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Reaching youth during COVID-19 —The Art of Accompaniment

By Renée Smith
Twitter: @rsmith_cntt

The postponement of social gatherings unfortunately has prevented young people from physically gathering, sharing, and learning about the faith. In response, the Roman Catholic Youth Commission (RCYC) quietly switched gears to ensure the youth and young adult sector of the Church remains engaged with its teachings.

The Commission has been hosting Zoom sessions over the past five weeks on the ‘Art of Accompaniment’—a term which refers to being a Church capable of walking at people’s sides, accompanying them on their journey.

RCYC and its stakeholders felt it necessary to initiate priests, religious and the ministers of the young adult laity into this art of accompaniment which teaches  “removing the sandals before the sacred ground of the other”—in this case our young people.

Quoting from Pope Francis’ apostolic letter The Joy of the Gospel, the Commission’s Spiritual Director, Fr Mikkel Trestrail said, “Genuine spiritual accompaniment always begins and flourishes in the context of service to the mission of evangelisation—missionary disciples accompanying missionary disciples.”

He also noted the pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring. “It must reflect our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life”.

Those gathered agreed this teaching should therefore not be aggressive but rather reflect empathy as they actively listen to Youth and Young Adult Ministers.

Tips shared on active listening included: Knowing one’s purpose, responding appropriately, suspending judgement, asking open-ended questions and acknowledging the gaps between the youth and young adult ministers.


An outlook of Youth outreach

Discussions led by the Episcopal Delegate for Youth, Taresa Best-Downes and Fr Trestrail were also had on creating accompaniment strategies using existing social media platforms.

Among the ideas were encouraging faith-based challenges and having online group Lectio Divina. They also hoped to get the young people engaged on three texts: Evangelii Gaudium, Amoris Laetitia and Christus Vivit.

Mention was made that the purpose is not to “minister to” youth but “with” them by helping all stakeholders work on listening and understanding this particular demographic. Once this is achieved, it leads to the final step of acting through encounter and accompaniment.


How can Youth Ministry grow?

The Church today is challenged to find new ways to attract new young people to an encounter with Christ. Through this journey, the Youth Commission hopes to further develop those who have already had that encounter in the hope they can share these experiences with others. To bring new persons into the fold, attempts will be made not to preach at youth, but approach them with love.

Pope Francis reminds us in The Joy of the Gospel, “Someone good at such accompaniment does not give in to frustrations or fears. He or she invites others to let themselves be healed, to take up their mat, embrace the cross, leave all behind and go forth ever anew to proclaim the Gospel.

“Our personal experience of being accompanied and assisted, and of openness to those who accompany us, will teach us to be patient and compassionate with others, and to find the right way to gain their trust, their openness and their readiness to grow.”


A Prayer for Youth

We offer to you, loving God, the gifts and needs of Youth.

Bless them with your guiding grace as they face the challenges and opportunities in their lives.

Touch their hearts with the gentleness of your love, that they may know they are valued and valuable beings.

Send your spirit of hope to their lives, that they may believe in themselves and know they are needed in this world.

Grace them with the gift of joy, that they may celebrate life through laughter and tears alike.

Guide us, as we continue to grow in our appreciation of the many gifts of young people,

– in ministry opportunities we offer to them,

– in the journey of faith, we walk with them,

– in our shared mission as a community called to discipleship in the world.

We ask this in Jesus’ name.


The above prayer is copyright of the AEC Youth Assembly