By Patrick Sebyera, M.Afr
St Lawrence is a relatively young parish that used to be an outstation of the Good Shepherd parish (Kabwata). It became an independent parish in 2011. It has twenty Small Christian Communities which are divided into five areas. The largest part of our parish is Misisi compound, I would say 80%. Misisi compound “is a shanty town, which is located in Lusaka, Zambia. Misisi has been identified as one of the five worst slums in Sub Saharan Africa. Due to a lack of resources there has been poor record keeping, but according to best estimates, there are between 80 and 90,000 people living in the area”. Of the twenty Small Christian Communities, 16 of them are in Misisi compound and four others are in Kamwala South. Therefore, the majority of our parishioners, our young people, come from poor families and this also has an impact on the youth ministry in our parish. Nevertheless, St. Lawrence youth ministry is seemingly strong, though more needs to be done. In this article I will present some of the activities and challenges that confront us and I will sum up with a short conclusion.
In St. Lawrence’s Parish, the youth ministry is composed of four branches, namely the Holy Childhood (5 to 12 years), the teenagers (13 to 18 years), the senior youths (19 to 25 years) and the young adults (26 to 35 years). Here in Zambia, youth is defined as all those who are under the age of 35 years. These four different branches are spread in different groups: such as the Stella, Holy Childhood, the Altar Boys, the TOM (Teens On the Move), the Xaveri, the Vocation group, the Junior Franciscans, the Junior Actio, the Junior Pioneers and, the Junior Legion of Mary. Apart from these different groups, there are different choirs mainly composed of young people.
The young people make their own programmes following the guidelines of our diocese. They are very active in social programmes but less active when it comes to spiritual programmes. On Wednesdays we have started a Mass in the evening at 17:00 in order in try and help our young people embrace and grow in their spiritual life. Social activities such as outings, tours, youth camps, fundraising ventures, workshops, pilgrimages, retreats and recollections are organised at different periods of the year in order to bring our young people together. The retreats and recollections are mainly organised by the different groups themselves.
Every year, there are sports activities organised at deanery level and our young people participate, but they don’t score high because of lack of commitment and regular raining in those sports.
In union and communion with their fellow young people around the world, they celebrate the Youth Day. On this day different activities take place. This year, they had Mass and after Mass different singing and sports activities took place. It was also an occasion to fundraise by selling tickets and food in order to get some funds for their future plans. On this day, 12th March 2019, I celebrated my first Youth Day Mass.
I am still new here but I am slowly getting to know the parish and getting involved in its different activities, of which the youth apostolate is one, so that I can also bring my contribution and help them to improve in some areas. I expected a big number of young people to turn up for Mass but the number was rather small. To my surprise in the afternoon the numbers grew considerably.
In my homily, I focused on the readings taken from Gen 1: 26-31; 2 Thes 3: 2-16 and Mt 25: 14-30. I emphasised the fact that we are all created in God’s image and likeness. This has an impact on our life and on our behaviour regarding God, and on our brothers and sisters as well as all of creation. God created man and woman. He blessed them with responsibilities, five of them: be fertile, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion over all living things on earth. Further on in Gen 2: 8. 15 God planted a beautiful garden. He placed man and woman in it in order to cultivate it and to care for it. This is linked with St. Paul’s exhortation in 2 Thes 3: 2-16 where he invites us not to stay sluggish and busy with other people’s problems, forgetting our own. We, the young people of St Lawrence, do we know our problems? And how can we overcome them? The first step is to identify them, and then we have to walk together and work together. St. Paul is inviting us to go on working and earning our own bread to avoid being a burden to others, to our parents or to the church, thinking that they have to do everything for us.
I therefore encouraged them to walk and work together, to avoid laziness and the attitude of being spoon-fed; always having their hands outstretched to receive what is provided for them. Living with such a mindset and approach is to behave like the third servant in the parable, who instead of making the one talent, which he had received from his master, bear fruit, hid it in the soil (cf. Mt 25: 15. 18. 24-25). At this juncture
I invited our young people not to put their talents to sleep nor bury them in the earth or in selfishness and laziness lest the master come back and rebuke them saying ‘you wicked and lazy servant (youth) … throw this useless servant into darkness outside’ (cf. Mt 25: 26. 30). It is therefore our responsibility as young people here at St. Lawrence to walk and work together and to put our energy and talents together in order to overcome the different challenges we encounter. I then finished by encouraging them like the Apostle “do not be remiss in doing good” (2 Thes 3: 13).
