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Following through on World Youth Day is critical

The 26th World Youth Day held in Madrid, Spain, came to a close on August 21 and over 800 young people from Hong Kong have returned home to face the next stage of the process, the follow-up, in itself a difficult challenge.

In the past, the diocese has organised a series of follow-up gatherings to help them keep the fire of faith, kindled through the special experience, burning in their hearts. Unfortunately, past experience shows that the group leaders demonstrate more interest in this part of the process than many of the participants and, towards the end, the whole thing tends to peter out.

On the bright side, a few did stay in contact after the Sydney event and put their hands up to be part of the preparation team for Madrid. The question is why the high dropout rate? Does the problem lie in the formation process prior to the event?

World Youth Day is a one-off event. No matter how successful and unforgettable, it is just a fleeting occasion, but faith formation is ongoing. The fire of faith ignited at World Youth Day needs to be nurtured over time to achieve the long-term goal of being “rooted and built up in Jesus Christ and firm in the faith.”

This demands the presence of a close-knit group to welcome the young people home. Faith can be nourished within the group, which can also coax it to grow. Ideally, this long-term formation would be followed up in parishes.

However, the reality is that support for those born in the 1980s has been quite weak, so young people do not have a sense of belonging in their parishes. This must be examined and reflected upon. Parish priests, who are often involved in a wide array of things, find it impossible to do everything.

An obvious question may be: can the senior members of the parish councils cultivate a tailor-made environment for these young people? However, the answer is also obvious, as young people tend to resist patriarchal-style care.

What is needed is a group within which they can find mutual trust and understanding, where they can communicate easily and identify with each other.

This is not a social gathering, but an environment of sharing, learning and growing together.

A teacher who went to Sydney commented, “The Sydney World Youth Day has changed my life.” Experience tells us that among 1980s generation there is a lot of compassion, fidelity and willingness to share and hang in, even when the going gets tough.

Every year, many young people put their hands up for voluntary service in mainland China, often choosing to use their annual leave.

It is worth noting that in the last 10 years, the diocese has invested a lot of resources in youth ministry. It has recruited more staff and assigned priests full-time. Unfortunately, their efforts to date have failed to make much of an impact on parishes.

Bishop John Tong Hon told the Hong Kong delegation in Madrid, “I sincerely hope that when I retire in a few years time, I will be able to bequeath 50 new priests, 50 new permanent deacons and 50 new sisters to my successor” (cf. Third Catechesis of World Youth Day). SE