Africana Plus

No52 November 2002.5

World Youth Day 2002

A New generation of Builders

When Pope John-Paul II launched the World Youth Days in 1985, his aim was to provide young people with a special opportunity for meeting Christ, He who is the same yesterday, today and for ever, and for learning from Him how to be proclaimers of the Gospel.

The Pope regards young people as the bearers of hope, a new generation of witnesses inspired by an authentic love. They are each called to bring their own brick to the building of the City of God and the City of Men, the two cities that must be founded on justice and peace and punctuated by acts of solidarity and fraternity. These were the sentiments expressed in one of the hymns sung in Toronto:

Light of the World! Salt of the Earth!

Be for the world the face of love!

Be for the earth the relfection of His Light!

There could hardly be a more missionary hymn.

The Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) do not intend to miss the train whose departure was announced at the Toronto Youth Day. And the best way of making sure that they catch it is to build their own carriage. This was the thought of Father Jacques Cusset when he formed his group of a score of young people aged from 15 to 31. Most of them are new Canadians, of African or Haitian origin, and they call themselves consecrated glow-worms, shining in the darkness, like the lamps in the hymn.

These Youth Days take a long time to prepare, at least from March to July, and throughout the different stages of preparation there is the risk of defections. One of the organizers said: "We took the time needed to prepare. It was sometimes hard, but it really helped me to grow humanly and spiritually." Another said that carrying the cross makes us partners with those thousands of other young people who have welcomed the cross of Jesus before us and transmitted it to us.

The important thing remains the witness of steadfast commitment and fidelity which these young people wish to give. That is what makes them missionaries.

Then there is the joy of departure. Every missionary departure has an element of heroism about it. "How beautiful are the feet of those who proclaim the Good News," wrote St Paul (Romans 10, 15). The whole long effort of preparation was crowned by the unforgettable experience of Toronto for tens of thousands of young people.

The "consecrated glow-worms" lived in extraordinary solidarity the Toronto experience. Every day they had to cope with a host of unexpected crises, including the wearisome task of trying to feed the multitudes. Nevertheless each day the members of the group found the strength of soul to begin again. The times of prayer were the fuel which fed the fires of fraternity. As one of them put it, "it was the shared experience that made us belong to Christ." Another spoke of the experience of Church which would leave deep traces if we take the time to deepen our faith.

The culminating point was undoubtedly the Papal Mass under a brilliant sun. The previous day had been wet, and the Pope compared the sunbeam to a baptismal experience which completed the Eucharistic experience. It was a sign which the young people appreciated. For many thousands of them the sunbeam was a symbol of light in the colorless world they had come from.

To put it in missionary terms, these young people appreciated that this path of light illuminates all cultures, investing with different colors all of life's experiences. One may indeed say that the fundamental experience of fraternity is the initial inspiration of mission and the beginning of a new civilization. So the Pope could say: "Amid all the injustices and sufferings, the human race still nourishes the hope of a new civilization under the sign of freedom and peace." So he addressed this appeal to the young pilgrims:

"Dear young people, allow me entrust you with my hope: you must be builders. You are the men and women of tomorrow, and the future is in your hands and in your households. It is to you that God is entrusting the task, difficult but exalted, of collaborating with Him for building up the civilization of love."

Such is the meaning of mission. No young Christian could fail to feel pride and responsibility in responding to the challenge of being a witness to the Gospel.

Looking back on their days together, one of the members of the Sacred Glow-worms remarked: "The World Youth Days have changed my life. I am a different person. In spite of my insignificance, I belong now to God's own "gang". And when I look back on these days, I recover the feeling of real happiness and share it with those in my life."

Some spoke of the follow-up of the experience.

"We have to report all this to our communities. This means holding regular meetings to deepen our faith. We have to report that man is made for happiness and that Christ is the answer to his search." "Reporting back": that is what missionaries are called to do. Reporting about the Gospel which we have been given to know. Giving an account of the hope that is in us. Whether we are young or less young, we are all called to bear witness to the One by Whom we live.

So of course the young people of today are called to Mission. Michel Gingras was another White Father who took part in the Youth Days and he says: "It has to be admitted that the ideal of missionary life which we have been living so far does not appeal to the young people of today. But that does not mean at all that God is no longer calling them. Our task is to adapt to young people. We should not expect them to adapt to a way of life which for the moment they are incapable of understanding. You don't sell typewriters to people who have a word processor at home.

Our model of the White Father has been of a man who has studied theology and who is ready to administer the sacraments. It is not a model which speaks to young people today. Those who come knocking on our doors or who visit us on the Internet feel challenged by Africa. They come to us because they have a taste for Africa but they do not want to go through the endurance tests which we have known. We need therefore new paths and new programs.

We need to remind ourselves of the words of Jesus to His first disciples: Come and see. We need a new word, a word perhaps like the word which St-Exupéry found to tame the little fox. Come and see, here and in Africa! There is a track that has to be followed if there is to be a longer-term commitment in the future. Why do we keep on trying to pour new wine into old skins?

Young people are open to God and to the service of their brothers and sisters in Africa. They are looking for welcoming communities which will allow them to travel and mature in their own way. It is true that they are very ignorant of the religious life, but they are attracted by Africa. Why should not God use this attraction to call them?

Most of the time young people simply do not know who to turn to. They feel incapable of interpreting the voices they hear echoing in their souls. They are like the boy Samuel in the temple, hearing the voice but unable to understand it (1 Sam 3, 1-21).

Unhappily, the young people of today do not always have access to genuine prophets to guide them and to decode the messages which come to them from One beyond, summoning them to make their life-choices."

The future guides of the young will have to be open and charismatic, like that poor bent old man in white who, in spite of his infirmity, is still a prophet: dynamic, courageous, humorous, witty. His challenge may be uncompromising, but it is colored with affection and uttered with the malicious smiles which the young appreciate. They see in such a one the Gospel lived to the end, and to meet him is worth more than all the catechisms in the world. This was what the young people in Toronto were feeling when they cried, "Viva il Papa!"

Michel Fortin, M. Afr.

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