Most of these challenges were provided to me by the youth chairperson at the parish, Mr Nestor Bwalya, who knows the parish and the youth better than I do.
Our challenge has been to organise the youths in our parish. In some sections many young people are neither active nor committed to the programmes and the meetings. This means that some programmes have failed because of poor attendance. It is difficult to find young adults willing to participate because they think they are already elders. Those that we have are still around because they hold some positions in youth ministry.
Another challenge is finance. This generation is used to an easy life and things for free and they don’t pay or contribute when needs arise. They like things free of charge and every time they are asked to pay or contribute, they answer ‘ndilibe ndalama’ or ‘shikwete mpiya’, in Chinyanja and in Chibemba, both meaning ‘I don’t have money’. To get anything from them, you have to push them hard; but if you invite them for an outing where everything is pre-arranged, many turn up. This attitude shows a certain lack of enthusiasm and generosity.
Technology has contributed to the lethargy of our young people. They are not active in church programmes because they are so busy with worldly things like: drinking, T.V., Sex, Media (WhatsApp, Facebook, etc.). Sex is killing our young people. They are so much involved in things concerning sex and relationships. It hurts to see girls being impregnated by young boys at a very tender adolescent age. Recently, a young girl of 12 years was impregnated by an altar boy. The church has become an alien for them because in church we tell them that sex before marriage is a sin, which is true, though even after marriage, sex outside marriage is still and remains a sin. So they run away from the church and find themselves in difficulties. How can we help this generation?
The church should take steps to reach out to these young people at their level, listen to them in their daily struggles and then move with them slowly to bring them back to the way Jesus Christ wants to lead them, with a message of hope, because many of our young people are losing hope. This crisis of losing hope and not being able to cope with some problems means some young people go so far as to take their own lives.
A case like this happened just few days ago; a young man, 22 years old, could not cope with some problem that he had, so he decided to take poison and he died straightaway. How can we help the young avoid going to such extremes? Pope Francis in Christus Vivit states: “Christ is alive! He is our hope, and in a wonderful way he brings youth to our world, and everything he touches becomes young, new, and full of life … Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive!” (Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation To Young People And To The Entire People Of God). We should be close to our young people and encourage them to follow the way of the living Christ, who at all times wants to renew their lives.
Drugs and beer are another harmful issue. It is rare to find youths who are not involved in some way in such things, especially in the Misisi compound. Another challenge is that many young people are alone and have to fight to earn their daily bread. This means that some of them even have to work on Sunday and cannot go to church.
Not all the parents manage to send their children to school because of poverty. This has been the root of the many problems our young people meet. In such cases some parents will even push their children to marry early or young people themselves will enter an early marriage without the consent of parents. Otherwise girls beget children outside mariage and are then forced to stay at home with their parents. This means that they stop seeing their friends and begin to feel very isolated.
With these challenges and others that are not listed here, I am challenged and you my fellow confreres are also challenged to make contact with young people and see how best we can help them in their daily struggles. The way will be long and certainly there is a lot to be done.
Young people need to be approached at the level where they are. We bring them the message of hope and not so much the teachings, laws and decrees, though they are important in themselves, but sometimes they seem detached from the reality on the ground. As the Pope once again reminds us, we should approach them with tenderness and love showing them that Christ is in them, with them and he never abandons them. However far they may wander, he is always there. He calls them and he waits for them to return to him and start over again. He is always there to restore their strength and their hope (cf. CV 2). Therefore we should encourage young people to know that they are not meant to become discouraged; but rather they are meant to dream great things, to seek vast horizons, to aim higher, to take on the world, to accept challenges and to offer the best of themselves to the building of something better (cf. CV 15). Let this be a challenge to me and you as we strive to work and help our young people grow into becoming more human and to turn into better persons in tomorrow’s society and above all to become good Christians.
Source: Petit Echo 2019 / 05, No 1101