Young people need Good News now more than ever

Young people are not beyond our reach, writes Paddy Daly

I was privileged recently to be asked to address a group of young people who were gathered to mark World Youth Day in Rio. I brought along an Italian friend with me who had spent the previous month with my family learning English. Daniel is an Italian priest whom I had worked with in Brazil for a short period; I suggested to him that he might also like to address this gathering. The celebration began with Mass followed by some input. In my address I attempted to offer some words of encouragement to the young people, knowing how challenging it is to witness to Jesus in a very secularised, consumer driven society.

Joy of the believer

Fr Daniel, however, took a different approach; his talk was incredibly challenging. He said of the gathering that the young people seemed to him like “mummies”, no joy, no energy and no participation. He noted that on the evening everything was handed up to the young people, from liturgy, to food and venue. He contrasted this to his experiences in Brazil where the young people would prepare everything themselves. He was particularly strong on our lack of joy; he said that without joy we have nothing to offer. He mentioned Pope Francis in this context, his joy is obvious – it is written on his face. However, it is not a superficial joy that is unaware or detached from the deep pain and sufferings of the world. But it is the joy of the believer who knows that the cross of suffering leads to the dawn of the resurrection.

He laid down a challenge to the young people present to reach out to their communities and places of work and to offer the joy of following Jesus to their friends and colleagues. He spoke of the importance of solidarity and friendship in the context of mission, and said Jesus did not send his followers out alone.

Daniel’s English is not that good so he spoke in Portuguese I acted as translator. I felt privileged to be translating his challenging words, and a number of weeks previously I had also translated for Fr Daniel as he explored a Gospel passage from St John on Jesus’ meeting the Samaritan woman at the well to a group of prisoners.

Serious issues

My experiences with young people recently include my time working in a prison, which in my opinion resembles any of our third level academic institutions in terms of numbers of young people and human potential and possibility. There is a variety of serious issues affecting young people and their future; firstly of course there is the ecological situation or the environmental chaos which we appear to be marching towards full steam ahead. If we are to survive on the planet we will urgently need to engage all the creativity and imagination of young people so that we can head off what seems like inevitable climatic meltdown. There has been much written and spoken on this area but no great efforts yet to engage young people in our struggles for survival on the planet.

Secondly, in Ireland and across Europe we are creating an economic climate where there is acceptance of large scale youth unemployment and underemployment; this is as high as 40% in Spain. Young people are being left out in the cold to fend for themselves. Our situation in Ireland is alleviated somewhat by the safety valve of emigration; however there is still a huge cohort of young adults unemployed, underemployed or participating in programmes or schemes that often marginalise them within the workplace. 

Drug taking

I personally think if young people were deprived of the internet (social media, gaming, pornography etc.) and drugs there would be widespread unrest in out towns and cities. It is shocking the extent of drug taking, particularly in our marginalised communities, and most shocking of all the quantities of prescription drugs being abused by young people. The internet and drug taking is essentially an isolating self-absorbing type of activity in which a young person’s will and intellect is dulled, their imagination blunted and their sense of solidarity strangled.

There are few if any voices representing the concerns of young people in political, media and indeed social/religious circles. As a wider society we are largely oblivious to their pain despite the fact that they lie all day on our sofas and share our fridges – they are isolated even within our homes. For example, when I asked a friend of mine how her teenage son was, she replied that she hadn’t seen him for two days since the release of the latest video game, despite the fact that he lives under the same roof!

Social rights

There are many other issues facing young people, and this is but one visible aspect of a whole erosion of their political, economic and social rights.

Our church pews are clearly not populated by young people, however, they are not beyond our reach. We must take our courage and bring our Good News to them in the places where they are gathered – our universities, social media, prisons, our homes and so forth, we have in our possession the precious gift of faith, let us not keep it for ourselves.

“Woe to those so snugly in Zion … lying on ivory beds and sprawling on their divans, … but about the ruin of Joseph they do not care at all.” (Amos 6:1. 4-7)