By Fr. Lazar Arasu SDB
The theme of the Synod of Bishops dedicated to Youth Ministry in the Church is very apt and timely. In the very first lines of the preparatory document, the Fathers of the Synod capture the youth situation within the church and the world as: “The young person of today is met with a host of external and internal challenges and opportunities, many of which are specific to their individual contexts and some of which are shared across continents. In light of this, it is necessary for the church to examine the way in which it thinks about and engages with young people in order to be an effective, relevant and life-giving guide throughout their lives.”
As people in touch with the reality and the mind of the young people of today, we can say the following: often, young people do not find the faith and the church that preaches it relevant and they are unable to find answers to the problems and challenges they face today. The dichotomy between what is preached and what is practiced, the numerous discouraging and faith-shaking scandals within the church and from the leaders of the church, the uninteresting way the faith and morals are preached, the judgmental attitude young people often encounter, unexciting and dull ways of praying in our churches and finally, failure to find a direction in life and faith coupled with the inability of the youth in communicating with clergy and leaders often caused by technological innovations and media in which the youth are way ahead, etc; are all challenges that need consideration for a more relevant and fruitful youth ministry.
The theme of the synod comes as a challenge and proposal to the youth. It is giving them best options in living a life that is filled with the Spirit and living life to the full. The theme is apt: “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment”. The theme moves forward to see how as church ‘…we can therefore move forward to explore with openness and faith where the young person is situated today, where the young person sees him or herself in relation to others and how we as the church can best accompany young people towards a deeper understanding of themselves and their place in the world.’ This is the vision and objective of the church and of course, the deep desire of the church for the youth.
The theme the synod proposes to the youth is very much relevant to the young people of Uganda. We cannot let the synod pass by without benefiting from it and its proposals. A little awareness of the youth situation will help us to find pastoral solutions in serving the youth. The youth situation is also our pastoral challenge in serving them as ministers of the Church. Uganda 2011 Youth Mapping states: ‘Most youth leaving formal education do so unwillingly, with the cost of school fees and transportation the most commonly cited reason among the youth. Girls often drop out due to pregnancy, distance to schools, parents’ attitudes toward girls’ education and inaccessibility of vocation training due to costs.’
These well known causes for the problems are: Nepotism and corruption in the formal sector; lack of incentives for training and recruiting youth in the private sector; exploitative internship practices and a shortage of meaningful internships and apprenticeships; education that does not equip youth with practical skills for the workplace; poverty and young people’s inability to afford basic necessities such as clothing for work; alcohol abuse (cited as a reason why youth engage in high-risk behaviours and cannot keep jobs); lack of access to information about jobs and career guidance.
Youth lined high-risk and illicit behaviour to unemployment, idleness, poverty and lack of parental guidance; disabled youth suffering social stigma, denial of rights and inaccessibility and ineffectiveness of national programs, youth formerly affected by war and conflict now unable to re-assimilate into their community. And, youth in particular geography and communities suffering insecurity and privations. (http://www.youthpolicy.org/national/Uganda_2011_Youth_Mapping_Volume_1.pdf)
Similar situations can be cited within the pastoral setting. Large rural parishes having numerous sub-parishes/chapels do not propose any pastoral suggestions to the youth; hardly any youth (especially boys) attend church services. Due to appalling family situations, only a small percentage of youth are enrolled for reception of sacraments, practically no catechesis done to youth after the reception of Confirmation, Catholic founded schools under government aid are largely neglected and other church-run private schools are often unreachable by poor families. Boarding schools in urban centres have several hundreds of students pastorally unattended to. Many young people having dreams of following religious and priestly vocations are remaining unheeded crippled with issues of poverty, levels of education and family challenges.
Now, it is everyone’s duty, bishops as individuals and members of the Bishops Conference, various departments in our church structures, parish priests and other priests involved in various pastoral ministries, religious—both men and women, catechists, teachers in our catholic institutions and lay people have to sit around the table to find solutions to the youth challenge as one family. This calls for overlooking undue bureaucracy and differences that may be due to geography, tribe or any other case.
In practical terms, the church needs to listen to the youth using existing structures in our institutions and movements. Be ready to be challenged by the youth and listen to them honestly with and open mind and willing heart. “Listening to the youth and helping them in their search” is frequently heard during the preparation of the synod and during the synod meetings.
They may articulate their needs clearly in their own youthful language, but we need to know that young adults are struggling to realize their passion, something to centre their lives around and the church can help them find meaning in their faith, church and vocation discernment.
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