World Youth Day is a reminder to an older generation
World Youth Day can serve as an occasion for those of us who no longer think of ourselves as youth to look at our appreciation and approach to youth today.
Before we approach our personal appreciation and approach to youth, let’s listen to the voice of Frederic Ozanam over 160 years ago.
In 1847, Frederic Ozanam addressed the General Assembly of the Society with these words about how important youth were in his mind:
“If young people who join us are able to find friends and brothers in our midst, then it is essential for the Society to recruit its members among the young. Fourteen years ago the Society came into existence but we should not be aging as a Society as our founders grow older.
He must have felt strongly about this since he also wrote “Youth are needed because of their boldness and audacity, even their imprudence. They provide us with new ideas and a new way of doing things that we had never imagined.”
The continuing challenge to attract young people
A few years after his death, the 1858 General Assembly to the Society was still wrestling with the issues he raised.
Indeed, as young people share their vitality, life, and enthusiasm, they prevent the individual conferences from becoming “cold” and/or from falling into the trap of business as usual.
We hear it said: “We cannot attract young people.” Maybe, in some cases, that is true, but is it always the case? Are there not conferences where young people come but because of their age they are mistrusted and are told that they lack experience? If this is so, it should not be seem strange that these same young people, welcomed so coldly, become upset and leave the conference The opposite would be something surprising, because it would infer an extraordinary ardor on their part.
We exhort the conferences that complain that they do not have young people in their midst, to examine their own behavior … perhaps some change in attitude and some modification in procedures needs to be made.
[Javier Chento, International Director of FamVin.org and noted Ozanam researcher, provides a fuller treatment of these newly translated passages]
The Assembly of 1858 then asked some very pointed questions…
Are your meetings too long?
Do the members become overly concerned with minor details and speak at length about matters that should be resolved in a minute?
When young people come into our midst for the first time, do we care about them, welcome them, and, after having tested their zeal, are they entrusted with some responsibility?
These are several points on which the conferences should make an examination of conscience. Such an examination, if done seriously, will be fruitful.
These words from the past may give us some perspective on the more than a dozen celebrations of World Youth Day. The Popes since 1986 have been trying to celebrate, foster and tap into the energy and creativity of youth.
Some things for each of us to think about today
I suspect that most of the visitors to this site see themselves beyond the age of youth. For us, this World Youth Day ought to be an occasion for us to ask some very practical questions of ourselves.
- How much of what Frederic and the early members of Society said rings true in our parishes and our VIncentian Family branches?
- What is my attitude toward youth activities in my parish and my branch of the family?
- What have I done to welcome youth in my parish and my branch of the family?
- What concerns do I have about doing things differently?
- Am I open to doing things differently?
- What practical step, no matter how small, can I take to celebrate and mentor youth?
Blessed Rosalie Rendu, DC, open our eyes to the possibilities of youth.