Father João Chagas, Head of the Youth Pastoral Office at the Decasteria and is responsible for Family, Layman, and Life in Rome, was present at the Festival Wind of Hope, organized for the sixth time on the 12th September by the Youth Patriarchal Commission of the UGCC. The highly respected guest spoke about the theological and pastoral dimension of listening as an instrument of pastoral care in the light of the Pontifical Synod dedicated to Youth.
After the festival, a final meeting with Father João Chagas took place in the Patriarchal House of the UGCC. During the conversation, the Pope’s representative said the following:
“The Church has a lot to say to young people, and young people also have a lot to say to the Church”
During the quarantine, pastors asked young people what they expected from them. And the very first thing they talked about was presence. My participation in the Festival Wind of Hope should be an expression of the presence of the Ecumenical Church among Ukrainian youth.
The second is listening. This idea has already emerged in the whole process, which ended with the Synod about Youth. I have come here to hear the breath of the Holy Spirit here, in these lands, among young people.
At the Festival I had the opportunity to communicate with many young people, priests, pastors, monks and we discussed the theological and pastoral value of listening. The final document of the Synod of Bishops in 2018 says that the listening is the way in which God builds relationships with His people. And he quotes the book of Exodus, chapter 3, when God,being a burning bush, addresses Moses saying that He hears the cry of His people. And God, who is listening Himself, asks us to listen as well. Therefore, the zero commandment, which precedes the next ten: “Listen, O Israel.”
St. John Paul II said that the Church has a lot to say to young people, and young people also have a lot to say to the Church. God gives thoughts to the elders and visions to the younger ones. This, at first glance, seems paradoxical. Due to the fact that usually mature people have a vision of life that comes with age, while young people are dreamers. But the Holy Spirit reproduces this ability of the elders to dream, and to give the young a deep vision of all life.
At the Festival, we talked about how nowadays young people have a deep vision and deep questions and how we recognise it. In fact, there is no shortage of problems neither in the world nor in the Church. St. Benedict in his monastic rule said: “when there are problems in the monastery, you should always ask for advice from the youngest brother. Because the best decisions come from young people. ” How often do we use this advice?
It is very easy to say, but it takes more effort to put it into practice. Today it is fashionable to listen to young people. But when we listen, we often feel as if we have already completed the task. And in practice, we do not allow young people to influence projects. But it is extremely important to give young people much more opportunities for their protagonism in both public and church life. Big startups of our time, especially in the technological sphere, as well as great changes in public life do not happen if they do not include the youth participation. Either we understand this or we do not allow God to renew our lives.
“Make some noise!”
My stay in Ukraine lasted only three days, though in three days there was also a transition from death to resurrection. During this time I also had the opportunity to reveal the beauty of Ukraine, the fascinating people who are kind and sincere at heart. I saw in the eyes of young people great hope and great desire for life. When I talked to young people, I saw a lot of initiative and a desire to help others. I think you need to feel this wealth, which is your youth.
Working with young people carries its own risks because they are unpredictable. We can’t control it completely, so sometimes, out of fear, we prefer not to notice it. And if we want to contribute to this treasure, we must allow young people to act and create space for them.
They will disturb a lot, and the Pope inspires young people to do so. When he met young people in Rio de Janeiro in 2017, he addressed them – “make some noise.” Pope John Paul II also told young people at World Youth Day that their noise was heard in Rome and around the world. The Pope very often asks young people if there is this noise in their lives. If you bother others, then you have a life. If we want it to happen, then we must create space and give voice to young people.
The Eastern Church has a lot of traditions of theology and liturgy, and this attracts the West. It is important that young people experience this wealth as part of their lives. We need to ask ourselves how much young people personalize this experience, because when they understand it, they will be able to share it with others.
I am convinced that we should openly dialogue with young people about everything. Do not silence their questions and do not give pre-prepared answers, so that it is not just a fad, but we should help and facilitate the meeting of young people from East and West. This is mutual enrichment. This meeting is impossible without mutual respect. I think if there is a fascination with Eastern things in the West, in the same way the wealth of the West attracts the Eastern Church. Something unique can be born from this meeting.
“Challenges can turn into opportunities”
Undoubtedly, there are challenges common to the whole world, but there are special ones for each country. But we must be aware that challenges can turn into opportunities. For example, secularization is one of the challenges facing countries that have been very active in practising Catholicism. And this is happening not only in the heart of Europe, but also in Brazil.
I was amazed how during the Synod of Bishops in 2019, in one of speeches, Father Sousa,Superior of the Jesuits, spoke of secularization as a great opportunity. He emphasized that when society becomes more secular, it also generates in people a desire to experience faith, because there are no prejudices. And it also frees us from the situation of “automatic” Christians. Because you become a Christian, you make a choice to be a Christian.
Another opportunity that arises in a secularized society is to proclaim the gospel. The message of Pope Christus Vivit is to proclaim kerygma, the proclamation of God’s love and that Christ saves us from sin, that He is the Lord of our lives and that he gives us the Holy Spirit to change our existence.
In Western Europe, I met very secularized countries. He met young people with a pure heart, they did not have Christ there, though they were not biased. The freshness of the experience of these young people can encourage others, because they do not have solid thoughts, but can easily implement the ideas of faith in the lives of their peers. Undoubtedly, they need to be accompanied along the way to strengthen and deepen their knowledge of their faith. Here we discover the richness and importance of the Christian communities that accompany the youth.
“We must help young people and deepen their faith”
We need to think about how to become Church in those places where young people spend their time. Festival Wind of Hope inspires. This is a sign that the youth pastorate in Ukraine Is really important and plays a crucial role. And also the fact that young people need pastors in the place where they are. The first thing we need to take care of is to help young people deepen and strengthen their faith.
“We should not be afraid to talk to young people about God, thinking that He is a stranger to them”
We believe in Christ, who is both one hundred percent God and one hundred percent human. I am convinced that we, as the Church, should not be afraid to communicate with the Human. At the same time, we should not be afraid to talk to young people about God, thinking that He is a stranger to them. Because for man there is no one closer than God.
I did not understand what bands sang during the Festival on the stages in the park, but they proclaim gospel openly and sincerely. It is also worth inspiring, accompanying and supporting this evangelization through music. This music must be on the main stage. For example, in Brazil, my motherland, Christian Catholic music has gained great popularity. Today, listening to Catholic songs is as popular as listening to famous Brazilian songs. Catholic bands have several million views on YouTube. We need to use what is good for human beings and at the same time promote the idea of God to people. I don’t think there are any difficulties in this.
Wishes for young people
Now is the period of actualization of the ideas of the Synod of Bishops in 2018. At the same time, it is also a path of pilgrimage to the next meeting at the World Youth Day in Lisbon in 2023. The deepest thought of the Synod is that “Christ is alive!” The Pope’s message for 2021 will be published soon and the key word there is “get up!”. In Greek, it is the same word that means “resurrect.”
The ideas of the Synod that “Christ is alive” is supplemented by the ideas of the Pope in preparation for the meeting with the youth – “and you are alive!”.
This is of great importance for Ukrainian youth and is the task of the Ukrainian pastorate. Today I am with you, representatives of the Patriarchal Commission for Youth of the UGCC, I think you have very clear ideas and a great love for young people.
It is necessary to testify with one’s life the love of Christ, and the language of love is always understood by young people. It is not accepted when there is a lack of authenticity, sincerity or inconsistency.
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