Competition between Catholic organisations means ‘we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.’
By Anthony Barich
The chairman of the Australian Catholic Youth Council has warned that competition between Catholic organisations will hinder the Church’s efforts to fully captalise on World Youth Day 2008.
Bishop Joseph Grech of the diocese of Sandhurst, Victoria, told The Record that when he addressed the National Youth Leaders Gathering (NYLG) on November 21-23 in Rosehill, Sydney, he focused on the ‘ecclesial maturity’ that was a constant focus of the late Pope John Paul II.
Addressing 330 representatives of Religious, dioceses, parishes, educators and movements, Bishop Grech, chairman of the ACYC, which the bishops created in 2007 to advise them on young people in the Church in Australia, said that an attitude of competition and isolation among Catholic organisations only means “we’re shooting ourselves in the foot”.
Bishop Grech said that WYD08’s sense of reverence mixed with an attractive proclamation taught him that the key to renewing youth ministry in Australia is that “we can’t sell these young people short”.
“We can’t give them a sugared-down Jesus, a watered down Gospel because we think they can’t take it,” said the prelate, who turns 60 on December 10.
“No, they need it in all its starkness. That’s the only way they’ll respond; not to something that’s halfhearted and half dead, but something that’s life changing and life giving.
“We need to at least copy Jesus, and He was very strong in His message. He didn’t hide it or make it sound nice. ‘Love one another as I have loved you’; ‘forgive one another’ – bang, bang – one strong message after another, proclaimed unflinchingly but with love.”
“Our Christian message needs to be given with compassion and generosity, but without pointing fingers.”
His comments were echoed by Fr Tom Rosica, director of WYD 2002 in Toronto, who urged the NYLG’s gathered leaders to turn to the Bible in their youth ministry work, to serve young people as a special part of the Church, to present Communion as a privilege, to acknowledge the need for devotion, to portray blesseds and saints as real role models, to introduce youth to Religious vocations, and to overcome the “crisis of ideologies”.
Bishop Grech said the priority is to give young people a sense that they’re important, “that they are not just the Church of the future but the Church of today, and that they should use their talents in any way that can to be of service to others. To me, that’s a mature way of looking at life”.
Bishop Grech said that the “New Evangelisation” which the late pontiff often referred to is no “new program”. “The program is Jesus,” he said. “It’s not a new Gospel. The Gospel is the same, but it’s new in its message and in its zeal and in its proclamation, as John Paul II said.”
However, with figures reported in 2006 showing church attendance for Catholics just out of school and in their early 20s is down to about five per cent, he said Australia’s bishops realize the magnitude of the task, and the reality of the situation.
He said that even if Australia’s young Catholics are empowered to be “fair dinkum about their faith”… “we’re still only talking about a very small percentage of people”.
“But Jesus changed the world by multiplying himself 12 times. So if we can give people empowerment not to be afraid of who they really are and to lend a hand of service to who they really are” then, he said, the Church will be building up the kingdom of God. “Even by just sharing their friends’ anxieties and fears… if you can start with that, it’s limitless what you can do.”
Bishop Grech said that this concept “all boils down” to Christ’s Parable of the Sower. “The best he could do is sow the seeds. He couldn’t control how it will bear fruit, but like him we will do everything that we can, then let God do His own work in the person’s life”.
“The tragedy is if we do nothing now after WYD08. It comes and goes,” he said.
However, he said that in working for God’s kingdom, one does not simply “work and hope”, but work “knowing that the harvest will be there; it will work with the Holy Spirit”.
“We know that faith develops in close-knit communities and where Christ is proclaimed. You train them how to make other disciples. Big celebrations and events have their place, but they also need to be accompanied by leading people to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” he said.
“The harvest will be there. That’s the promise.”