The Challenge of Evangelizing Young Men and Women
by: Mons. José Ignacio Munilla Aguirre
[This presentation was given during the First International Gathering of the Advisors for the Vincentian Marian Youth Association (Paris, July 15-20, 2014)]
- 1 Introduction
- 2 The nature of youth ministry
- 3 The family and the ecclesial focus of youth ministry
- 4 A twofold focus: proclaiming the kerygma and its social incarnation
- 5 Affective emergency: healing wounds
- 6 Educational emergency: a commitment to Christian education
- 7 The importance of personalized accompaniment in youth ministry … vocational discernment
Dear members of the Vincentian Family and participants in this ecclesial gathering which is celebrated under the loving gaze of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.
In the first place I am grateful for the invitation to participate in your meeting. This is like a great gift because after so many years since my last visit I am able to return to this shrine on the Rue du Bac. I share with you the fact that I am very attracted to Vincentian spirituality, a spirituality that was instilled in me before I entered the seminary … that is, at a time when I was a members of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society in the city where I was born, San Sabestían. Furthermore, I also recall the time when as a representative of the VMY in Spain I was able to participate in a meeting in Belgium of young men and women from throughout Europe. At that time I was sixteen years old and I must give thanks to God because I began to encounter the poor and the vulnerable members of society as a result of the Vincentian charism … I also began to realize that the poor are God’s beloved. It was during those years when as a member of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society that the Lord taught me two important facts: I was taught to confront my fears, especially my fear of relating with people I did not know or who were different from me; at the same time I was helped in broadening my perspective and coming to a deeper understanding of the universality of the Church. In fact, 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.
Later, as a result of that initial contact with the Vincentian charism, Providence enabled me to participate in other experiences in the midst of the Church. Slowly I came to an understanding that each of us is guided by the Holy Spirit who leads us along the path of our vocation. 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). Clearly the best parts of our life are not those that we have planed and designed but those which were carried out in accord with the will of God … those that often involved traveling along tortuous and difficult paths.
But let us return to the present. Eight years ago I was entrusted with the responsibility for directing 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. I implore our Lady of the Miraculous Medal to inspire me and make my reflections fruitful.
The nature of youth ministry
It seems appropriate that this presentation should begin with a reflection on the ministry that the Church has entrusted to us, the ministry of evangelizing young men and women. In fact, above all else it is important to respond to the question about the nature of youth ministry: what is youth ministry?
Every form of pastoral ministry, but especially youth ministry, is rooted in the mercy of Jesus’ heart. Jesus’ cry from the cross, I thirst, makes visible in a dramatic manner the pastoral zeal of the Good shepherd for so many young men and women … the heart of Jesus reaches out with a preferential love toward these young persons and suffers to see so many people walking blindly, like sheep without a shepherd.
Youth ministry is an encounter between the infinite love of God for young men and women and the desire of those young people to achieve infinite happiness. These are two “infinites” that are meant to meet: from our perspective, we are dealing with a “desire” but this is an “infinite desire” that is not satisfied with substitutes; from God’s perspective, we are dealing with infinite love, not some future love, but a love that is present and active in our midst.
I remember witnessing an orchestra leader addressing the musicians and telling them: to play the wrong note is an honest mistake, but to play without passion is unforgivable. I make reference to those words because the greatest enemy of youth ministry is the apparent apathy in the heart of the young men and women. The fact that so many young people lack passion means that they have ceased to be young men and women.
Viewed from God’s perspective, there is no doubt that God is passionate. We remember the words of Saint Bernard that our beloved Pope emeritus, Benedict XVI, included in his encyclical, Spe Salvi: Impassibilis est Deus, sed non incompassibilis --- God cannot suffer, but he can suffer with (#39). In other words, God is compassionate, is compassionate toward us, cries with us, laughs with us … God is passionate.
Nevertheless, the passion of the heart of the young person is not so certain. In fact, one of the primary tasks of youth ministry consists of helping young men and women to discover that passion, to affirm it and to make that passion come alive. We have already stated that God created us with a desire for infinite happiness … a desire that only God can satisfy. (Here we recall the well-know words of Saint Augustine: you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you). But the collective and personal history of sin that holds sway over us, including young men and women, can numb our hearts to this “passion” for infinite happiness with which we were created.
