Youth and Mission – SEDOS residential seminar (PE nr. 1092 – 2018/06)

How many of us know who the Millennials, popularly known as Generation Y are? Do you know which generation you belong to? Are you a member of the Lost Generation, G.I. Generation, Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials or Generation Z? It would be an interesting topic to do some online research in order to know more about these classifications. Of course, for many participants at the SEDOS residential seminar, it was like a spirit baptism to hear about these modern classifications.

In preparation for the upcoming Synod on Youth in October 2018 at the Vatican, SEDOS (Service of Documentation and Study on Global Mission) organized a five-day residential seminar on the theme Youth and Mission at the House of the Sisters of the Divine Master in Ariccia – Rome from 30th April to 4th May 2018. Over hundred participants were invited to the seminar and four M.Afr. confreres: André Schaminée (Rome), Daniel Ntumba Kabuya (Toulouse), Dieudonné Bulambo Amani (Ghana) and Leo Laurence Maria Joseph (Belgium) and one MSOLA, Sr. Anafrida Biro (Poland) joined the other participants who came from the four corners of the world. Most of the participants were major superiors, vocation animators, administrators, and pastoral agents working with youth in parishes and in specialized centres for youth apostolate. The following major themes were discussed during the seminar: “Contemporary Youth Culture – Between Right and Wrong” by Emilia Palladino, a Professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University, “Generated by Life to Correspond to Love” by Sr. Bruna Zaltron, SCM, a Professor at the Claretianum, “The Role and Challenges of Evangelization for the Youth in the Multicultural and Pluralistic World of Today” by Bro. Paul Raj FSG, Assistant General of the Congregation of the Montfort Brothers of St. Gabriel, “The Evangelized will Evangelize – the Role of Lay  Missionaries Today” by Mr Michael Papenkordt, a Professor at the Institute of World Evangelization (ICPE-Germany), “Learning from Vocation Ministry in the US” by Bro. Paul Bednarczyck CSC,Vicar General of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri concluded our seminar with a special talk on “Synod 2018: on Young People, the Faith and Vocation Discernment”.

The participants at the SEDOS seminar

One of the interesting highpoints was the panel discussion with four young religious in the plenary session who creatively shared their personal experiences and engaged with the participants about their vocation journey. For most of the participants, it was a learning experience to hear what these young religious had to say regarding formation. One of the striking elements was the constant reference to the modern means of communication that is so necessary both in vocation animation as well as during the formation period of our candidates. They are to be given the freedom to use telephones/internet during the formation period so that they may learn to use it responsibly. One Superior General even told us that, from now on, even the novices will be allowed to use mobile telephones and internet (of course with caution to make them use these responsibly).

M.Afr and MSOLA at the SEDOS seminar: Dieudonné Bulambo Amani, Leo Laurence Maria Joseph, Sr. Anafrida Biro, André Schaminée and Daniel Ntumba Kabuya

Another important element that caught my attention was the word “passion” in doing youth apostolate. We don’t wait in our closed houses and wait for the young to come and join us. The time has come to get out of our comfort zones (religious houses and convents) and go to the places where young people are actually found today. If today’s youth do not join us in religious life, it is precisely because our way of life does not attract them. We have lost the passion for Christ, our charism and our missionary commitment and have become too comfortable behind structures. One of us even brought up the idea of “collective suicide” because there did not seem to be any hope in the future. This tendency has to be firmly fought.

We still use the vocation pamphlets printed in 1920 (a sister said jokingly) and use the same method of vocation animation that no longer attracts today’s youth. Are the pamphlets meant for the already existing members or for the potential future candidates? Are they attractive to the present youth? How many of us seize the full potential of modern means of communication in our vocation animation? Today’s youth are online 24/7 and they are connected to the world. Imagine, if we could create an app and commercialize it in Google play store. We would probably be the first ones on the net having an app. We could also have our own M.Afr. App so that members could be connected more easily than through a website.

Another element that struck me during the discussion is the fact that some congregations still make vocation animation a part time job, although the future of the congregation is entirely dependent on it. Therefore, a renewed commitment of all members to engage in vocation animation is necessary wherever and whenever possible. A fulltime vocation promoter is an absolute necessity if we want to receive new members into our Society. All of us are called to make a difference and attract young people to religious life through our life of witness.

In the formation period, we need to see young people not as objects to be formed as in our old formation program, but primarily as active subjects who are able to contribute to their own formation and growth. Therefore, a more open and listening attitude is needed in the houses of formation so as to update constantly our method of formation corresponding to the needs of the time.

We were asked: Do you trust young people? To our amazement, everyone in the assembly affirmed that we trust and believe in youth who have immense potential and hope to approach them with hope. The upcoming Synod on Youth may bring some far-reaching conclusions because of the active involvement of youth in responding to the questionnaire and in the preparation of the working document.

May we continue to pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide us in making right decisions regarding young people, not for them but with them? All in all, it was an informative, challenging and engaging seminar. Thanks to SEDOS and to the Society for making our participation possible and such a successful one.

Maria Leo Laurence, M.Afr.

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