JESUS YOUTH-Jesus Youth “Consultations”: a way of listening and envisioning
“Three years back you brought together almost a thousand youth. But where are they now?” Fr Gino posed a challenge before this small gathering of senior leaders in the Renewal. “The elderly faithful may always remain with the Church, but not the youth. To keep young people in faith you need a relevant vision, a Christianity that is meaningful for their life and situation. If not, they will just disappear.”
A few months back, in this column, I already mentioned this discussion we had in 1981 when Fr Gino Henriques the National Chairman of Charismatic Renewal in India posed this challenge before the Kerala Service Team. In 1978 we had worked well and had brought together a good bunch of enthusiastic youth, but after three years we had to begin the work all over again.
One problem that we all have, he remarked, is that we think we know what young people of today need and that we know how to go about giving it. Today’s youth are going through immense change and don’t presume that we know it all. There is a big need to go to them and to listen to them carefully. Working with young people and getting them closer to the Church should start by sitting with them and listening to them. On that day Fr Gino articulated for us a new path for building a youth ministry. It is not just advising or preaching to youth but sitting with them and listening to what they have to say. This dialogue has to be the foundation for an ongoing youth accompaniment.
This discussion at St Teresa’s College in Cochin led to the setting up of a 5 member team with the task of organizing ‘consultations’ and making recommendations about youth and some plans for their formation. This followed a series of gatherings in different places to ask young people what their needs were and what kinds of approach and activities they wanted. And its result? The first vision paper for a youth movement, which was submitted to the Kerala Service Team on 20th October 1981, entitled “Report of the Youth Working Committee”.
Consultations and the growing JY movement
When we look back to the 40 plus years of history of the movement it is quite interesting to note that at every big turn in the journey of the movement there was some kind of a well-organized discussion gathering of leaders to “interpret the signs of the times” (Mt 16:3) and ask how we should move forward. As I mentioned 1978 and ’81 were the big initial consultations. In 1986 University ministry was launched after a series of such consultations. In 1990 the work in parishes got a fillip in the same manner. In 1997 – 98 the movement became national in the same manner. The year 2002 found another big leap of it becoming international, with a series of discussion gatherings of JY leaders from different countries. A consultation gathering of Bishops in Dubai in the year 2012 was in the context of another big leap in the movement. To give shape to and launch a comprehensive faith formation plan for the whole movement, consultations were organized at all levels of the movement and the most significant one was the big meeting of bishops.
A good biblical model of a consultation meeting is the gathering of the early church narrated in the Acts of the Apostles chapter 15, which we often refer to as the Jerusalem Council. On the face of a big confusion among the followers of Jesus most of the leaders of the early church gathered in the big city. Different viewpoints were presented in the assembly. They debated on it and everyone listened patiently. They consulted the Lord in prayer. Finally, a new vision and statement evolved. That was articulated and communicated to the wider church. Surely, a new church was born out of that.
So, in any consultation there is an initial question or confusion, a gathering, raising of voices, eager listening, fervent prayer, discerning a consensus, articulation of the new finding and follow up action. Ordinarily people are concerned about the first and the last. There is an issue or confusion and there has to be a solution. But the process of reaching that solution is what builds up leadership and gives rise to a vibrant Christian community. For instance, in the second half of the 1990s the movement rapidly spread to different cities and states of India, giving rise to a lot of hope and at the same time engendering plenty of confusions. Many of the leaders started asking where all this was leading. Finally, a good section of leaders met with the representatives of the National Service Team of the CCR to thrash out the issues. The good outcome was a comprehensive statement and a clear plan to coordinate Jesus Youth movement at the national level, another milestone in the growth of the movement.
To keep young
people in faith you
need a relevant
vision, a Christianity
that is meaningful
for their life and situation
Smooth sailing is what every traveler of a boat wants, but unfortunately now and then a storm suddenly comes. In the life of the movement also, what all of us want is such a smooth sailing, but now and then conflicts and confusions come up. Our normal reaction is to become upset or to panic. But a mature reaction to storms in our community life is to recognize the call of the Lord to “discern the signs of the times”. In the history of the Jesus Youth movement, we have done it repeatedly and have called it a step of ‘consultation’. May be in our local fellowship or even in our small group we have to learn this dynamic of seeking the will of the Lord along with our friends or doing a ‘mini-consultation’. This can be a time of ‘recollection’ or evaluation. We may even call it a group discernment. And that time of searching for the Lord’s voice in unity with our brothers and sisters will not be in vain. It will surely bear abundant fruit of rich renewal.