Maintaining Faith in a spiritual wilderness: Young Catholics who find meaning in the Church’s teachings speak Synod

The Synodal Times spoke to three young Catholics who are active in their Church about their experience of the synodal meetings and their own personal dreams for the future.

Robert Doheny, UCD and Trinity college alumnus and current archivist for the Faithful Companions of Jesus

I participated twice – at a local meeting in Kilkenny and then in Dublin, where I divide my time. I actually found when I was at the meetings that the meetings themselves were quite  good and all of the people were trying to make the most of it.

It was so nice to sit down and talk with people and learn their name on a human level – even if you disagreed with what they were saying. However, I did feel from the outset that my voice and the voices of young people in the Church formed part of the one section that the organisers of the Synod didn’t want to hear from – if you’re organising meetings during the week at 10pm, that’ll render a whole contingent of people unavailable to attend.

Being at the meetings was fine and I thought that there was some fruit in that but part of the problem was centred around trying to change the Magisterium of the Church and there wasn’t enough direction given to what the synodal meetings were going to be about.

Afterwards I felt that the few young people who did attend the meetings weren’t at all listened to and that the organisers of the Synod had their own pre-arranged report that they wanted to send in anyway. I found it disappointing that there wasn’t a greater effort to reach out to young people and get their voices, along with input from the large youth groups that are active in the Church in Ireland.

My faith in Catholicism isn’t taken from the Synod. Just because the meetings, in my view, were poorly organised or there were certain agendas being promoted – these don’t change that way that I feel about the Church. Especially after the bishops welcomed the report and repeated what Pope Francis said when he spoke of the Synod not being about changing the Magisterium. That gave me a lot of hope.


Young people can detect insincerity and because of the abuse scandals there had to be a lot of apologies – but there comes a time where the basic truths of the Faith have to be rearticulated and bravely spoken.

I feel like there’s a disconnect between young Catholics who are trying their best to live their Faith and the hierarchy or certain priests who either aren’t articulating or are afraid to articulate the basic teachings of the Faith and this trickles down to teenagers and young children.


Helen Vysotska, UCD alumnus and general manager of the Catholic youth organisation Pure in Heart

I participated in my own parish in Dublin. I felt that it was really important to listen and share experiences discerning the ways of the Holy Spirit, like Pope Francis said.

A lot of young people felt that the synodal process in Ireland has been somewhat anthropocentric and that the Synod in Ireland has neglected to focus on experience and instead reform based on public opinion.

I was disappointed to encounter older people, some who have been involved in the Church throughout their whole lives, completely oblivious to the Church’s doctrinal teachings that cannot change.

Women inclusion

While many have emphasised the greater inclusion of women in the Church, including as ministers, the agenda hasn’t been focused on how we can make the Church more authentic and faithful.

There were never any discussions on how we can encounter Christ in the unborn and the poor but rather complaints about the Church’s old-fashioned practices and the slow pace of reform. The Synod should be about making the Church more faithful to the teaching and less about reform.

I am the general manager of Pure in Heart, a Catholic Movement of young adults and I reached out to all of the bishops in Ireland and tried to encourage them to support PiH as a youth movement – only 4 ended up getting back to me. Parish priests are even more reluctant – I haven’t had one church or parish priest who’s come back as of now.

There’s definitely a clergy apprehension about what’s going on with young people. They don’t know if young people are too radical or lukewarm and fear that they will infiltrate.

It’s very disappointing. If my Faith wasn’t centred around Christ, I would’ve left the Church by now. Some contemporaries are joining other Catholic fringe societies because they’ve lost their belonging.

If clergy are really sincere in their commitments to youth we have to find out if they really want young people in the Church and if they’re then willing to accept and trust these young people.


Roger Berkeley, UCD alumnus and current member of the parish pastoral council at Newman University Church

I attended meetings at Newman University Church. I felt that they were great for a couple of reasons: namely that people came together to discuss topics that are not usually addressed in the Church.

These meetings coincided with the Archdiocese of Dublin’s Building Hope meetings so there were so many meetings in such a short period of time. Everyone had the chance to openly share their thoughts at both.

Newman Church wouldn’t be as radical as others so certain people may have been disappointed with the conclusions of the meetings as they thought that more change would happen. They actually had to be told that certain teachings cannot change. Confusions like this one have long preceded the synodal process because of the total gap between Church teaching and articulation.

The people who know best about the Faith are those who are properly catechised and I felt that there were a lot of misconceptions present in the meetings because of the inadequate catechises people have received and simply because they’re not learning the Faith. The biggest mistake that the Church made in my opinion was asking people certain questions about the Church without catechising the congregation.


Young people are responding to the Church more than ever but it’s not coming from the diocesan structure. Youth 2000 takes the burden away from catechetics while allowing young people to explore their Faith. Groups like Youth 2000 have done so much for the revival of the Faith.

Youth 2000 evangelises those who have fallen away from the Faith in college and acts as these people’s first real experience of the Faith. Where does the diocesan structure fit into all of this? It should be providing Faith formation instead of relying on lapsed to be invited to a Youth 2000 meeting. This falls with parish priests and the diocesan structure as a whole and has become virtually impossible given the lack of framework.

Instead of the traditional rites of passage e.g., Communion, Confirmation and possibly weddings, there should be something more to retain the interest of young people.

The Church needs to remember why it has survived and the core tenets of the Faith – these are most important.

Leave a comment

Subscribe to The Synodal Times weekly newsletter


Become a Member

Ireland’s only synodal publication is available for under €2.50 a month.

Join today to access all the latest analysis from the ongoing Irish Synod.

Members also receive a FREE eBook of The Synodal Pathway.

€25 per annum