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Who will inspire the next generation?

Opinion

'Every young person is worth more than all the gold in the world.' This quote from Cardinal Joseph Cardijn, the Belgian priest who founded the Young Catholic Workers movement in 1924, could not be more apt when you look at the front page story of the young South Australians helping to feed the homeless in our city.

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We often hear criticism of Gen Y and their self-centred approach to life but nothing could be further from the truth for this particular group of Vinnies volunteers.

They epitomise the philosophy of Joseph Cardijn whose support of the working class in the industrialised regions of Belgium inspired a world-wide movement of young people committed to faith in action.

Throughout our Catholic schools there are countless examples of young people involved in social justice groups and initiatives. They have a natural desire to help others and fight inequality and injustice. As a Church, we need to harness that energy – just as Joseph Cardijn did in the 1920s when he established the YCW movement.

Unfortunately, the movement that played such a big part in the lives of many Australian Catholics in the post-war era has waned and most students leaving our schools and entering university or working life have very little connection to the Catholic Church.

There are numerous reasons for this, none the least being an abdication of responsibility by parents for their children’s faith, but it doesn’t mean the younger generation are any less capable of contributing to the community and serving others.
Cardijn was able to engage with young people because he made the Church relevant to them and their lives, at that particular time and that place.

At the turn of the century, the Church was seen by many of the working class in Europe to be too closely aligned to the aristocracy. By aligning himself to the factory workers being exploited by industrial lords, Cardijn demonstrated the importance of the Gospel message in a very practical way.

Today the Church is faced with the same challenge of trying to engage with youth and meet them ‘where they are at’. Pope Francis is providing a style of leadership which is very much about action and therefore has great appeal for the young but this needs to translate to the way we act and communicate as a Church here in Australia and at a local level.

There is so much good news in the Catholic Church but it rarely goes beyond the realms of the converted. Similarly, the great work of religious people in our midst – a few of whom are highlighted in our vocations feature this month – is not fully appreciated outside their own communities.

Many of the clergy and Religious amongst us today were inspired by the YCW, as were some of our outstanding lay leaders.

Who or what will inspire the next generation?

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