In this excerpt from the Holy Father’s opening address at the Synod on October 3, he counseled all the Synod’s participants to reach across apparent generation gaps to listen to one another.
Let us leave behind prejudice and stereotypes. A first step towards listening is to free our minds and our hearts from prejudice and stereotypes. When we think we already know who others are and what they want, we really struggle to listen to them seriously. Relations across generations are a terrain in which prejudice and stereotypes take root with proverbial ease, so much so that we are often oblivious to it.
Young people are tempted to consider adults outdated; adults are tempted to regard young people as inexperienced, to know how they are and especially how they should be and behave. All of this can be an overwhelming obstacle to dialogue and to the encounter between generations. Most of those present do not belong to a younger generation, so it is clear that we must pay attention, above all, to the risk of talking about young people in categories and ways of thinking that are already outmoded. If we can avoid this risk, then we will help to bridge generations.
Adults should overcome the temptation to underestimate the abilities of young people and not judge them negatively. I once read that the first mention of this fact dates back to 3000 BC and was discovered on a clay pot in ancient Babylon, where it is written that young people are immoral and incapable of saving their people’s culture. This is an old tradition of us old ones!
Young people, on the other hand, should overcome the temptation to ignore adults and to consider the elderly “archaic, outdated and boring”, forgetting that it is foolish always to start from scratch as if life began only with each of them. Despite their physical frailty, the elderly are always the memory of mankind, the roots of our society, the “pulse” of our civilization. To spurn them, reject them, isolate or snub them is to yield to a worldly mentality that is devouring our homes from within. To neglect the rich experiences that each generation inherits and transmits to the next is an act of self-destruction….
We must … cure the virus of self-sufficiency and of hasty conclusions reached by many young people. An Egyptian proverb goes: “If there is no elderly person in your home, buy one, because you will need him”. To shun and reject everything handed down across the ages brings only a dangerous disorientation that sadly threatens our humanity, it brings a disillusionment which has invaded the hearts of whole generations. The accumulation of human experiences throughout history is the most precious and trustworthy treasure that one generation inherits from another. Without ever forgetting divine revelation, that enlightens and gives meaning to history and to our existence.
Brothers and sisters, may the Synod awaken our hearts! The present moment, and this applies also to the Church, appears to be laden with struggles, problems, burdens. But our faith tells us that it is also the kairos in which the Lord comes to meet us in order to love us and call us to the fullness of life. The future is not a threat to be feared, but is the time the Lord promises us when we will be able to experience communion with him, with our brothers and sisters, and with the whole of creation. We need to rediscover the reasons for our hope and, above all, to pass them on to young people who are thirsting for hope. As the Second Vatican Council affirmed: “We can justly consider that the future of humanity lies in the hands of those who are strong enough to provide coming generations with reasons for living and hoping” (Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 31).
The meeting between generations can be extremely fruitful for giving rise to hope. The prophet Joel teaches us this – I reminded young people at the pre-Synod meeting – and I consider it the prophecy of our time: “Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions” (2:28) and they will prophesy.