In summary, the task of youth ministry moves from helping young men and women to be young men and women to helping them to be passionate young men and women … in other words, to dig up and dust off the passion for an infinite and an eternal happiness. Secondly, or perhaps it is better to say at one and the same time, youth ministry is challenged to reveal to young men and women the passionate heart of Christ. In this sense, then, we cannot be satisfied with helping young men and women believe in God … our challenge is to help them believe in a God who loves them personally and who has a personal plan of infinite happiness for each one of them. That, and nothing else, is the nature of youth ministry!
The family and the ecclesial focus of youth ministry
We must remember that the call to engage in youth ministry is rather recent in the history of the Church. Generally it is understood that this ministry began two centuries ago in the person of Saint John Bosco. He developed a ministry with young men and women which was integrated into his pastoral activity. Previously, what we refer to today as ministry with children and with adolescents and youth adults had been reduced to the process of Christian initiation. When children or adolescents received the sacraments of Christian initiation, the church related to those individuals as adults.
The accumulated experience of the history of the Church is very interesting and should prevent us from falling into the temptation of making youth ministry into some kind of “dogma”. It is clear that in the Church today there are various charisms, for example, the neo-catechumenate path which has no specific youth ministry. In fact, their ministry with adolescents and young adults is integrated into their family ministry.
Whatever the case may be with regard to particular experiences with these various charisms, in the overall life of the Church we have advanced in our understanding of pastoral ministry on behalf of children, adolescents and young adults and we now realize that this pastoral ministry has to be integrated into our pastoral ministry on behalf of the family. The key is the family. With much conviction I state once again that the family is pivotal to the future transmission of the faith.
Therefore, just as in previous decades we confronted the problem of the generational gap in the family (parents faced serious problems in transmitting the faith to their children) so today the present crisis of secularization affects the various generations in a similar manner. In other words, the present challenge is not the transmission of the faith to the younger members of the family, but the transmission of the faith to the family as a whole.
Furthermore, I believe that, in general, we are seeing that it is not in our best interest to direct our pastoral activity toward adolescents and young adults in such a way that we create groups based on age so that the participants in these groups can share similar experiences … and then disconnect these groups from any reference to later stages of their development as Christians and as human beings. Children need to see a reference to adolescence, adolescents need to see a reference to young adulthood, young adults need to see a reference to adulthood. Without those points of reference our proposed pastoral activity becomes limited and, with more or less success, becomes focused on some passing moment in the life of the individual. Such a pastoral approach will not provide those men and women with a perspective for the future and will not achieve any integration of those individuals into the midst of the ecclesial community.
It would be logical to distinguish the first moment, when the individuals experience the captivating presence of Jesus Christ (proclamation of the kerygma) from the second moment, when individuals receive catechetical formation. Yet more frequently it is understood that the acceptance of the kerygma takes place throughout the period of catechetical formation and extends into later stages of the life of the Christian. In other words, we must say that unfortunately there are children and adolescents and young adults and adults, all of whom are Catholic and participate in the life of the Church and yet have not accepted the first proclamation of the kerygma (or at least have not accepted it with the necessary depth of conviction).
One of the important perspectives of the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium is precisely this: the centrality of the kerygma. It can be supposed then that this refers to every stage of life and therefore, youth ministry is no exception … as Saint John Paul II stated at the beginning of his pontificate: there can be no authentic evangelization without the explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord.
Part of the self-criticism that we have to make with regard to our pastoral approach is the fact that we often place out humanizing pastoral activity in opposition to an explicit proclamation of the kerygma. Yet experience has shown us that authentic humanization is impossible without Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis has been very insightful when speaking about the appropriate way to present the kerygma, the moral message and when to catechize. We cannot begin youth ministry by presenting the Church’s moral message nor can we begin with a catechetical approach. Our starting point is the kerygma … and many times we make the mistake of taking the kerygma for granted.
In a recent meeting with Father Lombardi, SJ, we were talking about communication and Father told me that he was impressed with the manner in which the Pope constantly stated the message of the kerygma … even at the risk of being repetitive.
