Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr once said, “Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing.”
Of course Holmes who was born in 1841 was making reference to the youth of his era and of the American Civil War that ignited an unbridled fire and passion in the young people back then. Amidst the war and hardship that surrounded them, the youth of his time found a sense of purpose, fulfillment and an appreciation of the gift of life.
Fast forward to the 21st century and we are confronted with an entirely different scenario. Many of our young people are struggling to find a voice, struggling to find a purpose, struggling to be accepted, struggling to make a difference. They are faced with ‘wars’ of their own. ‘Wars’ that come in the form of consumerism, peer pressure, identity crisis, religious individualism, sexual orientation … At times they find themselves in the limelight for all the wrong reasons. They are misunderstood, misjudged and regarded with suspicion by adults and authoritative figures.
Even our Catholic youth are not spared. A common complaint we often hear from some of our young people in addition to everything mentioned above is how alienated they feel from the Church and how they are still struggling to find their place in the Church. Their opinions are not sought, their curious minds not satisfied, their questions on faith not answered.
But before we raise our hands in despair or start pointing fingers or find a scapegoat to blame, we can take comfort that the Church has not lost its young. Jaded as they are, our youth still want to be very much a part of the Church. They still hold steadfast to their faith. They are still proud to call themselves followers of Christ. But for now, many have moved to the backgrounds and remain in the shadows, awaiting affirmation, awaiting validation, awaiting recognition.
What our young people need is a ‘buzz’ to get them going again. Over the years, participants of the World Youth Day (WYD) celebration have come forward to share how they have experienced a strong sense of belonging to the Catholic Church. They shared how the beliefs and practices that were marginal in their ‘conventional’ world were made more plausible at the WYD by social validation, strong affective association and more direct engagement. They experienced a new greater awareness of the Catholic faith. They experienced a renewal of their commitment and stewardship in being a disciple of Christ.
Being in the company of other young people who share the same religious conviction, similar ideals, core values and practices have enabled them to experience that joy and fulfillment and a reason to take their spirituality to a deeper level of commitment.
Essentially our youths are not asking for much. Many are just seeking for an avenue, for an openness to be able to discuss their faith without being misunderstood and some have found it at the WYD.
As much as we would like to, it is almost impossible to send each and every one of our young people to a WYD gathering. Nevertheless, we can create an atmosphere of openness and trust for them in our homes, parishes and BECs. We can serve as a guide or role model to them. We can leave a lasting impact through our religious convictions. We can set good examples in our everyday life as Christians and last but not least, we can become that ‘buzz’ that they have been seeking for.