19th ACTS National Conference, held in Zululand.
As far as possible, whenever I have to prepare a homily I try my best to follow the readings of the Mass. Of course, there is an alternative: if you cannot adapt the message to the readings… change the readings to suit your message. I did not want to do that today because of the feast of St Thomas the Apostle and I knew I’d have this time with you after Mass.
The fact of meeting members of ACTS spontaneously took me to the book of the Acts of the Apostles.
Risen from the dead Jesus gathers the apostles and asks them to wait for the promise of the Father: the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then, they will be His witnesses in Jerusalem and up to the ends of the world.
So… they waited, they received the gift of the Holy Spirit and … they went to preach all over the world, isn’t it? Wrong! They did not go. They did not move from Jerusalem. I did not see this for some years. It was reading something on this book that I came to understand it. The mission of proclaiming the Risen Jesus to all nations was not easily understood by the apostles.
Stephen is killed and soon after that we read that: “That day a bitter persecution started against the church in Jerusalem, and everyone except the apostles scattered to the country districts of Judaea and Samaria… Once they had scattered, they went from place to place preaching the good news.”
I sometimes feel that the Good Lord had to give them a push to move out of Jerusalem or we would have never received the Good News ourselves! So, it was thanks to the persecution, a bitter persecution that started after the killing of Stephen that the Good News were proclaimed outside Jerusalem.
There is another important element that should be kept in mind. Those who left Jerusalem went from place to place preaching the good news. This is important. They could have just left the place and kept quiet, afraid persecution could happen in other places too.
Think of the famous passage of the two disciples going to Emmaus. Those two leave Jerusalem and do not preach anything. In fact they have nothing to say. They are just sad and dissapointed.
The text of the Acts is different. Everyone, I would say the apostles and the rest, wants to be a witness of the Risen Jesus. The apostles in Jerusalem, the rest outside Jerusalem.
Where do you see ACTS today? Where do you see yourselves? I have more questions than answers. My “office” is the Aids Office and not the “Youth”. I know little about yourselves. Maybe I know some from the Vicariate of Ingwavuma involved in ACTS and when they come back on holidays tell me something about it.
- The starting point has to be the resurrection of Jesus. It is clear in the texts. It is also clear to us Bishops. I believe that both in the synods done in the different dioceses like in the interdiocesan consultation taking place these years, one thing we want to achieve is to guarantee in all the people a personal encounter with the Risen Jesus. Without this, the rest collapses. The members of ACTS are people who experience God’s personal love for them.
If you have been following the material for the interdiocesan consultation you know that the first sessions invite us to reflect exactly on this point: our personal encounter of Jesus, our friendship with Jesus. We follow a person, not an idea!
- Then, a second element. Who do we share this with? The image of the apostles in Jerusalem, just for today, let me read it as those who remain in a “familiar” territory. In your case, sharing among other Catholics, sharing among the leadership like you do these days.
- The Good News needs to be proclaimed to everyone, it must be proclaimed beyond the borders of our familiar territories. You are called to be “salt of the earth and light of the world” among the youth of our tertiary institutions and not just among the small group of Catholic friends.
The work done in the first phase of the interdiocesan consultation brought one or two important elements: our Catholics seem to see their faith as something that concerns their work in the Church. When asked what they do as Catholics they just talk about their service in the Church and not in the world.
Funny enough the Catholic Church in Southern Africa is doing a huge amount of work “outside” the boundaries of the Church as we see ourselves as a community serving humanity, enough to think of what relates to HIV/Aids and Justice and Peace. Still, it is a fact, that our Catholics do not talk about it, they might not see it, they might not identify that as part of their faith…
ACTS needs to keep in mind we are all called to be Jesus witnesses “24/7” and everywhere. You might have heard about a document called Africae Munus. It is the letter sent by Pope Benedict XVI after the Second Synod for Africa celebrated in the Vatican in 2009.
In #61 we read:
As I said on the subject of young people in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini: “Youth is a time when genuine and irrepressible questions arise about the meaning of life and the direction our own lives should take. Only God can give the true answer to these questions. Concern for young people calls for courage and clarity in the message we proclaim; we need to help young people to gain confidence and familiarity with sacred Scripture so it can become a compass pointing out the path to follow. Young people need witnesses and teachers who can walk with them, teaching them to love the Gospel and to share it, especially with their peers, and thus to become authentic and credible messengers.”
You are called to become both witnesses and teachers helping others to meet Christ.
Your theme for these days is “the working Church”. There is an expression I hear in different places that I probably misunderstand and, because of that, it makes me feel “uncomfortable”. I hear people saying “the youth is the Church of tomorrow”. I wonder what that means.
Then we moved to understand that “we are the people of God… priests, sisters, lay people…” but we still come with this expression that I struggle to understand. Does it mean that the youth will be church when they become adults? Few days’ ago I was telling the youth in Madadeni that the youth of today guarantee our church will be alive tomorrow because we hope you will grow old in our family. If that is what the expression means, it is fine with me.
We are all church! Being: children, youth and adults; male and female; ordained ministers and lay people. You are our church today and as such you are being sent to all and in a particular way to your peers because no one more than you is close to them.