At the same time, as seen in the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, the authentic proclamation of the kerygma tends to become incarnated in the social doctrine of the Church. This is most important in the evangelization of young men and women especially since they are very quick to judge the authenticity of the message that is addressed to them. The best proof of the kerygma’s truth is that it changes life and transforms history.
The success of the evangelizing efforts that are directed toward young men and women depends on the integration of two complementary elements: the proclamation of the kerygma and the social-charitable commitment. If on the one hand there is the temptation to proclaim the kerygma without a corresponding social context, then on the other hand there is also the temptation to reduce the social commitment to a horizontal level, thus ignoring the transcendent dimension of the human person. Both temptations must be overcome. Unfortunately for many years our pastoral activity has been a victim of “the law of the pendulum” … moving from one extreme to the other. At the present time we have arrived at a point of maturity as we have accepted the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which allows for the pastoral integration of various dimensions of the evangelization process.
Affective emergency: healing wounds
During the first National Congress of Youth Ministry in Spain which was held in Valencia (November 2012) I had the opportunity to address a theme that I believe is decisive at this present time when we continue to plan our approach to youth ministry. The title of my presentation was: The evangelization of young men and women in light of the affective emergency. I am going to summarize what I said there.
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.
Narcissism reveals itself as a difficulty in loving another distinct from oneself. The narcissist easily confuses love with “possessing” another person. The motive behind this is that the narcissist is wrapped up in his/her own hypersensitivity and is under the mistaken perception that all of life revolves around him/her … thus feelings and fears become absolutes. Needless to say that narcissists need to be healed if they are going to live the gospel spirit of handing their life over to God and to the neighbor.
The healing of narcissism is found in the kerygmatic preaching about God’s love that grounds our self-esteem. Furthermore, the affective emergency that has claimed so many members of this generation as its victims … this situation presents the Church with a unique opportunity to proclaim the fact that God is love and that God has created us for eternal happiness. Together with the proclamation of the kerygma the Church should not forget the importance of asceticism which enables individuals to become protagonists of their will.
Finally, participation in the charitable activity of the Church can be “therapeutic” for the narcissist who is in need of healing. When those who suffer from narcissism encounter authentic victims of our society they are presented with an opportunity to overcome their selfish concept of life.
Pansexualism is characterized by the reduction of sexuality to its primal instinct. The pansexual culture is all-present and is characterized by promotion of eroticism to the point that it provokes compulsive and addictive behaviors that weaken the will of young men and women in an alarming manner. In recent years the spread of the gender ideology in western culture has attempted to erect a theoretical framework in which immoral behavior finds a theoretical justification. It is clear that the separation between love and affectivity and sex and procreation has created a deep wound in the heart of many young people …thus further blurring the vocation of love, a vocation for which we have all been created.
The healing of pansexualism can be found in presenting in a healthy manner the virtue of chastity. It is necessary that we catechize young men and women about the importance of this virtue which is above all else, very liberating. Just as in previous eras the Church undertook various social works (hospitals, universities, etc) because the public sector was unable to meet certain specific needs of people, so now one of the primary tasks of the church is to educate people with regard to the meaning of human love. There are various programs of sex education that are rooted in Christian principles. It is important that we come to know these programs and then incorporate these programs into our educational and pastoral ministry. This is a pivotal area and without proper formation in this area our youth ministry will not be able to achieve its objective of leading young men and women to holiness … there can also be no authentic vocational discernment without this authentic sexual formation. To underline the importance of this education I cite here the words of Doctor Enrique Rojas, a great humanist and a distinguished psychiatrist: just about anything is called love and there are many words that are related to the word “love”: to want, to desire, to like, to seek, to need, to fall in love … there are many nuances and education is necessary in order to distinguish what is and what is not the true meaning of love.
Education with regard to the understanding of what is beautiful is another element that must be developed. Many young people are immersed in a cultural environment that advocates “ugly-ism”: in comics, in painting, in music, in tattoos, etc. The ascetical crisis is a sign of internal emptiness. The Christian vision allows people to discover that authentic beauty is intimately related to goodness and truth which ought to be discovered. Through the light of faith we understand that beauty is not “appearance” but “apparition”.
