The United Nations assigns the designation of “youth” to those who are in the age range of 15 to 24. According to an estimate, about 1.1 billon persons come under this category. It is 18% of the world’s population. It is beyond any doubt that the youth are key players in any nation or society. For this reason, they are identified as the backbone of the society.
There has been a critique that the world has not paid sufficient attention to them. Since many physiological and psychological changes take place during these years, along with identity formation and professional choices, the young can go in wrong directions if they are not listened to and accompanied well.
The Catholic Church is concerned about young people and the concerns that they have. The last quarter of 2018 saw the worldwide Church come together in the form of the XV ordinary general assembly of the Synod of Bishops that met October 3rd through the 28th, to discuss the theme: “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.”
During the opening and closing homilies, the Holy Father said one important thing. That all must be listeners. That others have to listen to the youth, and the youth to others. This fraternal and mutual listening is not a kind of top-down imposition of rules as to how one should behave, or be understood. The kind of listening that the Pope recommended is a listening aimed at journeying together and sharing the faith together, learning from one another. The theme for the 34th World Youth Day this January in Panama is: “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38). In order to be a servant of God, it is important to be a listener like Mary, our mother.
The 25th General Chapter of the Claretian Missionaries (August 2015) voted to have a Prefecture dedicated to Youth and Vocations Ministry. In fact, the Chapter document stated that “We will take seriously the human, theological, pastoral and spiritual preparation of our pastoral agents of evangelization of the youth, so that they might be better prepared to reach out to them, respond with creativity to their questions, accompany them with wisdom in their journey, and to challenge their decisions prophetically” (no. 68:2). It also stated that “Our objective regarding the evangelization of the youth generation and their preparation to respond to the calling of the Lord, will be: to go forth to meet them, to walk with them and to help them be attentive to Jesus’ call.”
The Youth Prefecture, together with its counterparts in other branches of the Claretian Family, has just concluded a meeting on Youth and Vocations Ministry (Rome, Nov 2018). The theme of the meeting, which had the participation of over 70, was “Go forth, walk, meet each other, and listen.” In keeping with the mood of the Synod and the XV General Chapter, the meeting had a fitting theme.
In the Dependent Delegation of Sri Lanka, we have given priority and importance to youth ministry. A group named “Claretian Youth” has been formed, and several activities have happened to engage the youth, and form them.
In these times of and for youth, it is everyone’s task to be listeners and accompaniers. The youth are not ready to be told what they must do and what kind of choices they should make. The days when such things held currency are gone. Today we need a fresh and creative approach to engage the youth.