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Bring Forth Hope Interactive Edition

Hi everyone,

my book of reflections on Pope Francis’s messages to young people is now available as an “interactive” edition on ITunes for IPads and Macs.  The Ebook has all 52 reflections that the hardcopy edition has, but it also has a further 22 video reflections from me about Pope Francis and his conversation with the youth of the world.

I hope this might be a helpful resource for prayer in youth groups and RE classes, as well as for personal reflection.  The words of Pope Francis are well worth reflecting upon.

You can get the interactive edition by clicking the link below:

You can get the hardcopy from St Pauls, Garratt Publishing or St Mary’s Press.interactive screenshot

The Solo Youth Minister: Set up for Failure

Over the past couple of days I have been reading The Spirit and Culture of Youth Ministry by Roland Martinson, Wes Black and veteran Catholic youth ministry leader John Roberto.  The book presents the findings of a best-practice study (the ‘Exemplary Youth Ministry Project’) of 131 congregations from seven different denominations in the US.  There’s plenty of food for thought from the book, but at this stage I wanted to highlight this point:  all 131 congregations emphasized that they had adopted a ‘team approach’ to youth ministry.  ‘Aha!’, I hear you say, ‘it’s easy to have a team when you’re part of a cashed-up US congregation who can pay all these youth ministers, but it isn’t possible in Australia where we struggle to pay even one youth minister in a (Catholic) parish’.  The only problem with that response is that two-thirds of the congregations in the study don’t actually have one paid youth minister let alone a team of employees.   What they do have are teams of unpaid volunteers who are well-trained and resourced for their role under the leadership of the ‘youth minister’ who may or may not be employed either.

This data is vitally important in our efforts to continue to build youth ministry in Australia, because it suggests that the solution to our challenges does not necessarily lie in employing more people, but in changing our understanding of ministry.  It is all the more pressing because it’s not uncommon for extraordinary expectations to be placed upon a solo youth minister in a parish or diocese.  We should no longer be surprised when a youth minister burns out after a year or two, or moves on discouraged and disheartened when a role that began with such promise ends in failure.  After all, we have seen it too many times before.  We are setting these (usually young) people up to fail.  It’s because we ask them to do it alone and without adequate training or support. We sometimes hear critics complaining about the money that is invested in youth ministry for little tangible result.  If we are not getting the results we hope for in youth ministry in this country, then I suggest that this is a good place to start looking for a solution.

Poor management and organisational failure are usually blamed for such stories of failed youth ministry initiatives around the country.  While I think that is partly true I actually think that the real culprit here is pseudo-clericalism.  The solo youth minister model of youth ministry looks a lot like the lone priest in a parish doing all the ministry himself.  Its just been transferred to this (largely) lay context.   In other words, it’s a problematic ecclesiology that is undoing us here.  Instead of Vatican II”s vision of the Church which has everyone contributing their particular gifts for the sake of the Church’s mission our current practice actually reflects an ecclesiology that concentrates all ministry into the hands of the ‘professionals’, be they priests (clericalism) or employed laity (pseudo-clericalism).   And of course, this vision of the Church is thoroughly Pauline: I often wonder what we might be capable of as a Church if we really took the image of the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians seriously.

According to the study a thriving youth ministry could have twenty or more adult volunteers of all ages playing all sorts of roles in mentoring, supporting and encouraging young people in their faith.  I suspect it becomes more obvious at this point why the youth ministers in these exemplary congregations aren’t reporting high levels of burnout or dissatisfaction with their roles. Such involvement from a broad cross-section of people in our parishes will only be possible here if we can shrug off the ‘service mentality’ that most  Catholics have of their parishes in which they think that merely coming to Mass is a sufficient expression of their faith.  Of course, this mentality can also be attributed at least in part to clericalism’s highly dubious legacy.

I’d like to make it clear that I’m not arguing for or against paid youth ministers here.  I’m not arguing against the need for an identifiable youth minister either.  (Nor , I suspect it must be said, am I for doing away with the ordained priesthood in any way shape or form).  The exemplary congregations in the study have a youth minister, but these ministers never work alone or in isolation.  Instead, they are the leader of a team of youth ministers, and they are also an integral part of the life and leadership of the congregation.  So what I am arguing for is twofold: on a practical level we need to train youth ministers to recruit, train and collaborate with adult leaders (as well as youth or peer leaders).  But at a deeper level we need to ensure that our ministerial practice is informed by an appropriate ecclesial vision which does not merely pay lip service to the baptismal vocation to participate in the Church’s mission.

WYD Rio in 2 Years? A Couple of Things to Think About

Pope Benedict XVI announced yesterday that the next World Youth Day will be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.  It will be the second time that WYD has been held in South America, as Buenos Aires hosted the second WYD in 1987.  As the demographic centre of Catholicism moves south, it is very exciting that the youth of the world will gather in Brazil in two years time.

