It reminded me of the scene in ‘Sister Act’ in which the nuns ‘clean up the neighbourhood’ and see an immediate change in people’s perception of church (google it for a feel good 3 minutes!).
So is there a particular relevance to young people? Yes, certainly. Research shows (a wonderful expression!) that although the stereotype is that young people are lazy or apathetic, in actual fact they often feel strongly about poverty in developing countries – and take action. Youth and student-based campaign groups such as ‘People and Planet’ continue to grow and the Government wasn’t sure how to feel about pupils’ absence from school to attend the demonstrations against the Iraq war (truancy or an example of ‘Citizenship’ classes making an impact?).
Young people have passion and will find things to be passionate about – especially when it comes to questions of justice (“That’s not fair!”). Why not the arms trade? They will find heroes and role models. Why not Sean Devereux (who campaigned against Britain’s role in the easy availability of small arms in Africa)? Young people can often see that Justice and Peace issues are relevant to their lives and futures.
Finally, how does the Salesian Charism fit into all this? The Salesian Family exists in over 100 countries and I have been privileged to visit a number of these. It always amazes me how much young people in Salesian settings have in common – the life of the family stretches across borders. This is our first focus; similarities not differences. When young people in the UK can identify with other youth around the world the injustice stands out and they want to find ways of acting in solidarity with them.
Salesian youth ministry is to do with the young and the poor. However there is a danger that this focuses only on the consequences of their situation without giving attention to the causes. In a future article I will attempt to argue for the extra responsibility on those living in ‘developed’ countries to challenge these root causes.
Don Bosco’s aim of forming “good Christians and honest citizens” is still the Salesian goal, but we must recognise that in today’s globalised world, citizenship has a wider meaning. Just as he took his boys to serve the sick of Turin, we must encourage a global consideration in the young. In the words of the Rector Major, Don Bosco’s successor, Fr Chávez:
“The Preventive System and the spirit of Don Bosco are today calling us to a great effort, individually and collectively, aimed at changing the situations of poverty and under-development, to make ourselves promoters of human development and to educate to a culture of human rights, and the dignity of human life. Human rights are a means for human development; education to human rights is instrumental in bringing about human development both personal and collective and therefore to achieving a world that is more equitable, more just and more healthy. Each one of us, whoever we may be, precisely because we are educators and are following the Christian anthropological view of life that inspired Don Bosco, can become a defender, a promoter and activist in the cause of human rights.”