Few days ago the MWYD 2020 Pretoria was announced. The gathering is coming again this December after the bishops’ deliberations. When the news broke on Monday evening (27/01/2020) every young catholic person seemed so excited on the social media.
But the question is do we take pride in our faith or are we there to mess up with our opportunities given by the church? And what difference can we bring to the church, because we always complain about opportunities? Nonetheless, the bishops are giving us the opportunity again to grow closer to God together. The acts of change must be seen through our deeds as young people of God. Faith sharing and the love of God always brings us together and the experiences that we have received in such events are all grace – and ought to be received with gratitude!
Many people are asking, “What is the point of the Mini World Youth Day? Spending all that time and money and energy going around the Southern African Region for a retreat with our bishops?” This point of view tends to see the Mini World Youth Day as an isolated event, full of glitz and noise, which takes place solely within the host provinces. Looking at it from that point of view I’d have to agree that there’s little point. I do believe, however, that another perspective is possible, one which requires us to look upon MWYD as a process rather than an event.
For me, the value of Mini World Youth Day lies in the process of national faith pilgrimage. A new phenomenon for young South Africans: a big event and holy trip creating and strengthening friendships across the region. With support from the whole faith community, young travellers need to weave the Mini World Youth Day experience into the bigger fabric of their own lives and their own faith trips. The point or value of this experience, like any other life experience, emerges in a unique combination of the spectacular and the ordinary, the intense and the dull.
Experiences of pilgrimage such as Mini World Youth Days, especially days in the parishes, push young people out of their comfort zones and provide them with a chance to evaluate their lives in fresh contexts. A restricted sense of the spiritual cannot be challenged, stimulated and awakened by further restriction and restraint. In an age ever dominated by screens which both mediate and separate, there is a profound need for earthy, physical, real presences and experiences of faith.
The friendships which young people form during experiences like the Mini World Youth Day can be long-lasting and utterly transforming, helping to heal wounds from previous experience and opening up new personal awareness and possibilities for the future. The time spent with one another and the various youth leaders, priests and religious who accompany them is an opportunity to talk, listen and discuss what faith is, who Jesus is, in personal and real terms.
On these pilgrimages we discover God in strange and unexpected places (even in ourselves), and we experience prayer that is both personal and communal, on a grand scale! It is a wild place, where the Spirit blows where it wills. In his homily at the launch of the Pastoral Plan Bishop Sithembele Sipuka, the President of the SACBC, spoke about the darkness that he compared our present situation with, i.e. the people of Israel who were liberated from the oppression of pharaoh. In 1994 we were spectacularly moved from the oppression of Apartheid with great promises, but now a darkness has descended upon us. Bishop Sipuka warned us about various kinds of darkness that we struggle against today. “These are some of what may be called institutional darkness, darkness from the government, darkness from business and darkness from religion or Churches. But there are also personal or cultural darkness as well. One darkness that is encroaching in our country and in the African continent is the culture of selfishness disguised as democratic right which leads to a plethora of other forms of darkness. We are becoming an individualistic society with no sense of mission for the common good.”
Question is, how do we move from these darkness’s as young people? We need to take ownership with our own faith and bring light to those who are still stuck in the dark and continue as ambassadors of Christ. We need to ‘Rise Up’ as the theme says: “Young man, I tell you, arise!” (Lk 7:14), so that when we attend this event in Pretoria we can bring light to those who are stuck in the darkness.
As we start the journey to Pretoria in the next 11 months of waiting we can reflect on the ways in which our comfortable lifestyles ‘enslave’ us and the ways in which we need to build community anew. We come to realise together that we are always dependent on God for the good things in our lives, as our forebears in Scripture came to realise, and we can discover a direction for our lives. When we return to our homes, we will be different and we will have stories to tell. We will need to spend time developing and deepening our understanding of the experience. I think that is true of life generally, a cycle of experience and reflection. The point of Mini World Youth Day is not in Pretoria – it is in each one of us.