calling young people by name, sharing the kerygma, and accompanying them on a journey of lifelong missionary discipleship in a spiritual family.

Our Church history shows this pedagogy in action. In every generation Christ raises up saints who make more saints. Paul helped Timothy, Ignatius helped Francis Xavier, and Louis and Zelie helped Therese. Still today, the missionary formation of young people must be built on a long-term apprenticeship in Christian living that no textbook or technology can replace.

Spiritual mentorship was the method of Jesus, the method of the saints, and should be our method today.

Investing in spiritual mentorship will renew our Church because in mentoring relationships, both mentor and apprentice grow together and learn from the gifts of the other.

I urge this Synod to propose practical ways for local churches to implement the call of Pope Francis to “initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this ‘art of accompaniment’” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 169).

Churches often ask parishioners about how they are being good stewards of their “time, talent, and treasure.” Local churches, too, must start with this examination of conscience:

– How many hours do clergy and laity spend each week mentoring young people? – Do our sacramental preparation programs provide long-term spiritual mentorship? – Do we invest financially in the formation of lay mentors? – How many young people do I know by name?

Saint Oscar Romero said: “You say you love the poor, name them.” I ask you today: “You say you love young people, name them.”