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Pakistan Church puts its faith in youth

Year of Youth launched with a message to empower youngsters to spread Christian values

Pakistan Church puts its faith in youth

Participants in the Year of Youth inaugural event at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore on Nov. 16. (Photo: Kamran Chaudhry)

When he posted a selfie with Pope Francis on Facebook, Daniel Bashir instantly became a global phenomenon.

The image was widely shared on social network websites. More than 500 people liked the photo of the pope wearing an ajrak shawl, a traditional blockprinted garment from Sindh province, gifted by Bashir during a youth conference at the Vatican in March last year.

In a meeting with Cardinal Joseph Coutts, the 29-year-old doctor of pharmacy from Karachi Archdiocese and Bishop Samson Shukardin of Hyderabad proposed dedicating the year 2020 to youth in Pakistan. 

“Only education can uplift the minority community out of the vicious circle of discrimination and marginalization. Our youngsters struggle to find decent jobs. They are also ignored in decision-making bodies of parish councils. Nobody owns them. They need guidance and acceptance,” Bashir told ucanews.

Similar views were shared by Bishop Shukardin during the Nov. 16 inaugural ceremony of the Year of Youth 2020 at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore. Pakistan Catholic Bishops' Conference chose the theme “Young people, faith and vocational discernment” for the event as homage to the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that shared the same title.

Bashir was one of 36 young auditors who participated in the synod held in October 2018. He was also among more than 1,000 youngsters from Pakistan’s seven dioceses and 30 priests who attended the Lahore ceremony led by six bishops. Daughters of St. Paul, who run communication centers in five dioceses, unveiled the Urdu translation of Christus vivit, the post-synodal apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis written in response to the 2018 synod. 

Jubilant youngsters later showered petals on a procession of clergy toward the adjacent hall of St. Anthony’s High School. Diocesan youth coordinators joined them in performing Bhangra, a Punjabi cultural dance, to the beat of a dhol (Indian drum). A program including tableaus and songs concluded with the official prayer for the Year of Youth 2020.

Pakistani bishops light candles at St. Anthony’s High School in Lahore on Nov. 16 to mark the launch of the Year of Youth 2020. (Photo: Kamran Chaudhry)

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Bishop Shukardin, program coordinator for the Year of Youth, and Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore, chairman of the National Youth Commission, jointly unveiled the scroll for next year. Youth coordinators later gifted shawls, turbans and bouquets among the bishops.

“This is your day. We want to accompany you. The Church cannot function without you. The ball is in your court now,” said Bishop Shukardin, pointing at the young participants.

“We know you want a life amid prevalent injustice, poverty and capitalism. Many become drug addicts amid despair and human rights violations. Others barely study beyond grade 10. The Church should create an environment where youth can progress. Unfortunately, we couldn’t engage them properly. The success of young people is the success of the Church.”

In a pastoral letter, Bishop Shukardin also urged clergy, lay associations and church groups “to look forward to having trained youth leaders, mentors and spiritual directors who can accompany young people and help them to overcome the challenges they are facing in daily life.”

“We should also work to empower young people in the Church by giving them responsibilities and by trusting them and by training them to spread the Word of God and Christian values through media, music, arts, games and sports,” he added.    

In a video message shared on social media, Archbishop Joseph Arshad, head of the Catholic Church in Pakistan, urged both church leaders and parents to guide young people. He said the major challenges of young Pakistani Christians include lack of higher education or catechism, an inferiority complex, unemployment, lack of future planning and ignoring church services. 

“Small ministries and Churches have only divided the community. Our slums have become dens of drugs,” he said at the Lahore program.

Archbishop Shaw was hopeful. “Mega projects like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will create many jobs for technical skills. Avoid generic subjects like master’s degrees in the Punjabi language. Fourteen church-run schools gained international awards and scholarships in 2017,” he said.  

Archbishop Christophe Zakhia El-Kassis, apostolic nuncio to Pakistan, read out a special message from Pope Francis for the Year of Youth.

“His Holiness prays that in these coming months they will grow in prayerful union with the Risen Jesus, in knowledge and love of their Catholic faith, and in zealous service of their brothers and sisters. In this way, by placing their youth and gifts at the service of the Lord and his Church, they will become ever more effective witnesses of the Gospel wherever they find themselves,” it stated.

Participants in the Year of Youth inaugural event at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore on Nov. 16. (Photo: Kamran Chaudhry)

Training underway

According to Father Yaqoob Yousaf, coordinator of the Catholic Youth Ministry in Lahore Archdiocese, training has already started. The priest was referring to a Nov. 13-16 inaugural program of the Year of Youth held at a retreat center in Lahore.

The boot camp included speeches by bishops and the Jesus Youth group, meditation, rosary recitations, awareness on synod documents, forums on listening to young people and group sharing sessions.   

“We suggested the participants, eight from each diocese, join groups that support Sunday Masses. Special guidelines were offered on holiness of the body, prevention of pornography, consulting priests and annual confessions,” said Father Yousaf.

Daniel Bashir said the Year of Youth in Pakistan is the first fruit of the 2018 synod. So far, he has conducted only three post-synod sessions in Karachi and Multan dioceses.

“Sometimes I become depressed. Many priests still do not know about the final document of the Synod of Bishops on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment. I had to arrange an English version from abroad as a published book was not available in Pakistan. I tried to gain their trust by showing them photocopies of the document, which is available on the internet,” he said.


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