Mistrust presents itself as a type of syndrome that is revealed in great insecurity and is accompanied by a difficulty in trusting others and trusting God. We are dealing with a wound that is found in the heart of many young men and women and that is the result of negative experiences that have been accumulated through the betrayal of friends, divorce, separation, etc. All of this has created in young men and women a fear of the future and they feel as though their feet are not on solid ground. The logical consequence of this is isolation and a feeling that life is hopeless.
The healing of this syndrome of mistrust is found in a sense of communion in the midst of the Church. Frequently the experiences that occur during some meeting that is part of our youth ministry provide the seed for Christian friendship, for Christian dating and for a social commitment.
We should not forget the great lessons of trust and sacrifice that are found in the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We are referring to a devotion that focuses on the very heart of the gospel: confidence in God’s love which never fails.
Educational emergency: a commitment to Christian education
I do not know who coined the word “educational emergency” but there is no doubt that Benedict XVI popularized this phrase when he prophetically denounced the present educational crisis. In the previous section I attempted to show how the affective wounds frequently condition one’s ability to accept the Christian message. The same could be said about the educational crisis. In fact, the lack of an integral education, the low demands that education places on students, the spread of false ideologies in the educational system … all of this makes the task of evangelization difficult. It is important to provide a correct diagnosis to this situation in order to develop some lines of action. I will simply limit myself to offering some brief reflection on such a complex theme.
We believe in the truth: confronting the crisis of relativism
The starting point of our proposal is very clear: we have been created for the truth and for love. Yes, I insist, we have been created not only for love but also for the truth. It is important to point this out because it is frequently forgotten and even denied. Nevertheless, the vocation of our intellect to achieve truth is parallel to the vocation of our will to achieve love. In reality, love and truth are inseparable … to separate them implies falsifying or destroying them. Love without the truth is some illusion; the truth without love is inhuman.
It is obvious that it is impossible to engage in a process of education from the perspective of nihilism. If life has no meaning then education also lacks meaning. It is as Seneca stated: there is no favorable wind for those who do not know where they are going. The conclusion, then, is clear: the act of education need hope just the act of swimming needs water … and hope needs the truth and love just as the swimmer needs an incentive to enter the water.
Therefore the first element that Christian education must be attentive to is faith in the truth … a passion for the truth. There is no education if there is no passion for the truth or if every opinion is equally true.
Relativism does not directly reject education but engages in a process of reductionism that denies the possibility of an integral education. Science is presented as the only universal truth and therefore philosophy, ethics and religion are viewed as irrelevant. Such an approach results in a partial and fragmented education. As a justification for this lack of integral formation, the need for specialized education is emphasized. The root problem, however, is that the absence of faith in the truth makes integral education an impossibility.
One of the fundamental aspects of integral education is based on the inclusion of moral and religious education. The Greek and Roman classics state that authentic education is not only learning theory but must also include helping people to recognize which pleasures and sacrifices should be accepted or rejected. The gospel of Jesus Christ goes further. It points out that the dividing line between good and evil is not some reality that is outside the human person but rather that reality is internal in every person. In other words, authentic education implies conversion and conversion demands an ultimate purpose in life which only God can give.
False ideologies and dark legends
The present educational emergency is not limited to the approach of relativism nor can it be viewed from the perspective of the lack of integral education. The problem is greater: we have moved from “relativism” to “the dictatorship of relativism”. At the present time we face the risk of a counter-education in anti-Christian ideologies that present themselves in the form of false humanism. The primary ideology is “the gender ideology” which has spread in recent decades and in many educational systems has become normative.
A youth pastoral that responds to the call of the Good Shepherd, a pastoral approach that invites us to lay down our life on behalf of these young men and women must take a critical stance with regard to the present crisis in values. In order to accompany these individuals on these “very slippery” paths, we need to be attentive to the words of the gospel … we need to be as shrewd as serpents and simple as doves (Matthew 10:16). In other words, we have to be prudent in our speech and yet clear with regard to our ideas and thoughts. Only in this way can we help young men and women confront the confusion that is placed before them by the ideology of gender.
