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Forever young, and wiser*

By Laura Ann Phillips
The eighties were heady, robust times for teenagers in Trinidad. Big hair, bigger shoulder pads, beat-boxin’ to giant boom-boxes. Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Party Time with Wendell Constantine and Lisa Wickham. As with previous generations, we were a mystery to our elders, most of whom were content to sigh and watch us grow up. Others declared us lost, pronouncing heavily on the “no-good-ed-ness” of our interests.

And, then we grew up, to opine as our elders did. By the time you read this, hundreds of youth representatives of AEC member territories would have already descended on the French isle of Martinique for the Antilles Episcopal Conference Youth Assembly. Preparation for this would have begun several months ago. For organisers, developing the theme, site, events and required reading material so central to these assemblies.

For youth group responsibles in the territories: finalising numbers of pilgrims, final fund-raisers, polo jerseys for the group. Allergy and health condition lists, spiritual preparation, “getting-to-know-you” sessions, transport and airport head-counts.

The Assembly’s Facebook page featured the most delightful stories and images of delegates’ preparation in their home territories: retreats, farewell Masses, prayerful send-offs, preparing sweet treats to share with others in Martinique. And, of course, French, French, prepare the French!

And, finally, D-Day! Video streams of the first delegations arriving exhausted, excited, comparing that airport to their country’s. “Days in the Parishes” from Tuesday to Sunday, when pilgrims stay with local families, experiencing local Martiniquais culture through the hosts’ day-to-day activity and delegates’ work, prayer and ministry.

Some question the Church’s continued investment of time, skills and finance in its youth; others believe it isn’t enough. But, look around at those active in ministry within this archdiocese and beyond; very many would have benefitted from similar initiatives in their youth or beyond.

Like the leadership programme at Emmaus Retreat Centre, Arima, a project of then Archdiocesan Youth Co-ordinator, Sr Rosemary Carvalho.

Over those labour-intensive weekends, which I attended monthly during the 1990s, various persons shared their skills and time, coaching late-adolescents and young adults for ministry roles in which they would serve in God’s own time. Even now, it is not uncommon to find us still in ministry, locally or overseas.

Last month, two major, youth-oriented events took place locally, just four days apart. The Catholic Youth Commission’s “Youth Expo” celebrated the vibrancy so intrinsic to youth, while showing them the many groups willing to walk with them as they grow in love for Jesus and, together, discern His plan.

The Generation S Local Assembly, Couva, was a bold “Do-It-Yourself” workshop that challenged the assembly to dust off old ways of talking “vocations” and receive the tools offered to foster calmer conversations and more meaningful opportunities of contemplating The Question.

All of it, much needed.

In these days, may we honour those catechists, youth ministry leaders and others whose willing, unseen sacrifice continues to nurture and form our young people, preparing them to receive the reins of our Church and country today, and in the future.