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Church must consciously engage Youth

Photo source: Roman Catholic Youth Commission Facebook Page

As the Archdiocese embarks on a series of consultations for the Synod, the inclusion of youth will not happen by chance. “It is important for the Church to include people intentionally,” said Dr Deborah McFee, public policy researcher and practitioner.

Dr McFee and youth development specialist Dr Henry Charles, were panellists at the February 5 online forum ‘Authentically engaging children and youth in transformative dialogue’ hosted by the Archdiocese Office of Youth Ministry. The Moderator was Darrion Narine, Programme Coordinator, Archdiocesan Ministry for Migrants and Refugees.

“It is important for us to recognise many times that inclusion is something, if it is not planned, it is not going to happen…by osmosis…or because I want it to trickle down. We are going to have to decide our priorities,” Dr McFee said. She, however, added that even when priorities are decided “we are not going to get everybody tomorrow”.

Dr Charles agreed with comments made by Dr McFee saying that while the “duty bearers” do not work with the intention of excluding anyone, the “exigencies” of the process used e.g., a survey, can cause this to happen. He advanced a reason why some persons are marginalised from the discourse, “Does the status quo want to promote inclusion?”.

Dr Charles commented that there is an elitist approach to power in the Caribbean and other places. Power is regarded as belonging to a select few. He said, “the way we are going to get…all of this conscious engagement and inclusion and equity is by challenging what I call the elitist approach to power.” There has to be a discussion on reconfiguring power relationships within homes, churches, and society to create an “equilibrium of power relationships”.

Responding to a question from Narine, Dr Charles said it is critical to recognise young people are not homogenous, they came from different socio-economic and ideological backgrounds.

“In the course of trying to respond to youth needs or create opportunities, we have to be able to define what are those multiplicities of needs and priorities and how do we create a response that can proportionally, equitably, touch all of each.”

To do this a process of investigation takes place that will include the underlying structural factors that impact on young people, and determine specific interventions. Dr Charles said he subscribed to the view that young people should determine their actual needs.

Race and class are often raised in discussions, but Dr McFee said “geography” can also be a source of privilege when engaging with people. “Our authentic listening conversations needs to be mindful of those social markers.”

Dr Charles brought up the perception of young people as a threat to the society, “perhaps even a threat to the Body of Christ and not seeing them as authentically a wholesome partner and fellow sinner in the divine vineyard.” The Bible provided many examples of young people who manifested God’s “awesome power and goodness”: David, Joseph, Daniel etc. God trusted the participation of young people, and the Bible has a lot of teaching to assist with authentic engagement.

Dr Charles said, “Do we trust young people? If you don’t create a basis for trust, then engagement is a joke, young people know where you are coming from.”

Dr McFee said as authentic listeners there must be a willingness to be uncomfortable. “It is really important that decision making spaces don’t only look like people I know, and I like and I am comfortable with,” she said. Many times, people talked inclusion but wanted things to end in a particular way.

“My anticipated outcome is not what is important, it is whether or not I created access,” Dr McFee said.