But it is only two years away.  At a practical level that means that Australian Diocesan Youth Ministry Coordinators and other youth ministry leaders will need to start gearing up for Rio pretty soon after they get home from Madrid.

I am also reminded of a passage from a letter that Pope John Paul II wrote to Cardinal Pironio on the occasion of the WYD seminar held in Czestochowa, Poland in 1996.  John Paul II wrote that

World Youth Day is the Church’s Day for youth and with youth.  This idea is not an alternative to ordinary youth ministry, often carried out with great sacrifice and self-denial.  Indeed it intends to actually consolidate this work by offering new encouragement for commitment, objectives which foster ever greater involvement and participation.

It seems to me that there is a very real risk that Australian preparations for WYD in Rio could swamp the ‘ordinary youth ministry’ that ought to be taking place, consuming our time, resources and energies that need to be devoted to the day-to-day mission of evangelising young people.

A second announcement at WYD in Madrid also has significant implications for youth ministry in Australia.  At the Australian Gathering, the Senior Projects officer for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Malcolm Hart, announced that plans were underway for a National Youth Day for Australian Catholics.  The first such gathering is proposed for 2013 also, and is intended to take place every two years after that.

I am excited about a National Youth Day.  I think it gives young Australian Catholics an important opportunity to gather together to celebrate and deepen in our faith.  Like WYD it will give young Australians the opportunity to discover that they are part of something bigger with many other young people in the Church.  It will also be a great celebration and intensification of our unity. And as an Australian event it will be more accessible to far more Australians than an overseas World Youth Day will ever be.  I think it has great potential for building and developing Catholic youth ministry here.

I think that there should always be plenty of young Australian Catholics at every international World Youth Day, and we should in no way abandon our commitment to WYD.  But preparations for those WYDs cannot consume all of a diocese’s, parish’s or a community’s youth ministry resources if Catholic youth ministry is to fulfill its mission in this country.  It is my very real hope that the Church in Australia at every level and young Australian Catholics will get behind a National Youth Day.  But we do need to think very carefully about how and where we devote our time, energy and resources to make sure that WYDs and a National Youth Day are working in concert to support the grass-roots work of youth ministry in Australia.

For Insomniacs and Pilgrims – A WYD reflection

World Youth Day week is about to start in Madrid, and I’m confident that all those who are going WYD have already arrived in Spain.  Which makes it possible for me to share the reflection for pilgrims that I was asked to write for the WYD Journal that all Australian pilgrims received.  For those of you who aren’t attending WYD, here is a little reflection on what I think awaits our Aussie friends.  This week, why don’t we make a little pilgrimage of our own to a church we don’t normally visit, and pray for the pilgrims.

Dear pilgrim,

I’d like to think that right now you are thousands of metres up in the air, and that far below you the lights of Dili, Delhi or Dubai are winking up at you. Everyone else on the plane is asleep, and you have picked up your World Youth Day Journal and have begun to thumb through it (ok, so I know that you may actually be reading this in your bedroom before you leave, or maybe even after you have arrived home from Spain.  If that’s so, humour me a little and pretend that you are on your way to Europe, and the whole adventure still lies ahead of you).  I hope you have a lot of fun!  In fact, I’m sure you will have an amazing experience.  And you never know, it might just change your life.

No doubt that even before you left Australia, your group leader had already fed you the line: ‘you’re a pilgrim not a tourist’.  It’s one of the things group leaders say to prepare you for the worst that your journey will bring: long queues, big crowds, cold showers, school floors.  It’s more than just a line though.  You really are a pilgrim.  You have joined a countless queue of people throughout history who have made a journey to a sacred place.  So welcome to the club.  Here’s the thing though: you are currently travelling thousands of kilometres in order to visit breathtakingly beautiful and important places, but the most sacred journey a pilgrim undertakes is actually a journey of the heart.

In the past, people went on pilgrimage for lots of different reasons.  Some definitely took it all very seriously, and prayed the whole way, and no doubt got really excited when they arrived in Jerusalem, Rome, Santiago de Compostela, or whatever shrine or religious hotspot they were aiming for.  We know from the history books that lots of other people went on pilgrimage because it was really the only form of tourism that they had available.  They wanted to see the world, and pilgrimage was a respectable way of leaving everything at home behind in order to check out somewhere new.  Not much has changed.  There are some of you who know exactly why you are going to World Youth Day.  You are hanging out to go to Mass with a couple of million other young people and the pope.  That’s great.  But there are others who somehow also got the chance to come and it seemed like a great opportunity.  You might not be all that sure about all the religious stuff that’s going on.  My tip, whether you are a WYD groupie or a complete WYD newbie is this: pay attention to your heart.  As you experience all that this 21st century pilgrimage has to offer, listen to what the deepest part of you is telling you.

