"Today Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life, is calling you to leave your mark on history."Pope Francis, World Youth Day 2016
Right now, more than one billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 are studying, working, serving, and discovering their purpose. This is the largest generation of young people the world has ever seen, and they are growing up at a time when the world feels very different than from when I did. While being a high school student in the early 80's was by no means uncomplicated, the world was definitely different then. Take for instance, the recent occurrences of gun violence in schools. We had fire and tornado drills at school, but we never practiced for active shooters. In the 80's if someone didn't like you, they wrote something nasty about you on the locker room wall. Today, young people live in constant fear that someone will post something negative about them and then share it with the entire school or the entire world. Youth today have grown up with cell phones, surreal video games, unceasing information, and the scrutinizing social media likes and comments. Recently, The New York Times posed the question, "Should we worry about teenagers today or just get out of their way?" Interesting question.
With all the negativity in the daily news, it's hard not to be optimistic when I see the commitment and dedication of young people around the world. One search of the Internet and you can find many examples of young people doing some pretty incredible things like starting their own nonprofits, developing ground breaking technology, and taking the lead as activists for environmental causes. More than ever, youth are excited about giving back and making a difference in both large and small ways. I believe 2018 will go down in history as the year the young people stood up and demanded that the world take notice. Because of the horrific gun violence in many high schools, American youth organized themselves into the largest anti-gun protest since the Vietnam war. A day after the historic "March for Our Lives," Pope Francis called for the world's youth to continue to stand up and speak out. "Dear young people, you have it in you to shout," the Pope said in his Palm Sunday Address at St. Peter's Square in Rome.
Over the next decade and beyond, if we are to fix the most pressing issues of our time, we need to tap into the enthusiasm of young people. This generation has the potential to be the most creative force for social change and our Catholic faith communities can be the catalyst that helps them become young world changers. How? Parishes and youth ministries must evolve from just dispensing knowledge and information about the faith to helping young people encounter and be transformed by their faith. We can help youth to realize that their daily lives and the world in which they live are not isolated from their faith but rather inseparable. Pope Francis describes young people today as having to be on the move. He says the young have to get up and walk! The Pope is encouraging us to provide or create opportunities where youth can "do something" with their faith.
Those of us who are ministry leaders must be courageous and not afraid to try new ideas and new ways of offering ministry if we want our youth to feel empowered by their faith to drive social change. In this respect, we just might need to get out of their way. Instead of us always doing for young people, can we make room for them to lead? Can we invite the youth in our communities to help us to provide ministries that inspire them to dream, create, and then act on?
Should we worry about teenagers today? Well, as a parent myself, I will always worry about my teenager. However, I also do not want to be the one getting in her "way" when it comes to her desire to build a better world. I want to be her greatest supporter and help her to "shout" as Pope Francis says. I want to encourage her to live as a compassionate young Catholic and go out from her church and into her community and be a young world changer.