BY DAMIEN F. BRENNAN
A senior diocesan administrator said to me during the year, “You know, when World Youth Day is on we become a travel agency.” That got me thinking!
Peppered among many others with whom I have worked over the past three years are a third of our Australian Catholic dioceses or their agencies and some religious institutes and their ministries. I have reviewed a range of initiatives and personnel, including youth and young adult ministry in two dioceses.
A reoccurring theme in many conversations over this time has been about engaging or re-engaging young adults, young families and youth in the life of the Church—in its many manifestations such as parishes, recognised movements, religious institute initiatives and other outreach activities.
Some are beginning to question whether World Youth Day (WYD), and events management, has become THE youth and young adult strategy for many dioceses and their youth coordinators (if they have them).
Older clergy reflect nostalgically upon initiatives such the Cardijn movement as epitomised in the YCW. They reflect upon experiences of a more direct link with young people in parish life than what they perceive now. Some wonder whether the increased orientation to organising youth events regionally, diocesan-wide or by recognised movements is a based upon a view that you will no longer engage youth and young adults in local parishes regularly.
They note that such events, including WYD, may be effective in the short term and provide a way of gathering young folk in both prayerful and enthusiastic gatherings. Like me, they question if such an events paradigm is akin to a booster shot that needs to be part of a more holistic health plan?
Where do such events fit within an overall pastoral strategy (or health plan) for ministry with young people and young adults? Is there one near you?
Parishes have never been the sole place of ministry to youth and young adults. Schools and other ministries have always tried to support the engagement of young people in their faith development. I have been privileged to observe a range of good things happening in many places over more recent times; in some parishes, in groups such as Young Vinnies and Rosies, and in other orientations such as Net Teams, to name but a few.
I have also seen the positive influence of events orientated especially to young people over the years. I am mature enough to cite the Stranger Camp Movement in the southern states, CLAG in Queensland and Marist Youth Gatherings in Victoria. I was also part of the development of the concept of comprehensive youth ministry in Australia in the 1990’s.
With two former colleagues, I led a group of young teachers to WYD in Sydney. I saw first hand how a group could be formed for engagement beyond the event when facilitated so well by one of my skilled work mates. This participation in WYD was part of a bigger strategy of leadership development and spiritual formation. It was not event centric.
WYD and its surrounds can be seductive.
For many bishops it provides an unparalleled way of meeting with young people from their diocese. Some even have the experience of becoming a quasi-older uncle or substitute grandfather figure in the lives of some vibrant young people whom they would never normally encounter.
The catechesis sessions can provide for them a captive audience that massages both their soul and ego. It enables them to participate in a positive experience of the Catholic faith community at large when so many other issues with which they deal are problematic or unfulfilling.
For the young people it can offer them a breadth of experience of Catholic faith expression, with its many cultural manifestations in communion with each other. It can be a prayerful, fun and community event, not without its difficulties and experiences of self-denial, where other like souls can gather.
The fact that there are WYD "groupies" who clock up experience after experience is suggestive of its positive influence on so many. For them it is that booster shot on an otherwise bland horizon.
But, like the Olympics and Schoolies, WYD is expensive and for rather elite aficionados who can afford it or who can be sponsored to it. Just ask our financially stretched country dioceses and many parishes who feel like travel agents every few years.
Is WYD, and an events paradigm, a sustainable model for the future?
Damien F. Brennan is a consultant and writer and provides leadership development services primarily to education, welfare, Church and not-for profit sectors.
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