by SHANA LLORANDO
The National Catholic Youth Ministry Conference was held on April 21-23 in Christchurch. People involved in youth ministry from all over New Zealand, including those in diocesan youth teams, movements and other groups gathered to learn, network and be refuelled for our mission to walk alongside young people on their journey to God.
The theme for the conference was “Alive and Well”, based on the scripture story from the Acts of the Apostles about Eutychus, a young man who fell to his death and was restored to life. Keynote speaker Jimmy Mitchell, an evangelist and artist from the United States, broke open the theme in the first session; in youth ministry, we are instruments of restoration for young people, discouraged and confused by the empty promises of our world. We offer them an alternative — the fact that we are made for glory and a life of meaning, beauty and adventure, through the abiding joy of Jesus.
At other times, we are Eutychus, burnt out from our ministries, needing to be refuelled and enkindled. The conference provided a multitude of opportunities for us to remedy this with Christ encounters, through daily Mass, adoration, prayer and worship — the latter led beautifully by the Exalt band from the Christchurch Youth Team. These encounters helped us remember that there is still life in us, still a spark for the mission.
And what do we do with this spark? We must go, said Australian Roby Curtis, director of Blind Eye Ministries and Emmanuel Worship, in his keynote session. There is much to be done, especially in reaching out to the marginalised in our community. He reminded us of the call to all disciples to get out of our comfort zones and serve the least of our brothers and sisters. We must place people over things.
On the same thread, the conference honed in on relationships, an integral part of our ministry, through the rich and diverse workshops. Among others, Brendan Malone spoke about how ministry flows from the family in his workshop on whanau, Jess Bond urged us to be in right relationship with our team when embarking on music ministry, and James Bryant and Delbert Castillo advised us to invest in our leaders and engage the parish community, in their workshop on building a sustainable youth ministry.
But our relationship with God is the centre of it all. In his last keynote session, Mr Mitchell said our relationship with God, and our witness to it, is the first step in the art of
accompanying youth. If we want to journey with young people, we must first let Jesus journey with us. Mr Mitchell left us with what youth ministry is all about: leading young people closer to Christ and to holiness. This was truly evident in meeting and speaking with our fellow youth ministers; our shared passion for God and for young people tied us all together in this one mission. The conference showed us that we are united, and because of this, our ministry is alive and well.
The theme of the world Synod of Bishops, which will meet in October, 2018, is: “Young people, faith and vocational discernment”.
“But let’s just call it, ‘the synod of young people’”, the Pope told young people at the Vatican on April 8. It should be “a synod from which no young person feels excluded”.
The Church could hold a synod involving Catholic youth active in parish life or Catholic organisations and lay movements. But Pope Francis said that is not what the Church or young people need.
“This is the synod of young people and we all want to hear them”, including young people who have moved away from the Church or are questioning the existence of God, he said. “Every young person has something to say to others, something to say to the adults, to the priests, sisters, bishops and the Pope. We all need to hear you.”