By Joanna Thurmann
“When we encounter someone in love, we learn something entirely new about God,” said Annapatrice Johnson during a talk at the Santa Clara Faith Formation Conference 2017 about engaging youth in global issues through faith. Authentic encounter changes us and the other for the benefit of the world. To understand that, we must look to the example of Jesus.
Jesus fed people, healed them in their brokenness, walked with them, listened to them, and shared stories. Then, in love and mercy, he challenged them.
Transformed by that love, they joyfully took on his same mission. This is the model we must adopt to engage and retain the youth in our parishes.
Bishop Robert McElroy of the Diocese of San Diego agreed. In his keynote talk on the pastoral theology of Pope Francis, he laid out the pontiff’s principles for living and teaching the Gospel. He said we must root out judgmentalism in our lives and the life of the Church. In ministering to others, we should
(1) embrace them with the love of God,
(2) heal whatever is broken, and only later
(3) challenge them to reform.
“The order of these steps is important,” cautioned Bishop McElroy. “As Pope Francis said, the Church is a field hospital. Attend to the urgent needs. Don’t focus on secondary issues.”
There are certainly a lot of urgent needs among our young people today; broken homes, teen suicide, school bullying, college debt, unaffordable rent, not to mention the fears of immigrant and LGBTQ youth. If we can get the first and second steps right, like Jesus did, then the third will follow.
Ultimately, adopting such a culture of encounter is what changes the world, emphasized Crystal Catalan in her conference session on social justice. We must reach out in love, but especially to those we normally exclude or ignore, the “disposable.” Johnson explained this as concentric circles. Most people learn to love in the first two circles; the family and the closest communities. “But Jesus called us to go to the margins; not so much to the neighbors and wealthy friends,” said Johnson.
If we hope to influence the youth, we must first and foremost model for them the way Jesus loved and healed. We must enter into an authentic encounter in love. “That shapes us and moves our hearts,” said Catalan. “It changes us, and them, and the world.”