Jesus Youth – Canada

The Special JY Ingredient

The JY Magic Formula that Youth Love

I often ask parents, what do children hate most. Someone answer, ‘advice’. Sure, they hate preaching and too many words. But I often add, it is ‘boredom’ that they detest most.

At a team meeting we were discussing the culture of the movement when Seenu commented. ‘I am sure, Jesus Youth has some special ingredient that makes it so effective for youth. Many others miss it. We’ve heard about the secret formula behind Coke’s unique taste, something like that. Whatever it may be, a typical Jesus Youth event is always a big hit for young people. They are attracted, brought to Jesus, continue to grow, and quickly take up leadership. Isn’t it surprising that though many others have tried to imitate, they haven’t been successful?’

Now, is there a particular ingredient making JY really fascinating? If so, what can it be? One thing is certain, there is surely an unusual charm about a genuinely JY event. And I am sure we would be able to identify it.

Effort of so many hearts, minds and hands

Campus Meet ’88 was a path breaking event in the history of the movement. The front yard of St Teresa’s College in Ernakulam was tastefully decked up to welcome more than a thousand college students from all parts of the state. I still remember the decorated fishing net and flower arrangement at the front end of the pandal. To prepare for the big event youth leaders from colleges and parishes joined hands with priests, sisters and elders, and worked for many months. They prayed, made detailed plans for each element and worked hard. There was no divide between leaders and workers, everyone prepared eagerly.

The conference itself was uniquely conceived. What was the content focus, kerygma or deeper formation? Surely, it was difficult to distinguish; it was suitable for all levels. There were the usual ingredients like music, skits, talks, the Holy Mass, confession, group sessions, and so on. There were also sessions by Bro. Ghislain of Taizé and two girls from the Focolare Movement. But many remarked that more than the input, volunteers and the active bunch in the crowd made the big difference. Its impact? Hundreds of campuses were transformed when they returned after those four days.

Not what you give, but how you give

Sometimes we make fun of people who spent too much time on packaging instead of the present. In this case Jesus had a different approach. He never taught like other teachers, but mixed action, interaction and creative talk. No wonder he said, ‘New wine is for fresh wineskins’. I connect it to the famous saying of the Canadian writer Marshall McLuhan, ‘Medium is the message’; more than just saying something the way in which you communicate determines the effectiveness of the message. Surely, the JY magic ingredient has to do with this ‘how’ of the events.

In this our patron, St Francis of Assisi is our best guide. ‘Preach the gospel at all times; use words if necessary.’ I often ask parents, what do children hate most. Someone answer, ‘advice’. Sure, they hate preaching and too many words. But I often add, it is ‘boredom’ that they detest most. Many flee from Church and spiritual activities, because it is such a burden to sit through it. The difference in a good JY training is that youth rarely see that someone is teaching them, but they have a very enjoyable time together with some fascinating people and during that time they learn unforgettable lessons. As they say, ‘Values are not taught, but caught.’

Last week we went on an outreach to an outlying parish. Sindhu, while taking us, had mentioned that all those high-school kids were from troubled homes. We were more than a dozen and the children sat with expressionless faces as we were introduced. But quickly we moved on to having some snacks and then all went out for games. Geoff had planned lively group activities. In no time we all were such a lovely community of fun and togetherness. When we returned to the hall Simi started talking on ‘Talking to a loving Father’. After each point she would call some of the youth in our team to speak about how they prayed. Finally, I was also asked to share. Then we moved to the church for a little quiet time and Holy Mass. It all went very well.

That was a beautiful experience for all of us, and the children there loved it. The parish priest was amazed by the response of the kids. Now they want to come and spent a weekend with all of us. With some follow-up, identifying leaders and forming them, gradually a Jesus Youth community will take shape there.

In creative ways a community goes to build community

Jesus Youth does not repeat any programmes! For those who give, each event is a new challenge, requiring fresh search and discovery. As a result, for the receiving crowd the event becomes a transforming touch of the Holy Spirit. Thus, even a small programme may have a new name, fresh time schedule, newly invented dynamics, and so on. Of course, going to this unchartered land will demand a lot of prayer and mutual hand holding.

‘Can we come and have a sitting with you? We are planning a one-day session for our parish.’ Some youth would call me. They would come with a draft plan and then we would discuss and develop a detailed approach. But why all this trouble? The movement should have standardised plans. Should we reinvent the wheel? No, JY don’t think that way! Preparation of any outreach or training is, for Jesus Youth, a personal and community growth experience. That in turn builds real community experience in giving and recipient groups.

In Jesus, the missionary is sent by a community to build the world into a loving fellowship. Naturally, the culture of community is quite fundamental to Jesus Youth. More than anything else, this experience of intimacy and joy makes everything in the movement so different. So, taking into account any event the true spirit of a joyful, informal family makes Jesus Youth programmes so different. They are not boring talks, ritual prayers and forcing people into something. Instead, these joy-filled people bring to any place an experience of a loving family, moments of sharing personal thoughts, gentle relationship building, enjoyable moments of being in the presence of a loving Father and, of course, a lot of fun, celebration and good food. Those who attend, no doubt, take in a real experience of the Good News of Jesus.