The evangelization of youth is also conditioned by the spread of various “dark legends” about the history and the life of the Church. Even though we might experience a certain “laziness or unwillingness” to respond to the objections that seem so trite and that have been uttered with great frequency, for example, the Galileo case, the Inquisition, the wealth of the Vatican, etc., nevertheless, it is important that we make the effort to place ourselves in the situation of these young men and women who have many doubts and who are the victims of the accumulation of so much biased news that prevents them from opening themselves to the faith. To accompany young men and women implies sharing in their doubts in order to help them find appropriate responses. A balanced apologetical approach is necessary in youth ministry. In this regard then much effort has been exerted and we have seen many good results. I highlight here some of them: Catholic voices, Arguments, New Evangelizer, Encristo.com
Catechism for young people: the phenomena of youcat
We are talking about an educational emergency and we have to admit that the emergency situation has existed and presently exists in the our youth ministry where we have to present the Christian message to young men and women. Frequently the materials that we have utilized in youth ministry have focused on pedagogy and methodology and as a result we have not been attentive to the content of the faith, the content of the message. Yes, we have to recognize the fact that the content of the material that we has utilized in youth ministry have often been inadequate.
One of the great contributions of World Youth Day that was held in Madrid was the spread and the popularization of the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church that was propagated by Benedict XVI. He introduced this publication with a message in which he invited young men and women to engage in a profound study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: 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).
The inclusion of the Youth Catechism in the backpack of the pilgrims was truly providential. During the celebration of World Youth Day in Rio, once again hundreds of thousands of the catechism were distributed to the participants. It is with grateful hearts that we can say that the distribution of the youth catechism to the youth of the world (and distributing this catechism within the context of graced moment --- an authentic moment of kairos for the life of the Church) has been translated into the formation of many groups of young men and women who have made a firm decision to form themselves in their faith. Even though this is not an official catechism of the Catholic Church, nevertheless, I believe the youth catechism will be reference material for youth ministry in the coming years.
The challenge of evangelization on “the sixth continent”
The phenomenon of the internet, social networks, wasapp, video games, etc., has changed the parameters of what was formerly known as youth ministry. At the present time, for example, for many young men and women the social networks are not simply a means of communication but rather these networks have become the “home” in which these young people “dwell”. How then can we confront this situation?
Fortunately, the Church has not retreated from participating in the digital era. With regard to the internet, there is a deep imprint of the Christian presence … a quantitative as well as a qualitative presence. The same could be said with regard to the social networks as well as with interactive and audio-visual materials. Perhaps by way of self criticism we could point out the need for better coordination among Christians which would also allow us to offer higher quality products and also allow us to benefit from so many unrecognized yet available offers in our ecclesial environment.
There is no doubt that one of the great insights of Pope Francis is to combine “personal conversion” with “pastoral conversion”. I dare to say that this twofold conversion inplies a “communicative conversion”.
Someone has said that God created us with two ears and one mouth with the intention that we should listen twice as much as we talk. Youth ministry is a call to have one of our ears attentive to the social networks and the activity that is occurring on the internet (thus taking the pulse of the aspiration of youth). At the same time our other ear should be like that of the beloved disciple, attentive to the heart of Jesus. The words that we pronounce should be the fruit of this twofold process of listening.
The third chapter of Evangelii Gaudium makes some interesting contributions to the area of communication. Specifically the ideas that the Pope presents when speaking about the homily are very applicable to the digital era. The Pope states that a good homily should contain an idea, a sentiment and an image (#157)
With regard to “the idea” or the message … the new technologies demand brevity and a synthetic ability which in turn requires a conviction with regard to that which is fundamental in the Christian message, namely, the kerygma (it is interesting to note that the majority of Jesus’ messages could easily be translated into the 140 characters that are demanded by Twitter).
With regard to “the sentiment” … we have to be aware of the fact that we are addressing our message to a generation of young men and women who have deep affective wounds. We should be mindful of the words of the disciples on the roads to Emmaus, the words that they proclaimed as a result of their encounter with the Risen words: Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way (Luke 24:32). In fact, for our word to reach the mind of our listeners it must first touch their heart and it is for this reason that it is necessary that the message come from the heart of the one who speaks … and therefore those words should not be some cold, theoretical reflection.
