JESUS YOUTH : The prime mission of Jesus Youth? Friendship
I knew this woman Sumi quite well. Recently, we had a heart to heart chat following a big tragedy in her life. “My father was an active political worker, of a right-wing party. I too had the same strong will as my Dad. But while in college I moved closer to the leftist party leadership. As you know, most teenagers want to rebel and do the opposite of what their parents expect from them. But my political activism was mainly due to the nice friends I found there. These boys and girls were so joyful and friendly, and they talked about big revolutionary ideas. And I became their good friend and thus an active Political leader.”
With a mischievous smile I commented, “Now your son has done the same and at college he met an active group and became their leader. Only difference is, he has become a Catholic and quite an active one. But are you upset like your father?” Now it was her turn to return a naughty smile, “Eddy, why should I? May be, when I was young, if I had a chance to meet such vibrant boys and girls passionate for Christianity, I too would have become active in Church.”
DO EVERYTHING POSSIBLE TO BUILD LOVE
From my early college days, I have been quite active in my prayer group. It was not just a prayer group, instead it was a joy-filled gathering on Wednesdays, with so much of life and activities flowing from there. I remember how we started some of our very beautiful celebrations. Most of the significant steps there were taken as a result of some messages received in the group. During the early 1980’s one recurring message we used to get in the group was, “Do everything possible to build love”. The core group noticed these repeated messages and we discussed how we could respond. One good step was the Christmas celebrations we started, which became a big hit. The focal point in these celebrations were helping people to know one another thoroughly and help them belong.
Later when Jesus Youth movement gradually took shape, this emphasis on ‘building love’ always received special emphasis. So, if you ask young people what brought them to Jesus Youth movement a good number of them would mention ‘friendship’. ‘So and so became a good friend of mine and when she invited me to the group I couldn’t resist’. Some others would mention how warm friendships kept them in the group. Many others would recall how when they were depressed, or then they had a crisis in life, there were good Jesus Youth to accompany and so they have continued.
Sometimes we tend to forget how people come to know Jesus and can deepen their relationship with him. The Lord works through relationships. Public announcements and attractive media have some role to play, but the most important step in getting connected to the Lord is surely a personal ‘invitation’ from a good friend. In the Gospel of John chapter 1 there are some beautiful illustrations for this. John the Baptist introduces Jesus to Andrew, and he becomes a friend of the Lord. Andrew in turn goes and invites his brother Peter. Next day Jesus invites Philip and Philip brings Nathanael and thus the chain of followers widen. Friendship was the tool that Jesus used to gather his best followers. In Jesus Youth also it is the same dynamics, loving and joyful friends bring their good friends to a friendly fellowship, where they experience the joy of the Lord and become friends of Jesus.
YOUTH OF TODAY NEED FRIENDSHIPS
Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation Christus Vivit dedicates the 7th chapter to talk about Youth Ministry. Many young people today feel orphaned and “we need to make all our institutions better equipped to be more welcoming to young people” (216). And the Pope elaborates how friendship works in a group: “Friendship and discussion offer the opportunity to strengthen social and relational skills in a context in which one is neither analysed nor judged. Group experience is also a great resource for sharing the faith and for mutual help in bearing witness. The young are able to guide other young people and to exercise a genuine apostolate among their friends”. (219)
Youth of today hunger and thirst for friendship. If they don’t get it at a good place, they will look for it in a wrong spot, and often get misled into a life of darkness and confusion. (Jesus’s remark, ‘sons of this world are wiser in their own generation than the sons of light’ – Lk 16:8). As the Pope points out, in order to help youth, we need ‘welcoming’ places, where there is friendship and lively discussion. But all this is possible only if there are committed young people who have discovered their call to be true friends of youth, so that they will meet ‘the True Friend of Youth’, who said ‘I call you friends’ (Jn 15:15). In essence, the vocation of a Jesus Youth is to be a person of joyful friendships, and his or her mission is to be a very good friend of everyone, especially the needy young ones, with a special commitment to bring them to the Lord.
Earlier I spoke about Sumi and my chat with her in the context of a tragic loss in her family. Her son was in the next room, and inside his room and outside the house there were so many of his friends, sharing his sorrow and consoling him with their presence. ‘He is so blessed to have them around him,” I told myself. And the tragedy today is that so many youth don’t have such friends. But, if they can have friends, and that too good friends, how wonderful would it be. And, surely, providing friends to young people is the primary call of Jesus Youth.
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