We need you to be church, to be apostles moving out of Jerusalem and to address us Bishops with your concerns and joys.
This is not my office and I am not sure I should be sharing this… It is good to have a youth chaplain (we struggle a lot to find one so please look after him!). Our chaplains are like the hands of the Bishops. Still I would really like young people talking directly to the Bishops.
Listen to what Pope Benedict XVI says in Africae Munus #62:
In his Rule, Saint Benedict asks the abbot of the monastery to listen to the youngest monks. As he says: “It is often to a younger brother that the Lord reveals the best course”. So we should make every effort to involve young people directly in the life of society and of the Church, so that they do not fall prey to feelings of frustration and rejection in the face of their inability to shape their own future, especially in those situations where young people are vulnerable due to lack of education, unemployment, political exploitation and various kinds of addiction.
We could even try something in our metropolitan area and see if once a year the leadership of ACTS could have half a day with the Bishops of the Metropolitan Province (and the chaplain of course!)
Another personal question I have is: what kind of journey we have to propose to other young people? I wonder about a journey. It means a starting point and a destination with a process in between.
The other day I was reading something published in 1999 (it is a commentary to the parables) and it was already saying that we live in the time of the “instant coffee”. Everything has to be “instant”. “Sms”, emails on the Blackberry, constantly checking what it is being said on Facebook… but there is no “journey”.
Regarding “youth issues” I believe that even the media is not helping in the way they deal with them. Everything is “instant” and does not last. For a few days or a week we will hear about “rape”, then will come “teenage pregnancies”, later on “drug abuse” (last week it was popular in different channels and there was a long article on timeslive.co.za this morning) but nothing lasts. We move from one theme to another without making any progress or process in anything. It will then be “unemployement”, “communication problems”... You can continue with the list.
In the Vicariate of Ingwavuma we are also thinking and wondering what to do because I see we work through “events”: “opening of the year, sports day, youth day, closing of the year” but when you ask what kind of journey we have to propose to our youth affected by drugs, pregnacies, unemployments, being orphans, with lack of resources, with no future… there is no answer.
We live in a time of “slogans”. We love them. I am not very passionate about them (a sign that I am getting old!) but one of them is “think out of the box”. We need you to do this. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles talks about it! They were developing a church that was not there before. They were making choices no one had ever made before them because there was no church and we believe they were guided by the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that leads you and me today.
We need you to be leaders! We need you to lead this journey. We need you to lead in finding answers to the challenges faced by our people in the country.
The government spends a huge amount of money in grants. It is very important. A study published last week shows how it is helping our children and youth. At the same we must acknowledge it might be giving the idea that everything should be provided “from above”. You are called to be apostles, leaders…
Your faith, personal encounter with Jesus, should be seen in the way you address the challenges we face in our country. You need to make others passionate about it in this journey. Jesus preached and healed. Unless we do the same… we cannot be considered his followers.
- Do you know that last January the JP department presented a plan to address the problem of land redistribution? You ARE church and you must be part of this process;
- Last November we were part of the COP17 gathering. Some of us joined the bicycle ride along the country and the gatherings in different places raising awareness… were you part of anything those days? Climate change affects us all today and will affect us more in the future;
- A year ago we met with the former minister of finance, Mr Trevor Manuel. One of the things we spoke about was unemployment. It is very high in our country and probably the highest regarding youth in the continent. Who is going to find answers? Will you expect the answers to come from above (whoever that may be?)
- He deals with where we would like our country to be in 20 or 30 years’ time. Where will you like it to be? How are you going to make that possible?
- Drugs is a serious challenge. It is becoming more and more a way of life and it is killing our future in different ways: it is slowly killing the lives of those who take them, it is making life very cheap… together with alcohol people slowly or rapidly lose any sense of what they are doing and simply decide to live for the day with no future.
You are today and tomorrow’s church. You are the country of today and of tomorrow.
Let me finish again with another very important paragraph of Africae Munus which I believe summarizes everything I shared with you today (maybe I should have read this and nothing else) (italics and bold is mine…)
63. Dear young people, enticements of all kinds may tempt you: ideologies, sects, money, drugs, casual sex, violence… Be vigilant: those who propose these things to you want to destroy your fu- ture! In spite of difficulties, do not be discouraged and do not give up your ideals, your hard work and your commitment to your human, intellectual and spiritual formation! In order to grow in discernment, along with the strength and the freedom needed to resist these pressures, I encourage you to place Jesus Christ at the centre of your lives
- through prayer, but also
- through the study of sacred Scripture,
- frequent recourse to the sacraments,
- formation in the Church’s social teaching, and
- your active and enthusiastic participation in ecclesial groups and movements.
Cultivate a yearning for fraternity, justice and peace. The future is in the hands of those who find powerful reasons to live and to hope.
If you want it, the future is in your hands, because the gifts that the Lord has bestowed upon each one of you, strengthened by your encounter with Christ, can bring genuine hope to the world!
Be sure of my prayer for you these days. Be sure of the support of all the Bishops in your joyney. God bless.
+ José Luis IMC
Vicar Apostolic of Ingwavuma