With regard to “the image”, the third element that the Pope highlighted … we cannot lose sight of the fact that we live in a world of images. When the word is joined to an image, then the word becomes exponentially more powerful. Our experience as catechists has taught us that successful communication is intimately linked to the ability to utilize images or some graphic example and enables people to visualize the concept that we are trying to communicate.
As we reflect on digital communication on “the sixth continent” we cannot and should not remain silent in light of the inappropriate use of the new technologies. A correct diagnosis should enable us to escape from two equally mistaken extremes. On the one hand we have an approach to youth ministry that attempts to remain apart from any form of digital communication and as a result such an approach is unable to incarnate the parable of the Good Shepherd who goes out to search for the lost sheep. On the other hand there is the risk of falling into a naïve optimism which is blind and mute before the serious problems that are created by the inappropriate use of these new technologies.
Experience tells us that the inappropriate use of technology is very often related to a lack of content in the message that is being transmitted. When the content of the message fades or disappears, then the focus is centered on the means itself. Therefore if we want to heal the abuses and the deviations of technology, it is important to underline the fact that “the end” has priority over “the means”. Finally, just as the Church, throughout her long history, developed various social services to provide for the needs of people in every era and place, should we not at this present time offer young men and women a program of formation and accompaniment that will focus on the correct use of technology? In Evangelii Gaudium we read: It is essential to draw near to new forms of poverty and vulnerability. There is no doubt that we must confront a new form of poverty that has to be diagnosed and addressed, namely, the inappropriate use of technology (we should also be mindful of the Church’s contribution to some of these more difficult situations, namely, we recognize the existence of serious compulsive addictions that need psychological and spiritual treatment).
The importance of personalized accompaniment in youth ministry … vocational discernment
In this final section of my presentation I want to highlight the importance of spiritual accompaniment, traditionally known as “spiritual direction”. On the eve of the celebration of World Youth Day in Madrid (2011), during a meeting of those persons who, on a national level, were responsible for youth ministry, I heard the following words: the fruit of World Youth Day will be in accord with the number of persons who engage in a process of spiritual accompaniment as a result of this experience. Those were bold words that reveal a keen insight. If youth ministry should limit itself to some teaching methodology that occurs during the time of youth gatherings, then such an approach will take the form of “window dressing” which in turn will result in an inability to achieve the goal of a life-transforming encounter with Christ.
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. I share with you some data that illustrates this point. Periodically in Spain we are made aware of the results of a survey that is conducted by the Fundación Santa María (Saint Mary’s Foundation). That survey points out the various ways and the degree to which secularization has penetrated the life of the society of Spain, especially the lives of young men and women. In the 2011 survey young adults between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four were asked if they had, at some time, thought about the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood or the religious life … 5.2% responded positively. In other words, 350,000 young people had considered this possibility. The survey went a step further and asked how many of those persons spoke to their family about their vocational concerns. To my surprise some 40,000 young men and women spoke about their vocational questions to their family. I would have like the survey to have asked a third question: how many of those persons maintained a relationship of personal accompaniment … unfortunately the number would be very low and therefore it is clear that young men and women lack this important and vital accompaniment in their process of vocational discernment.
There is no doubt that our pastoral approach should be that of Jesus Christ and that personal accompaniment is a gospel approach. We need only reflect on Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman or, as narrated in Acts, the encounter of Philip with the eunuch.
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Dear Members of the Vincentian Family, I ask our Lady of the Miraculous Medal to obtain from God the gift of understanding so that some of these reflections might help us to actualize the process of evangelization on behalf of young men and women. May Our Blessed Mother accompany us so that we do not tire of putting out into the deep and casting our nets in the name of her Son. As I have shared these reflections with you I am reminded of the words of Saint John who wrote in his first letter: I write you, young men and women, because you are strong and the word of God remains in you, and you have conquered the evil one (1 John 2:14). Those are wonderful words because they affirm as a present reality that which we want to accomplish in our pastoral ministry … indeed, the Word of God is at one and the same time both a reality and a prophecy. May God, who began this good work in the lives of young men and women, bring it to completion!
As Pope Francis does in his various discourses and interventions, I want to conclude by asking you to pray for me … and I promise to do the same for you.
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM