By Linda Bordoni
“Christus vivit – Christ lives” is the title of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation dedicated to young people.
The document, to be released on Tuesday, 2 April, during a press conference at the Holy See Press Office, represents the fruit of the October Synod on “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment”.
The Pope has explained that there are 3 sections to the document, which mirror 3 phases of the Synod process. They are “Listening”, “Discernment” and “Decision.”
People involved in youth ministry across the world are awaiting the document with high expectations.
Like Sean Lategan in South Africa, who has many years of experience in Catholic youth ministry under his belt. He told Linda Bordoni that it is important, when engaging with young people and encouraging them to take part in the life of the Church, to facilitate and create an encounter.
According to his personal experience, Lategan said that the thing that works best in attracting and engaging with young people in youth ministry is to tap into an important personal experience, which he said, must be “facilitated”.
“When young people have some kind of religious experience, a ‘God moment’, or an encounter within the context of the Church, that is the one sure thing that gets them to stick” he said.
So the question that follows, he continued, is “how do we facilitate that encounter? Or how do we create the opportunity for that encounter?”
Attracting young people and fostering encounter
Lategan said that there are two main aspects to focus on when reaching out to young people:
First: “the need to attract young people to the Church in order for the encounter to take place”;
Second: “there needs to be a kind of ‘openness of heart’, so we need to create a space in which the young people are open, they feel safe, they feel like they belong, and they become more receptive to a moment like that”.
There are different ways, Lategan explained to go about doing that, and he pointed out that attraction and a sense of belonging can stem from many different things.
However, he said, that the fact that young people are so engaged in the current technological reality is very helpful in creating a sense of belonging; “a sense of love”.
In particular, he said, music, media and videos can be very useful.
‘Who am I? Where do I belong?’
Lategan said that “one of the biggest questions, if not THE question that young people are asking is ‘Who am I? And where do I belong?’
It’s a search for identity, he said, and music in particular goes a long way in creating a certain identity.
He points out that in the United States young people – teenagers - are the biggest consumers of music.
“This is not because they have the biggest budget; it’s simply because embedded in music is a sense of identity: the kind of music you listen to says a lot about who you are and how you identify yourself” he said.
Therefore, within the Church and within youth groups, Lategan said he has found it very useful to use music as a tool “to create a sub-culture, or to engage in a sub-culture that already exists and help teenagers create a sense of identity”.
That, he explained, goes a long way to create a sense of belonging and community that makes them feel that the Church is a “home space”.
The Apostolic Exhortation and the budget
Regarding his expectations for the Apostolic Exhortation dedicated to young people, Lategan said he hopes it will inspire a lot more emphasis on youth ministry from the leaders of the Church in South Africa, “not just in terms of creating spaces for young people to be involved in youth ministry, but also in attracting a budget!”
Yes, he reiterated, he hopes to see much more energy and finances channeled into training, equipping and employing effective youth ministers in parishes throughout the country.