Bishop José Ignacio Munilla Aguirre knows first-hand the challenge of evangelizing young men and women. He was not always a Bishop. He was once a 16 year who learned to confront his fear of relating to people he did not know and were different from him. As a member of the VMY and the Vincent dePaul Society he came to understand the university of the Church.
He writes…” in the shadows of Vincent de Paul I learned to accept the poor as part of my family while at the same time becoming more aware of the catholicity of the Church, something that was not easy to do at that time, especially in a parish environment…. I have no hesitation in telling you that as the years pass I have greater respect, understanding, admiration and devotion with regard to the following biblical passage from the gospel of Saint John: when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go (John 21:18).”
Now as Director of the Department of Youth Ministry under the charge of the Spanish Episcopal Conference and in light of my experience in this area of ministry I share with you some insights with regard to the challenges of evangelizing young men and women.
This edition of Saturday Study Hall with the Vincentian encyclopedia introduces his presentation to the Paris meeting of the International Assembly of Advisors to the Vincentian Marian Youth – The Challenge of Evangelizing Young Men and Women.
He speaks of this ministry as involving an “affective emergency” that must address the wounds of youth.
“Especially in the countries of the Western world the debilitation of the family has created in many young men and women (an in people who are not so young) affective wounds. Here I will highlight three of those wounds: narcissism, pansexualism, and mistrust.”
He identifies the challenges of false ideologies and dark legends that need to be confronted by a wise catechesis as embodied in YouCat (Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church) provided in the backpack of everyone at World Youth Day in Madrid.
“Many people say to me: The youth of today are not interested in this. I disagree, and I am certain that I am right. The youth of today are not as superficial as some think. They want to know what life is really all about. A detective story is exciting because it draws us into the destiny of other men, a destiny that could be ours. This book is exciting because it speaks of our own destiny and so deeply engages every one of us. So I beg you: study this Catechism with passion and perseverance. Make a sacrifice of your time for it! Study it in the quiet of your room; read it with a friend; form study groups and networks; share with each other on the Internet. By all means continue to talk with each other about your faith. You need to know what you believe.
You need to know your faith with that same precision with which an IT specialist knows the inner workings of a computer. You need to understand it like a good musician knows the piece he is playing. Yes, you need to be more deeply rooted in the faith than the generation of your parents so that you can engage the challenges and temptations of this time with strength and determination (Prologue to the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church).
He concludes with a section on “The challenge of evangelization on “the sixth continent” of cyberspace.
In the final section of his presentation he highlights the importance of spiritual accompaniment, traditionally known as “spiritual direction” or personal accompaniment.
“I will mention here in a brief manner some of the realities that indicate the importance of personalized accompaniment:
—The proliferation of affective wounds which we previously spoke about and which require a personalized approach.
—There is an African proverb that states: one does not point out the road with one’s finger but by walking in a leading position. It is clear that personalized accompaniment implies that those persons who are involved in the process of evangelization communicate their personal experience as Christians and not just some theoretical knowledge.
—All too frequently there is a constant turnover of volunteers involved in youth ministry. With much good will these volunteers engage in this ministry for some stipulated time period but then abandon this ministry a short time later and as a result, have made no impression on the life of the young men and women whom they are accompanying. In light of this situation I believe that youth ministry can perhaps be more successful if it is entrusted to a group of facilitators who have been motivated by the gospel and who are true evangelizers. The spiritual accompaniment of these young men and women is necessary so that they are able to be more than just a “group of friends” and become a “group of committed apostles”.
—I do not believe that it is necessary to indicate the close relationship between spiritual accompaniment and vocational discernment.
He concludes “May God, who began this good work in the lives of young men and women, bring it to completion!”
These excerpts hardly do justice to his presentation which deserves study and prayerful reflection.
His presentation in outline….
- The nature of youth ministry
- The family and the ecclesial focus of youth ministry
- A twofold focus: proclaiming the kerygma and its social incarnation
- Affective emergency: healing wounds
- Educational emergency: a commitment to Christian education
- The importance of personalized accompaniment in youth ministry … vocational discernment
Some may be interested in a similar reflection by Father Robert Maloney CM on his hopes for Vincentian Marian Youth