BY LOUISE McKEOGH
Attending the recent Australian Catholic Youth Ministry Convention last month not only gave me the experience of networking with the 45 delegates from my own Diocese of Parramatta and the 350 from throughout Australia. It also focused my thoughts on our young people who will gather in Rio for World Youth Day next year.
In the final address of the conference, I was reminded that the terms, “preferential option for the poor” and “preferential option for young people” were born out of the Latin American Bishops Conference Meetings at Medellin (1968) and Puebla (1979).
With Catholic youth of the world meeting in Rio in 2013, I reflected that the Latin American Church has given us much to reflect upon, such as the challenge of the closing message of Medellin, a message for all people who “hunger and thirst after justice. The very God who creates us in Gods image and likeness creates the earth and all that is in it for the use of all people and all nations, in such a way that created goods can reach all in a more just manner. ( Latin American Bishops Conference Medellin 1968 )
The follow-up conference of Puebla focuses our thoughts on, “how much hope the Church places in youth! How much energy needed by the Church abounds in our young people”.
For my Salesian heart, the concept of a preferential option for young people goes back much earlier than this. I trace its roots back to our founder St John Bosco in the 1800s, when he says to the young people of Turin, “for you I live, for you I work, for you I study, for you I give my last breath.”
He certainly lived a preferential option for young people seeing, the needs of the youth of the streets of Turin during the European Industrial Revolution in 1800s. There is no doubt that young people continue to reciprocate this preferential option – in school outreach, in camp leadership and mentoring, in youth centres, retreats and in overseas mission trips, all with an option for poor and disadvantaged young people.
At the ACYM Convention, the young people engaged so clearly with the input of Sr Hilda Scott OSB, it was as if they had echoed and spoken the phrase from scripture “teach us to pray.“ Her reflection on the spirituality of young people certainly inspired them and enabled her to build an immediate rapport and she gained their admiration and connection in offering them The Word of God.
Young people voiced over and over again in their evaluation and conversation, that the input of Sr Hilda was the highlight. Young people know when someone is sincere and indeed has a deep and meaningful preferential option for them. Again the words of St John Bosco come to mind “Young people must not only be loved they must know that they are loved“.
Walking home yesterday, I met on the way a young person who was coming to our youth centre in Western Sydney. She was full of curiosity and questions, and wanted to know where I had been and what I had been doing.
“What’s the time Sis?” she asked. She wanted to know how long she had to wait till the youth centre opened, where she could meet and be with her friends. It was indeed her home.
I asked her about the School Holidays and how things were going. I reflected on this chance encounter in the light of the ACYM Convention. I think it’s all about finding home. Our delegates at the ACYM Convention certainly found a home amongst the spirit, celebration and formation that was the Australian Catholic Youth Ministry Convention.
Finding home will indeed be one of the pilgrims’ task in Rio – a pilgrimage to find their home, home with their God, their home within our faith communities and church, so that for all it might be a pilgrimage, a journey with a spiritual significance.
I think Sr Hilda managed to help these young people take a step on their journey; such has been the pilgrimage and journey of the Australian Catholic Youth Ministry Convention. No doubt the journey to Rio will be another step along the road of the pilgrimage that we call life.
I am sure they will engage in the encounter of faith, experienced in times of prayer, in the others whom they encounter on the road to Rio, their fellow pilgrims, those they reach out to in mission, in orphanages and in social housing projects, those on the streets of Latin America, and then, just as significantly, those back home. This is a pilgrimage that I hope will help our young people live the words of the 2009 Social Justice Statement – Young People and Justice.
The natural tendency to defend the most vulnerable and restore justice in the world can provide the opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ. The Holy Father said that the heart of Jesus teaching the commandment to love God and love neighbour is like a program that is hard wired into every human person.
Sister Louise McKeogh FMA is Caritas and Social Justice Office Coordinator for the Diocese of Parramatta.
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