What does the Catholic Church have in common with most major advertisers, retailers, politicians and information gatherers? The desire and need to reach young people. And it's a lot harder than it sounds. Seminarian and Word on Fire blog contributor Christopher Kerzich offers some sound advice on how to, and how not to, effectively reach this "key demographic."
How can the Church communicate with young people today? This question seems to be at the heart of the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture, which is currently underway here in Rome. The four-day meeting is focused on the world’s emerging youth cultures. After reading aninterview highlighting the meeting’s themes, this humble scribe began reflecting on ways to communicate with the multitude of emerging youth cultures. From prayer and this reflection, I’ve seen there are four ways to communicate with today’s youth and young adults. Obviously, these are focused on encouraging the most important interaction in this regard, that between the young person and Jesus Christ.
Communicate within the Group
Walking home from dinner one evening I observed a group of ragazzi (a general Italian word for “youth” or “young adults”) outside a local café gathered and talking in a group. Interestingly, everyone looked as if they belonged and no one seemed to be an outsider. All were dressed similarly, were in the same age group, and were speaking Italian. In one sense this can be an analogy for today’s youth cultures (similar dress, similar language and gathered together either physically or virtually). This means those seeking to spread the Gospel message within these youth cultures can easily come up against roadblocks. There are certain “walls” that might exclude outsiders (either of age or background) from engaging these groups. Therefore, a new evangelist must ask him or herself, what is needed to communicate within these groups that might have a tendency to exclude outsiders?...
In this Year of Faith, we've all been thinking about how to evangelize more effectively, and no group is more coveted in this mission than our youth. Word on Fire blog contributor Father Michael Cummins looks to Scripture for inspiration, and finds a lesson in two figures that we all would be remiss to ignore.
On January 31st, the Church celebrated the Feast of St. John Bosco – a saint who devoted his life to helping young people. This saint and his feast day have led me to reflect on my own experience of ministering to youth and young adults, especially in a time and culture that is “youth obsessed.” We can readily see how this obsession is played out in all areas of society – the entertainment and news media industry, politics, sports, education, relationships – just to name a few. Yet, my own reflection led me to wonder how might this obsession with youth bleed into and perhaps even negatively influence the Church’s ministry to youth and young adults as they seek to claim their own Christian faith and spirituality?
I will start by stating that one of the core convictions I have gained in my ministry with youth and young adults is that young people do not benefit from older people trying to act young; rather young people benefit when their elders remember their own age and are authentic to whom they, themselves, are.
To use the language of Scripture: in our culture today, our young Samuels need the guidance of older and wiser Elis. For any person involved with young people, 1 Samuel 2-3 is a must read. I have returned again and again to this Scripture passage for wisdom and I have come to believe that Eli is an often unsung hero in Scripture. I would like to use this encounter between the young Samuel and the elder Eli as a means to share some thoughts.
In the second chapter of 1 Samuel, we are told that the Lord had withdrawn his favor from the house of the priest Eli due to the corrupt actions of his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. Yet the young Samuel “continued to grow both in stature and favor with the Lord and with men.” (1 Samuel 2:26) In the third chapter we find the famous scene of the young Samuel hearing the voice of the Lord, mistaking it for the voice of the old priest and going each time to the sleeping Eli until finally Eli catches on to what is happening and instructs the young man in how to respond...