“We must remain in conversation”

A good three-week synod of bishops on youth ends at the Vatican on Sunday. One of the German synod participants, Auxiliary Bishop Johannes Wubbe of Osnabruck, talks in an interview about abuse and accompaniment, dialogue with human sciences and the courage to try new things.

CBA: Auxiliary bishop, synod means "going together and towards each other". Everyone has to move for this. In which point have you changed your attitude or view as a youth pastor for many years?

Johannes Wubbe (auxiliary bishop in the Osnabruck diocese): I was moved because I experienced the universal church. I was encouraged in what I had always done as a youth pastor and later as a parish pastor: talking to people and developing things with them. What will continue to move me are the many experiences of people on the run or those who tell how life as a Christian can be connected with danger to life.

CBA: Has there been a change in your attitude??

Wubbe: No, because that's what synod is all about, reaching out to one another – that's how I've always understood my actions as a priest and bishop. I have been encouraged by many things here. There are many baptized and confirmed Christians with whom we can and should shape the future of the Church.

CBA: Is this attitude not yet sufficiently present in all the participants of the synod??

Wubbe: I would say it like this: I believe that in these almost four weeks many bishops have once again heard very well what young people want, and were surprised how concrete their ideas of church are. I would wish some confreres more courage to put this into practice and to go this way with young people.

CBA: Have you met a synod participant whom you would like to accompany for four weeks to gain new experience??

Wubbe: I sat next to Vietnamese Auxiliary Bishop Nguyen Van Vien, who told me how they are an emerging young church, but also told me honestly about the challenges in their society. If you really want to immerse yourself in a new situation, four weeks would be too little.

CBA: How long would you have to travel to Vietnam??

Wubbe: That would take a whole year. This is what I hear from the young adults with us who are doing a voluntary year abroad.

CBA: Is this an option – a voluntary year abroad for a bishop??

Wubbe: Probably not quite. After all, this also means that you are absent from your own diocese for a year. I rather count on the already existing contacts with the world church.

CBA: A magic word of this synod is accompaniment. Who exactly should accompany whom and how? The proverbial good priests, of whom many rave, no longer exist.

Wubbe: There are a lot of young people between 20 and their late 20s who, during their training and studies, are confronted with many new questions about life. These are grateful for people they can talk to about it. These are no longer just priests; in our associations other men and women are spiritual companions.

But first we have to get in touch with these people, they don't all come knocking on our door. In addition, we need good and sound training for those who accompany them, as well as the opportunity for supervision.

CBA: How much does the abuse crisis and the church's handling of it deter young people from turning to the church??
Wubbe: Different. For those who participate in communities and associations and have had good experiences there, this is not an ie. Of course, you think it's bad, but you haven't had to go through this experience.
CBA: Is no increased suspicion noticeable?
Wubbe: There are also those who are more skeptical. And those we must face in order to win their trust, if necessary.
CBA: How controversial were the ies of abuse, lay involvement, sexuality actually dealt with at synod? You hear different things.
Wubbe: Abuse, of course, is a theme that carries through. In any case, it must appear in the final document, and it must also find an echo in the letter that the synod writes to young people. When it comes to the other ies, the willingness to discuss them varies greatly. But that is also due to cultural circumstances.

Nevertheless, it is clear to many that there is a need for dialogue on controversial ies. Sexuality, including homosexuality, and partnership are important to young people. We must remain in dialogue, name different positions and continue to seek dialogue with the sciences. There can always be findings from the human sciences that can do us good as a church to deal with.

CBA: In other places, God is even more self-evident than in Western Europe. But it is the main topic of the church. Were there new impulses to bring it to young people??

Wubbe: I have spoken with some from other countries about how they came into contact with God. Quite a few have told me: "I looked at my life, and then there was this or that companion who talked to me about it: whether God plays a role."This is how I imagine it to be in Germany. Of course, quite a few say that God is not an ie for them. But there are also many who are searching and open to transcendence. It is up to us to enter into conversation with them. Also on the most diverse forms of liturgy, in which people's lives are present and in which they feel taken seriously. Such things are accepted, and we should continue to have the courage to offer different things.

The interview was conducted by Roland Juchem.

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Christina Cherry
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