That’s because you aren’t on this plane by accident.  God got you here and whether you know it or not, God has some very definite purpose in mind for you over the days and weeks ahead.  So, as you have a fantastic time experiencing all that Spain (and whatever other countries you visit along the way) has to offer, keep listening to your heart, and keep paying attention.

In particular, listen to what your heart is telling you when you hear the stories of faith from the other young people in your group, and when you meet other pilgrims from other parts of the world.  Listen also to the witness of the stones, stained glass and art of the cathedrals and churches that you visit.  They are ‘words’ set in stone and sand and paint that can speak to you of previous generations’ faith and love.  When you take a moment on the bus to write in your journal, when you stop for a moment’s silence in a church, as you sit in a plaza (that’s Spanish for ‘square’) and have a coffee, when you are speechless at the sight of the natural wonder and beauty before you, and even when you find yourself in conflict or struggling with someone or something on the journey, stop again and listen to your heart.

And when you’re at the WYD vigil and everyone has lit their candles, and all you can see in every direction are flickers of flame held aloft by young hands from all over the world, and as you realise then and there that you belong to a universal family called the Catholic Church, listen to your heart then too.  You aren’t alone.  There are so many young people like you who are listening to their heart at that moment too.

I’m going to spoil the surprise and tell you what’s going on: In all those moments it’s someone knocking on the door of your heart that you can hear.  That’s because your destination at end of your pilgrimage is not a place, it’s a person.  The goal of this journey is a meeting, an encounter with Jesus Christ.  He is alive, risen from the dead, and that means he is the answer to the deepest questions, the deepest desires and longings of your heart.  He wants to be the source and foundation of your lives as you are planted and built up in him.  He wants you to be firm in your faith in him, because he is the sure hope, the solid ground on which you can base your lives.

Vaya con Dios, peregrino (that’s Spanish for ‘go with God, pilgrim’).  Vaya con Dios.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation in Youth Ministry

Happy Feast of St Jean Marie Vianney.  St Jean Marie spent long hours in the confessional, and so I thought it might be fitting to honour his commitment to the Sacrament of Reconciliation today.  The audio file comes from a workshop that I presented at the Australian National Youth Ministry Convention in October 2010.  The topic was on the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation in youth ministry.

In the workshop I tried to place the Sacrament of Reconciliation within the context of the new evangelisation: the evangelisation of those who have been baptized, but are not committed to their faith or the Church.  I argue that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is an indispensable dimension of our ministry with young people.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is about freedom.  Why don’t you go to the sacrament today?  St Jean Marie Vianney would get a kick out of it.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation in Youth Ministry

Thanks again to XT3 for the file.

The Value of Youth Ministry Retreats

I’ve just come home from a youth camp with the Melbourne Youth Mission Team.  I had an amazing time with a wonderful group of young people, and was reminded again of how much I enjoy ministry with young people.

Here’s some of my highlights from the weekend: everyone spontaneously dancing to the Jackson 5 as we re-grouped for the main sessions; a first-time participant being ‘group-hugged’ as he farewelled the rest of the group yesterday; and the group belting out Matt Maher’s ‘Alive Again’ as the recessional hymn for the final Eucharist.

The first two highlights make the third highlight possible.  Faith formation, evangelisation, conversion happens when there is an experience of Christian community.  When young people encounter a genuine faith community who welcomes them they begin to experience the plausibility of Christian faith – that it makes sense, and that it is possible to live out.  Most of all they experience the Gospel as the way of love.  People don’t really think their way into belief (which is not to deny the legitimate and essential intellectual dimension of faith but to contextualise it); they are loved and love their way into faith. Those young people belted out the words of the song because they meant it, they had encountered the One who re-creates us, but it was possible because they had been part of an intense experience of Christian community for the weekend.

YMT launched their new national iStand Generation follow-up ministry over the weekend.  The website is still under construction but it’s worth a look.

Pope Benedict XVI’s message for World Youth Day 2011 – Xt3 Library

This is the audio for a short talk I gave to WYD pilgrimage leaders on Pope Benedict’s message for WYD.  One of the things that really struck me about the letter was the way in which Benedict unpacks the kerygma or basic proclamation of the Gospel.  Thanks XT3 for the audio.  Stay tuned for more WYD posts as Madrid draws near.

Fr Chris Ryan Breaks open Pope Benedict XVI’s message for World Youth Day 2011 – Xt3 Library.

World Youth Day 09 Catechesis in the Cathedral

This is the audio of a catechesis for young people that I gave at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne for the first anniversary of World Youth Day 08.  It’s about Christian hope.

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