It is wonderful to belong to the Church
By Hector Pascua
Last Pentecost Sunday, 40 youth in our parish received the Sacrament of Confirmation. The preparation for this big event lasted for six months. Every week the youth gathered in the parish hall in four groups to discuss topics related to the Catholic faith. Every group had its own leader who was responsible for the group and acted as teacher. This year, three lay leasers m who took a religion course offered by the Diocese of Vienna, volunteered to lead each group. I myself took the fourth group composed of ten youths. .I designed a catechism booklet for the preparation with 10 chapters covering themes such as: Confirmation, church, Jesus, Faith, Eucharist, Mission, Christian Living, Reconciliation, Celebration pf the Sacrament.
Our sessions were lively and sometimes too short for the things everyone wanted to say. I asked the question: What comes to mind when you hear the word GOD?
As I already expected, different pictures and explanations of the word of God came out. Typical answers of youth from 13-15 years of age were Church heaven, an old man with beard. When I was still in elementary school, my mother always told me, God manifested himself in everything that is good. One answer that really touched me, (which at the end took me some time to reflect and eventually to design a pastoral strategy to answer such question) came from a four teen-year-old soft-spoken girl.
She said, “I could not simply explain the word God on two or three words. As a child and a young girl I was really a devout Catholic. Actually I am still a Catholic now. That is why, I am here attending religious lessens in preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation. Though I have a lot of doubts about my faith...about the term God, I believe there are a lot of metaphors in the bible which really have a meaning but are difficult for us to understand. I believe there is SOMEBODY out there, who is looking at me and trying to put things in order. This somebody is the one whom we call on when something goes wrong. It is also the same in our lives. We call “Mama” or “Papa” when we are in need of their help. And this somebody we call on is maybe GOD. Nevertheless, when I try to reflect, many times I call on to God for help that my family live a happy life, that my parents would really understand each other. But I failed...my parents decided to separate.” Tears stared to flow from her eyes. I couldn’t utter a word. Silence filled the room. As a theologian, trained to give guidance in such situation, I found no answer for her. After a while, I tried to bring out our experiences and questions which more or less enlightened her. I spoke about freedom and responsibility which God gave us. In return, we have to transform these gifts into some thing that could bring a harmonious life... a life where there is sharing, love, peace.
The situation described above shows that a number of youth have little knowledge of Christian life. Therefore I tried to design a program that could motivate them in understanding and realizing their Christian faith. The objective of our youth ministry in the parish is to accompany the youth not only during the preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation, but more importantly, to motivate them to attend and participate in youth related activities in the parish. In line with this, I would like to share some pastoral considerations to attain, this objective.
a) The so-called “ANGEBOT” (special offer)
This term is very popular in Austria especially during summer when supermarkets make special-offer sales. I borrowed the term and incorporated it into the youth program. After the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation, I gave-out pamphlets and placards to the youths and other interested parishioner. An example of an eye-catching placard says: “SPECIAL OFFER: An invitation to love – a night of prayer and songs. ADMISSION IS FREE!”: From the 40 youth, ten confirmed their interest in joining our weekly sessions.
Encounter for me is synonymous with accompanying, sharing, acceptance and openness. In the parish. Thought the youth mi-nistry is still unfolding. I am already trying to go deeper into the encounter phase. Activities such as volleyball, football, table tennis games and other recreational sports can help the students get to know each other. And in the process, when camaraderie has been established, the third phase can then be introduced.
c) Communication/ Dialog
In this stage, the youth are invited to listen to inputs about faith and its relation to their lives. It gives them also an opportunity to share freely their faith experiences and questions. I am convinced that it is through dialog that the youth can voice out their sentiments (be they for or against the Church). Comments with something negative in it always come up when youth discuss matters regarding the faith and the Church.
From my encounter with different youth groups, I have learned that it is not always good to counteract such negative feelings and ideas. Sometimes such ideas do not need answers at all. What is important to them is to have somebody to whom they can voice out their sentiments – somebody to whom is willing to listen to them. Such attention is not present in most Austrian families. Children are sometimes neglected because of their parents’ work. Thus the youth ministry is making these pastoral considerations.
The aim of every endeavor is to propagate it, make it fruitful so that it could be shared to others. Pope John Paul II said that the Church needs the youth for the transmission of the faith. The Vatican II likewise noted the youth as Hope of the Church. Indeed, this is our main objective. That the youth in the parish who are being evangelized will serve as evangelizers, too. That they themselves will impart the treasure they found in the Church. This is my wish and prayer. And I am very optimistic that with the increasing participation of the youth in the parish, we will accomplish faithfully these pastoral hopes – enabling the youth t o say: “it is wonderful to belong to the Church.”
The situation described above shows that a number of youth have little knowledge of Christian life. Therefore I tried to design a program that I could motivate them in understanding and realizing their Christian faith.