THE FIELD OF YOUTH MINISTRY
The attention to young people has always been at the center of the ministry of the Church. The future of humanity and of the Church depends on the quality of the youth and what constitutes the population. Therefore, the Church has always stressed the importance of education, formation and training young brothers and sisters in order to build good Christians and citizens. To invest in young people is to invest in the growth of the Church and society. So, what are the fields of youth ministry today? In other words, in today’s world dominated by all sorts of challenges, how can a catholic minister help young people grow and become committed Christians and citizens? The answer to this question will lead us to explore the context in which young people live today, the ministry that is already done and finally some suggestions.
The 21st century is marked by a revolution in term of information and technology and how people relate with one another. This revolution is a game changer in terms of how much information young people get access to. Firstly, the previous generation did not have access to the amount of information provided to young people today through TV, internet, radio and telephone. The so-called 90s were born in a technological context. They have grown up within the technological and informational revolution. Secondly, at the same time the most vulnerable part of the population among different groups today is the people whose age range between zero and twenty five years old because older generations do not trust them, although they have access to such amount of information. Thirdly, we live in a world where the model for young today people are artists, movie actors, singers, and most of TV anchors. They are more powerful than the parents, schools and the churches. Fourthly, the lack of opportunity and jobs prompts all the young people without exception to seek out of their contexts, countries and continent for better places and job opportunities: in Italy for instance most young people want to travel to UK, Germany, US, Australia for a better job. While for most African young people, the “Eldorado” is in Europe where it is possible to live the Hollywood dream. However, when crossing the Mediterranean Sea, most of them are drowned. And in Europe they suffer discrimination, slavery in the farms and prostitution. We also exist in a world where religions are competing and shaping the world view. Finally, the debate on gender and the confusion about the understanding of the family are creating a world without compass for young people. How did the church respond to the needs of the youngest ones until now?
The activities of the Church in general have been to educate, and to form the young leaders of tomorrow. Through catechism, Christian youth ministers have educated our sons and daughters to know Jesus and to live according to his values. The Salesians of Don Bosco created youth centers and “oratori”. The Piarists (Calazanzians) founded by Joseph of Calazanz, Christian Brothers, Jesuits, Dominicans as well as other male and female congregations have worked for a better education of young people. At the same time we have seen youth movements spring up, like “Christian youth workers movement”, MEJ (movement Eucharistic des jeunes). In Congo Kinshasa we have “Bilenge ya muinda” Youth of light with a local expression of youth group in Kinshasa. We also have in Italy Sermig (servizio missionario giovani) which cares about youth only. However the need to improve and to respond to the young people is still pressing: With only around 5% of young Italians who are Christians and most of young people do not know who Jesus is. Therefore, there is a need to orient and re-invent some aspects of ministry for our young brothers and sisters.
The pressing one is to engage in social media in which most of our young people take most of the information as they consider it as their world. Not only as an option but as real as the world. In this area, there is a need for formation and commitment. It is a large field that covers from social media like Facebook, WhatsApp and web page passing through Instagram, LinkedIn, and blog. It covers the area of creating and managing website, video and publishing. This is a new language. It is for youth ministers a challenge on how to make the Gospel accessible in a style that fits the youth mentality. The second field to consider is how to help some African young people to be engaged in their Christian life, at the same time to be formed as Christian leaders for their respective countries and their continent. In fact, most African young people dream to travel to Europe or to the West in general and we can see how many are trying at all coast to cross the Mediterranean see and the drama the situation has caused. When they reach Europe or America, they fall pray of prostitution and slavery in the farms, mainly in the south of Europe. It becomes important to empower young African to love their land as Christian people and to become important players for the improvement of their people’s lives. We can learn from Latin America, by the example of people such as Lula Da Sylva. On one hand young people are confused about sexuality. They do not understand that sexuality is integrated in the fabric of human society. In fact, marriage is no longer perceived as the genuine place of expression of human sexuality. Therefore we can notice the explosion of prostitution and the growing number of broken families. On the other hand, drug consumption has increased and most of the flourishing industries are brewery, cigarettes. There is also a strong consumption of light drug like marijuana, cocaine and so on. These elements constitute a real obstacle to the youth and an area in which a minister can help. Third, the ethical field is still an occasion to form young people for a more diverse society in which globalization of fraternity and responsibility are at the center instead of economic exploitation of the weak and dehumanizing relationships. The modern world is full of young engineers, intellectuals, whose ethical and moral choices are questionable and whose social life is in a crisis. This is also the consequence of the crisis, the dominating West is going through. As a consequence, what are the ethical and moral values we want to instill in our young brothers and sisters for a better world dominated by technology, greed, indifference and meaninglessness of life. Finally, we need to form young people to build a peaceful world through religious and social dialogue. At stake is the future of humankind and of the world. Here are some suggestions which can help us.
In conclusion, the modern world has created a society of specialists who are disconnected from the wellbeing of the entire human being in his complexity: physical, psychological, emotion, cultural and spiritual. Our effort is to give meaning to Jesus’s words “I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10).
Marco Marzano, Quel che Resta dei Cattolici: Inchiesta sulla Crisi della Chiesa in Italia, Feltrinelli, 2012.
Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” of the Holy Father Francis to The Bishops, Clergy, Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World, on 24 November 2013