CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 17 March 2018

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What do you want to tell the Church?

In the preparation for the pre-synodal meeting that is taking place in Rome from March 19 to 24, the Diocesan Youth Commission organised a small (extremely small) youth forum to meet with young people to listen to their thoughts and hopes in order to have a clear idea of the situation in which they are living.
The gathering took place on February 24 and, as we already knew at the time, Pope Francis wants young people to be the protagonists at the upcoming synod in October. He wants young people to be represented not only by local bishops, but also those who can voice their concerns so that the Church may hear directly from them and lay down a plan that takes into account the concrete situations in which young people find themselves.
The aim of our encounter was not to propose solutions to matters that pertain to young people, but to listen and collect their ideas and thoughts as our contribution to the working document that will later be handed over to the bishops and experts from the synod.
The document we produce, together with other submissions, if there are any, will be the foundation work the synod will be based upon and we trust that it will help the participants to come up with pastoral words that will encourage young people in their faith and vocational discernment.
The pre pre-synodal forum we organised was also a platform for Charlene Chan, our local delegate to the Roman meeting, to get an idea of what to talk or share about when she goes to Rome.
“Young People, what do you want to tell the Church?” was the question that helped us during our sharing and presentations. This question might raise some concerns about the meaning of the word Church, especially for young people themselves.
The word Church, as we want it to be understood, refers to the governing body, the people that are entrusted with the mission of leading the people of God towards green pastures, following the command of Jesus himself in John 21: 17: “Feed my sheep.”
Yes, we all are part of the Church. We are the Church and we have all received a mission to be the Church wherever we are, keeping in mind the grace we received the moment we were baptised.
As such, young people too are the Church. “What do you have to tell the Church?” is not a (-nother) way of separating young people and the Church as though they were two different bodies or complete strangers. It is in fact, an invitation to them to make their voices heard so that whoever listens to them may be aware of their existence as a living presence in the Church.
I remember here a Congolese saying, “I hear only when there is a sound. I refuse to hear because there is a sound.”
The meeting first focused on small group sharing, as a way for the participants to get to know each other and share what they wanted to bring to the attention of their mates.
We invited them to think about their lives, taking into account areas like family, school, society, Church, the economy and other topics. Shy at first, things changed as the meeting moved on.
As we want to hear from them, let us then share what they said.
Many young people have recognised the important role of the family as the place where they grow up, find love and share it with their family members. As such, family is important to them, because it provides the environment within which they learn about life, where they are covered by their parents’ love and attention and companionship of siblings.
Many young people see their parents as hard-working people who take hold of their life opportunities to bring them happiness and joy. But this generosity of their parents has even led many to take things for granted, with all the dangers such a presumption can bring with it.
Our sharing helped us to know how some others think of the family: a place where the digital world has replaced human interaction, where people feel more comfortable communicating via social media rather than the traditional way of talking, either out of fear of hurting or being confronted by the challenge of a face to face conversation.
The amount of time parents devote to bringing material happiness to young people (working hours for instance) has not only brought good to the family, but also had negative effects, as some recalled not seeing their parents regularly.
“There are times when I went to bed without seeing my dad or my mom…,” whispered a participant during a group sharing. Yes, society has its demands.
They mentioned also that family has taken another turn in becoming a place where judgements are more common than a listening ear. This prompted the question of why share anything when they know that they will be judged (negatively)?
High standards that are not easy to follow are at the centre of these feelings. Things said at the gathering about family matters could fill a book. There is therefore a need to work hard so that the family remains a place of hope, love and life.
A topic that students often mention. Family is a place of education too. But here they refer to the school system and they also acknowledged the benefits that school brings into their lives. They go to school to learn about science, life and to be “someone in life”. In their own words, a “decent someone”.
It is also at school that they make connections with friends and teachers, build up their personalities and function in a way that reveals more about their aspirations for the future. They notice the importance of fellowship and some grow from simple mates into strong partners in (later) life.
The role of a good and thoughtful teacher was mentioned and the help of a mature and sensitive classmate can make an impact in the lives of many. This is school taken positively.
But on the other side, they couldn’t help but finger the pressure that school life brings: homework, quizzes, tough topics and other difficult requirements.
An educational system that tends to put an emphasis on success and intellectual fitness while doing precious little for those who are otherwise gifted, as well as the demands of the extra-curriculum classes were among the things mentioned.
A word often heard. And this happens with young working people too. The emphasis was put on the intellectual life, but not really on their emotional one. How to deal with pressure in our economically-oriented, but yet beautiful society?
The Church
The question of Sino-Vatican relations was on almost all social media and this too was one of the matters raised during this part of the sharing. It means that young people too care about what is going on nowadays.
They hope for a Church that listens to the marginalised, the poor and the oppressed. A Church where justice, peace and integrity meet happily. A cry from their hearts too!
Another matter was the lack of clear practice for young people after graduating from confirmation class. Are they confirmed to leave the Church? Some mentioned that leaving the Church is due to the lack of a clear practice from the Church once confirmation classes are over.
The only platforms available are mostly the altar servers’ group or the Legion of Mary. And even if there is a youth group, the lack of spiritual accompaniment and clear orientation make it difficult for them to stay in the Church.
And the role of parents too was mentioned. Are they well enough grounded in their faith to have an impact on the lives of their children?
Yes, many role models exist and young people need them. But the lack of practice comes from a sad reality: since there are no diplomas to get after confirmation, the motivation too changes. Therefore, there is a work to be done here and this concerns each one of us.
Here are some of the things the young people mentioned. But instead of throwing them away as normal and ordinary complaints from young people who receive all they need in life, “but still think that it is someone else’s fault” (someone said it to me actually), let us take the risk to see ourselves in the mirror and think of these questions in a more constructive way.
Emotions pass and problems rest because we do not put them on our priority list. Let us help them to respond to the particular calling that God has for each one of them.
Father Dominique Mukonda CICM 
Diocesan Youth Commission

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