"The Gospel is destined to all and not only to a specific circle and this is why we are obliged to look for new ways of bringing the Gospel to all", said Cardinal Ratzinger in his Jubilee Address to Catechists. In this fourth post about the New Evangelisation of England I want to focus on the evangelisation of young people. That is to say, leading young people in our culture to embrace the Mystery of Faith and to live in the Church.
In my experience of parishes, young people are either not present, having lost contact with the Life of the Church, or they are present, but only in a cultural sense - they belong to a group of people for whom going to Church is a cultural expression. Where I have come across young people who are genuinely praying and discenrning God's Will in their lives, I discover that the root of their faith and spirituality lies outside the parish structure. And yet, having said this, I find that young people are searching for truth and are very open to the Gospel.
A Mission to young people is necessary today and, I believe that it is a question of bringing that mission alongside a parish or group of parishes and establishing a new structure to enable the evangelisation of young people to take place. Of course, one needs to establish the target age group or groups; my experience would lead me to propose two target age groups: 13 - 15 and 16 - 21. Of the second group I would envisage forming future leaders.
A Mission to young people in a particular area first of all presupposes leadership. That is to say, individuals who have the gifts of leadership, who know where they are leading young people and who are discerning of the characters and needs of their "flock". Leadership is the single most important dimension for a Mission to young people, for it is in recognising how the Mission can be built and in discerning the capacities and needs of the young people in the group - that is, their spiritual as well as human needs, that an organic project of evangelisation can be considered. Of course, these leaders need to be identified and formed, and they will need personnel to support and promote their leadership. Indeed, the leadership will need its own structure to facilitate and guide the work of the Mission. A leader cannot be an isolated individual - we are talking about a team.
Remembering that the New Evangelisation in England is changing the Church from being a Church of administration into being a Church of Mission, establishing a Mission to young people is going to necessitate looking beyond the already existing structures of parishes and deaneries. The Cell-group model is already employed by the Evangelicals with grest success; we should take a leaf out of their book. The Cell Group proposes a social network, when properly led, enables any young person to engage with it, find their place within it, contributing as well as receiving, and offering a wide range of content - social, cultural, spiritual, but set within an evangelising environment.
As well as attending to the genuine spiritual needs of young people: Conversion, (re)discovering prayer, Baptism, Confirmation, participation in the Mass, Catechesis, formation for discernment, formation for mission, the group should be involved in organising regular small and large events of various styles in order to invite and attract other young people.
Establishing a Mission to young people in a parish, or better still, an area, would require prayer and generosity on the part of many, and it would require that support throughout, that many, many young people would hear the call of the Gospel, be encouraged to respond, come to know Christ in a relationship of friendship and take part in the Life of the Church.