VATICAN CITY — Lay Centre alumnus Filipe Domingues has served as an expert for communications and media ethics at the Synod of Bishops for Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment. During this last week of the Synod, he told us more about this experience.
What is your role at the Synod?
I am one of the 23 so-called “experts” who have been invited to support the Special Secretaries of the Synod in their work of writing the final document of this important meeting. Being a journalist, my field of expertise is communications and media ethics. I report and summarize what is said during the plenary sessions and group discussions about this topic, with a special focus on the relationship young people have with social media.
How were you invited to be part of this synodal experience?
I was invited to take part, through the Congregation for Catholic Education — with two other Lay Centre residents — at the pre-synodal meeting that took place in March. On that occasion, it happened that the moderator of my language group suggested my name as one of the people who could be part of the commission charged with writing the pre-synodal document. After that experience, it came as such a surprise to receive the invitation from the Special Secretaries to be one of the two young experts at the Synod. I am actually the youngest one.
Could you describe for us who are the people attending the Synod?
There are 268 Synod Fathers, more than 30 young people, another 20 auditors and 23 experts. Auditors have an active role and they can intervene in certain moments, both in the assembly and in the groups. Young people's presence was very strong in the hall. They made their presence heard also when they cheered or clapped. As for the experts, we cannot speak in the general assembly but we can talk with moderation in the small groups, called “circoli minori.” Our job is mainly to support the Special Secretaries in writing the final document.
Media talk a lot about giving lay people the right to vote in Synods…
The voting members and those who can be elected for certain committees are only the Synod Fathers. This question was raised also by some bishops: some Synod Fathers are brothers, like the Marists or the Brothers of the Christian Schools, for example, so perhaps in the future lay people could get the chance to vote, too, including women. I believe this could be a natural development.
But one has to know, on the other hand, that the vote on the final document happens at a moment when everyone more or less agrees on the results of the Synod because the open discussion is at the end, after many weeks of collective discernment. It is more important now, in my opinion, that the assembly is made not only of bishops, and that these other people have the chance to speak freely. We should also not forget that before the Synod a questionnaire was widely distributed and responses came from all over from young people and people who know their reality.
What are the key issues that have been discussed during these weeks?
One word that was present everywhere was “accompaniment.” It doesn’t matter at what stage of spiritual life one is, but the Church is called to go, find and meet young people where they are at, and then walk together.
Another theme examined in-depth was the question of authenticity. Young people strongly asked for an authentic Church, a Church that lives what she preaches, reliable, and also capable of recognizing her faults. In this context, the issue of abuse was discussed because this hinders the willingness of some youth to accept the Church as a model.
The discussion on the role of women in the Church was also mentioned. The request that was made was for a wider application of an approach that reflects the complementarity between man and woman, which until now is used mostly only within the marriage. Some Synod Fathers speak of reciprocity, too. This approach could definitely inform relations in all spheres and states of life.
However, the core topic that was always present in the discussion was the relationship with Jesus in the discernment process. Jesus is the model we aspire to imitate and discernment is also about trying to help young people get closer to him in the decisive moments of their lives.
What personal experience touched you the most during these days?
I actually didn’t expect to be here, so everything comes as a surprise and a blessing. For sure, the possibility of being close to the pope, of taking the elevator with him and of formally being, as an expert, one of his collaborators is a great experience. Having spent six years in Rome and being now at the end of this stage in my life, as I move back to my home country, Brazil, I cannot but be grateful that this time in Rome is closing with such a chance to serve the Church, thanks to what I learned here.
Having been a Lay Centre resident, how do you think the young community at The Lay Centre can benefit from this Synod?
I think that the whole idea of accompaniment could be crucial. Many people come to live at The Lay Centre at a stage in their lives when they do not have clear ideas about what direction their life should take. Besides academic life, Rome offers many opportunities to deepen one’s own spiritual life and service to the Church. But The Lay Centre could increasingly function — as it is already for many — as a place offering all of the tools for discernment. This means putting students in touch with good spiritual and academic mentors, but also, for some, to be a place where residents can take some time away from their ordinary lives and invest in their own growth.
Filipe Domingues is an alumnus of The Lay Centre. Originally from Brazil, he lived at The Lay Centre for six years and served as a leadership scholar. He is a journalist and a doctoral candidate at the Pontifical Gregorian University.