‘Today’s youth have a serious lack of motivation. Almost nothing challenges them as they live from one moment to the next.’ As a group of educational experts on a government-appointed commission, we were gathered to prepare our input. Our discussion – today’s youth. One of the team’s findings was that Christian youth were trailing in comparison with others. Despite many Christian educational institutions and youth-oriented organisations, young people were responding with growing apathy and boredom. And the singular question from our group was, ‘How do we evoke an enthusiastic response from the youth today?’

What ails youth today!

In my parish, on Sundays, the second Mass is for youth and children. After catechism, they come and assemble in groups. The young ones are usually alive and active, but middle schoolers and upwards display a particularly visible emotion, ‘Why this torture! And when will this be over?’ Many are bored, irritable and often ready to explode.

Looking at those worn out young faces in classrooms, on the streets, and at meetings, I often wonder what they go through. A more troubling thought is perhaps as educators or youth animators, we are clueless in bringing them alive.

Pope Francis indicates the need of the hour, ‘The community has an important role in the accompaniment of young people; it should feel collectively responsible for accepting, motivating, encouraging and challenging them.’ (Christus Vivit, 243)

Some consolation

While at the discussion, the stark contrast with Jesus Youth circles was undeniable. Surely, I heaved a sigh of relief. Signs of life and enthusiasm abound in Jesus Youth. During these days of raging pandemic, for instance with most youth trapped at home, a good number of JY have been quite active. The other day Raiju called, ‘Tomorrow, Jesus Youth everywhere will be expressing their gratitude and appreciation for the Covid warriors. You should also greet and give a packet of health care materials to the ‘Asha worker’ and postman of your area.’ As I wondered how to obtain these things at that hour, especially with lockdown, an hour later, a Jesus Youth brought me all I needed to fill my packets. Nothing could stop them!

For the past few weeks different Covid-funeral teams of Jesus Youth have been active in all zones. Hundreds of JY came online every evening to pray together, responding to the Pope’s call. Then there was the 24-hour Covid helpline, house cleaning in sea-breached villages, food-packet distribution, Covid transport teams, and much more during these difficult times.

This is not only limited to Covid times. A good number of Jesus Youth come out with creative initiatives. This of course, was a huge difference when compared with the general youth of today!

How do they come alive

‘What do you do with these youth?’ Years ago, when a college professor quizzed me, I thought she was being critical of JY campus programmes; later I understood her surprise at how a weekend could so dramatically change her timid student into a vibrant missionary. And she was earnestly asking, in practical terms, how this was done in Jesus Youth gatherings.

Yes, that’s what we want of them, not to be lethargic or sleepy, but alive and enthusiastic. Somehow, in a lot of JY groups, young people find ‘something’ to come alive. The question is what is that ‘something’ that keeps these youth motivated?

It begins with a deep inspiration. For every Jesus Youth, the journey begins with a momentous event that changed them. For few it could be someone who took time, sat with them, talked, and prayed. But for most it would be gatherings where life was re-examined in the context of the Gospel, interacting with fine youth and moments of memorable prayer.

They find a platform to be involved. ‘Yes, I have attended a Jesus Youth programme. It was great!’ If that’s all, then that person is not on the Jesus Youth is a locally (or now, often virtually) close knit group. In it a young person or a family comes alive and belongs actively. There they gather, talk, plan and do many things together.

There are motivating people. Just like Raiju who called me, in the movement there are many motivated people troubling others in a joyful way. Their examples, energising conversation and initiatives stir most people into action.

They get ongoing guidance. Life is a journey. You change and grow and new challenges come up. One good thing in JY is that help is always available to keep yourself alive amidst these changes. There are people as well as programmes to keep one alive and continuing.

As I sat there with those well-meaning experts lamenting about today’s youth, I reflected on the contrasting scenarios. Where do general youth get to be alive and active? Most youth today never get a chance to really come alive and lead a fruitful life. A few of them get an opportunity to join something vibrant, but later get lost.

Often, I reflect on the different path I travelled. After high school I became part of a vibrant student group with clear emphasis on personal formation and social commitment. This continued for a couple of years after which the group dispersed. My once vibrant friends disappeared into the rut of life. Then I restarted and began this present journey. I thank God not only for bringing me to a well-motivated network of Christians, but also continuous growth made possible there. Our challenge today is to offer many youth possible, means to abundant life and continually grow in it.

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