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Jesuit Father Myron J. Pereira, based in Mumbai, has spent more than five decades as an academic, journalist, editor and writer of fiction. He contributes regularly to UCA News on religious and socio-cultural topics.
What do young people expect of the Church?
In a word, an openness based on respect and dialogue
Published:
May 10, 2024 03:53 AM GMT

Updated:
May 10, 2024 04:05 AM GMT

Everywhere, but particularly in the West, young people are making their voices heard about major issues of the day.

For example, the protests against Israel’s war on the Palestinians and their own governments’ complicity in this war have thrown several universities in the United States and Europe into turmoil. Not since the Vietnam War in the 1960s has there been such unanimity shown against the belligerents.

In other fields, the names of Greta Thunberg and Malaika Yousufzai have challenged conventional thinking on ecology and women’s education, and have introduced a sense of dire urgency into these issues.

No doubt, youth want to be listened to today.

What do the young want?

That old cynic, Bernard Shaw, used to complain that the tragedy of youth was that “it was wasted on the young.” No one believes this anymore.

Rather, in the words of a young member of the recent Synod on Youth, “Young people are not just our future, they are our present. We need to invest our best resources for the benefit of our younger generation.”

And what is it that the young seek? “Firstly, clarity in the teachings of the Church, and their relevance in today’s context. And secondly, a sense of belonging to a community, and being involved in the decision-making process.”

The skills of communication

How to accompany youth? Older people — parents, teachers, priests — must develop the skills of communication in a world that is quite unlike theirs.

The first skill is to listen before speaking and to understand before judging. It may be true, as the elderly often feel, “We never did this when we were young.” Possibly, for there were fewer opportunities then.

The world has changed, especially in two areas.

Firstly, because of migration, communities are mixed, not isolated. Young people have friends their parents never had, and even more, choose to work and live in strange countries and different climes.

Among Asians, Indians are the fastest-growing migrant community. A trajectory that brings the young from the village to study in the district town, and later to work in the big city. The next step is going to the Gulf before migrating to the West.

Then, it’s technology that has made things smaller, quicker, smarter, and cheaper — whether we speak of laptops, smartphones, scooters, fashion design, or vacations. Technology has made life easier for most of us, but especially for the young.

And most of all, it’s given the young a sense of aspiration. Imagine the thrill of talking to a friend on the other side of the world, and sending her photos — and all this with just the click of one’s fingers!

Unfortunately, it’s not always been this way in the Church.

The most glaring example of abuse of the young in the Catholic Church in recent times has been the pedophile crisis. But there are other structural problems too.

Where the Church fails

Some years ago, the British psychiatrist and lay theologian, Jack Dominian, said that there were three challenges faced by the young growing into adulthood: leaving one’s family and setting up on one’s own; sexuality and intimacy; and the world of work.

Dominian felt that the Church failed in guiding the young on how to face these challenges.

Largely because of its authoritarian structure and its emphasis on obedience, Church rulings in the matter of authority and autonomy have only confused the faithful. One important reason why so many adult Catholics still behave childishly when confronted with Church authority.

Then the Church's teaching on sex and sexuality is fraught with denials and prohibitions and tinged with fear and repression.

And in the area of work, what is emphasized are the demands of justice and equity, not how the work itself contributes to one’s understanding and growth.

Any wonder then, that the young look anywhere but at the Church when they seek guidance?

For this is a guidance given “without words” — through music and dance, through clothes and fashion, and often just through “hanging out” with one’s peers. It’s a guidance meant to handle the three areas of tension — work, sexuality, and authority.

An open Church, an open society

It's often said that women will remake the Church. Equally true, the young will change the Church. But for this, we need an “open Church,” open to what the Spirit is saying through its various members.

Earlier in this article, we gave instances of how the strong desire for peace and justice compelled the young in the West to challenge their war-mongering governments; just as an equal urge commits many young people in a race to save the planet.

There are two crises facing young people in India: one is employment. Millions of young Indians are desperate for work, and cannot find work that satisfies them.

Yet another is a divisive ideology that pits Indian against Indian on the basis of religion, class, caste, and language.

Will young Indians show the way to older Indians, so riddled with the cancer of caste and failure, and thus help create a more open society?

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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2 Comments on this Story
CHHOTEBHAI
As the founder Secretary of the U.P. Regional Youth &Vocations; Bueau I worked extensively among youth for several years. Some observations: 1. Faith formation ends with Confirmation, followed by a two day forced Marriage Preparation course. We are a total failure in adolescent and adult faith formation. 2. Today's youth are more career oriented. For moat of them the Church is a Sunday social club. 3. They resent hypocrisy and the dichotomy between preaching and practice. 4. They are no longer as dependent on the Church as earlier. 5. Yes an insensitive or oppressive moral code and sexual ethics can turn them off. As things stand the Church has completely lost the narrative relegation it to irrelevance.
VINH DO
I would agree mostly with you on the first 4 points and disagree with you in the last point. The talking point of relevance is a danger of falling into relativism- in its degraded sense (apparently it was misunderstood when Albert Einstein talked about it, not meant the way we understood now). If there is no moral code that goes beyond time and space, so that it could be relevant to the reality, then the danger of new formed moral will come and that is made by human being and will lead to nowhere. The understanding of sexuality in the Church is mostly misunderstood because of the lack of young people not wanting to know and assumed from being taught by their parents who also misunderstood. As priest we do not preach every things at Mass. young people still need to find that out themself until convinced that it is not good. Then it falls on them as conscience will be their judge.
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UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia