Reach out to youth!
From the general level at international conferences and meetings, to province assemblies and chapters, all the way down to local communities, over and over SCJs cite outreach to youth as a priority for the congregation.
At the US Provincial Chapter in July, it was youth themselves, the youngest members of the province, who once again emphasized the need to be present to young people. To be Dehonian with youth.
“We need to be visible, we need to be with young people if we are going to share the Dehonian charism with them,” said a chapter participant. “We can’t wait for them to come to us.”
Energized by what he heard from the youngest participants at the Provincial Chapter, Fr. Christianus Hendrik, SCJ, felt called to respond to them “and get something started,” he said.
“I heard your voice loud and clear,” he told young SCJs. “I was impressed by what you said and was inspired.”
Fr. Hendrik’s response to what he heard? A day of reflection and training as a starting point for Dehonian youth ministry in the U.S. Province.
Seven of the youngest members of the province, including four in formation, came to the Provincial Conference Center on August 21 to reflect on the Dehonian charism, learn about youth ministry in other areas of the congregation, and take part in games and team-building exercises appropriate for use with young people.
“Together, we can start something,” said Fr. Hendrik. “We might make mistakes, we might even go down the wrong path sometimes, but mistakes can be fixed, programs can be revised. What is important is that we just get started, that we move from talking to doing.”
Fr. Hendrik’s hope is that a team can be developed for youth ministry. “As a team, we can support each other,” he said. A member of the team might have an idea for a youth activity in a local area, “and then he can call on another member of the team to assist him; we can do this together.”
Besides developing activities to bring young people together, Fr. Hendrik hopes that the team can “create a new language for youth, translating the Dehonian charism into words that are meaningful for them,” he said.
Eventually, he hopes that the work of the team can lead to Dehonian youth groups “not just for developing vocations, but sharing the charism and helping young people find a base for their lives in that charism.”
Fr. Hendrik said to participants that while some of what he would present might be familiar to them, they “need to listen, just as we ask youth to listen to us,” he said. “Then, we can share our knowledge and collaborate on what we know from our own experiences…
“Youth have knowledge too,” he added. “They bring the Holy Spirit just as we do; they bring their own wisdom at any age. We need to come together in respect and understanding to share our own experience of Jesus’ love.”
Interconnection. Community. The love found in the Sacred Heart. These are the themes that the group returned to throughout the day.
They carried a candle as a way of remembering the rest of their SCJ brothers. After each activity, they said a prayer for members of the province. If the candle blew out, they said a prayer for the deceased.
“This candle symbolizes that in community we always carry each other, we take responsibility for each other,” said Fr. Hendrik. “And this is who we have to be for youth. We have to be witness to religious life for each other so that we can be a witness for youth, so that they can see value in who we are and how we live.”
Much of the day was spent in activities that, on the surface, may have seemed like lighthearted fun. And there was a lot of laughter. But each game served a more important role, helping those who took part in them learn the importance of being connected to others.
However, as much as laughter and games are important to youth gatherings, so too is time for being quiet, time for prayer and reflection. “Young people need space to listen to God’s call for them in their lives,” said Fr. Hendrik.
And sometimes in that quiet space, people can find reconciliation, “something which many young people need today,” he said. “They need reconciliation with family, friends and sometimes even themselves. As Dehonians, this is something that we can help bring forward…
“Fr. Dehon wrote that the ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus revealed his love to me,’” said Fr. Hendrik. “He [Fr. Dehon] started with love as the basis for his spirituality. We must also start with love and bring that to young people. We must live our lives with a spirit of love, readiness and sacrifice, and share that with others.”
The group will meet by teleconference in September, and another in-person gathering on October 24.