Retreats for Young People
As part of the on-going formation and education of Columban lay missionaries, I was privileged to take a six-month course on facilitating retreats for young people. The course has given me an in-depth understanding on the psyche and culture of young people in this modern time.
In the course, I learned that there are two major factors among other aspects that contribute and influence the behavior of almost all teenagers today. Number one is the internet and/or social media which has replaced the conventional ways of social interaction. Sadly, most teenagers think the internet/social media is the cooler way to establish relationships. It is sad to realize that the games we used to play as a form of social interaction have been replaced by a gadget – the smaller it is, the cooler it will be. Yes, teenagers might be knowledgeable about things around the globe yet very ignorant of what's going on in their own homes or neighborhood.
The other major factor reveals that most adolescents create some sort of society and/or sub-groupings to help them cope with pressures and issues surrounding adolescence such as identity, autonomy, belonging, acceptance from peers, self-belief, achievements and role models. These societies develop their own rules and regulations to compete and dominate over other societies and thus maintain power. In a way, this is an opportunity for some to shine, to develop friendships and camaraderie. However, these sub-groupings can also be a source of bullying to young people who do NOT fit in to the categories that these sub-groupings define.
Government programs and funding for the development of the young people are mushrooming all over the place. They provide venues for young people to become involved in community work, opportunities for personal and skills development and opportunities for them to be listened to by peers and adults. Different youth clubs and after school programs are established to address young peoples' issues and problems in the hope that they will be better persons for themselves, to others and the community.
Pope Francis in his exhortation the "Joy of the Gospel" points out (#64) that "we are living in an information-driven society which bombards us indiscriminately with data—all treated as being of equal importance—which leads to remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment.
In response, we need to provide an education which teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values." (#74) What is called for is an evangelization capable of shedding light on these new ways of relating to God, to others and to the world around us, and inspiring essential values. I think as Christians it is imperative for all of us to pursue what Pope Francis has challenged us.
For me, there is an urgent need to redefine our approaches in helping the spiritual formation of the young people to truly address their issues and concerns. Evangelization must include stimulating the minds of the young people of what is the truth, real beauty and God. I believe that young people have so much to contribute in renewing and building up our basic institutions such as media, schools, church and families. For me, what is needed is to make young people genuinely feel they are accepted and that they belong in these institutions so they can have ownership thus become accountable and responsible in its development process.
During the last retreat, I was so amazed by how honest the young people are on how they see and relate to God in their lives. They have many questions and doubts about God's existence yet somehow believe that there must be a Being that is beyond their comprehension. For me, this moment is very critical. I hope that the retreat has given that venue and opportunity for young people to be who they truly are thus believing they can make real changes in their lives and the wider society.
Lorelei Ocaya is a Columban lay missionary.