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By Valentine Umoh

 

Introduction

The Catholic Church has always not absconded her sublime duty of guiding and forming the youths and in all places because the youths play a vital role not only in the Church but also in the world. If society will be better than what we currently have, if the Church and Christianity as a whole will be more and better equipped in her ministry of proclamation and witnessing in this post-modern era of moral/ethical relativism then the youths should be carried along through a robust, adequate and well-founded moral, spiritual and intellectual formation. It is in response to this all-important ecclesial responsibility that I accept to at this moment be that Church’s voice in your midst. It is my delight to speak not only to youths but to catholic youths in an academic atmosphere. It gives me so much consolation as a youth myself to see you rally round to put up this activity. And so, I wish to congratulate all those who have been working not only behind the scenes but also round the clock to put this up.

In 1994, The Catholic Bishops Conference’ Committee on the Laity and the subcommittee on Youth issued a very brief but inspiring document titled: A Message to Youth: Pathway to Hope.[2] This document highlighted three major aspects in the life of the youths thus: who you are, where you belong, and the challenges and opportunities you will face. I found in this document interesting ideas and so I wish to examine these briefly as an introduction to our discussion.

Who Am I? Gifted and Loved—Made in the Image and Likeness of God

You are made in the image and likeness of God. You are loved by God and others! Listen to the words of the psalmist: “Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works” (Ps 139:13-14).

Youthfulness presents many challenges. At times you can feel pressure from parents and school to be the perfect athlete, the perfect student, the perfect son or daughter, the perfect musician. Sometimes you feel the pressure from peers to wear the right clothes, buy the right things, or join the right group. At other times you are faced with challenges such as alcohol, drugs, loneliness, despair, or physical/sexual abuse. Racism and prejudice can close the door and harden the hearts of many. Poverty and inadequate education can dim the light of your future.

Yes, it is true that many of you work hard to keep your priorities in order. The Church is committed to helping you meet the difficult challenges and ask you to look to Jesus Christ to give meaning to the struggles and pain in your life. The good news of the Gospel is that God loves you unconditionally. You don’t need to be anyone other than yourself. Those who truly love you accept you for who you are and will challenge you to be a better person.

Youthfulness is also a time for examining your moral and religious beliefs and for the reaffirmation of your baptismal commitment. Many of you have grown stronger in faith through this searching, while some of you continue to grapple with your faith. Know that the Church is always there to support you through the many youth activities sponsored by the diocese, the parishes, and the schools and prays for you daily at liturgy as you struggle to grow in faith and to embrace a Christian lifestyle.

God, our Father, invites you to discover the meaning of life centred in Jesus Christ. This conviction provides a foundation for your life. It gives you values and beliefs that can keep your dreams alive as you face the many challenges of life. Look to Jesus and his values: honesty, generosity, compassion, chastity, kindness, tolerance, justice, respect for all life, and peacemaking. These are the gospel values which will bring you true happiness and manifest God’s love for the world.

Where Do I Belong? Your Family and the Catholic Community

The two communities that can help you through life’s struggles are your family and the Church community (your parish, diocese etc). They are two ways of being part of the body of Christ. Friends also play a significant role in your life. Friends provide affirmation, companionship, and a listening ear. A true friend is willing to challenge you to be a person of integrity.

Your family is an important relationship in your life where you should find nourishment and unconditional love. Enjoy the time with your family, as you do with your friends. Get to know your parents, brothers, and sisters as “friends,” not just as family. Invite your friends to be part of your family.

Sadly, for some people, the family is not what it should be. There are many hurting families that need our love, support, and prayers. Relationship to your family can be difficult at times. Many youths desire some independence from their families, while others do not receive the guidance and support that they need from their parents. While you seek independence, please don’t cut yourself off from the love and care of your family.

Your parish community can also be a place where you find wisdom, direction, and support. The parish reaffirms the values taught by your family and instils other values. Your parish should be a place where you are welcomed, grow in Jesus Christ, and minister side by side with the adults of the community. You know the truth when you hear it. You know God’s love when you experience it. In your parish community, you will hear God’s word and sense God’s presence. The Church challenges and encourages you to invite other young people to hear God’s word and sense God’s presence in our Catholic communities. Through you, they can meet Jesus, their brother.

The Church invites you to experience parish life by celebrating the Eucharist and the other sacraments, especially the sacrament of reconciliation; by being active participants in the liturgy as lectors (lay readers), Eucharistic ministers (altar servers), acolytes, and liturgical musicians (choir and instrumentalists); by working with parish service and social outreach programs; by attending religious education sessions; and by participating in parish youth ministry activities, especially retreats; by being members of the various church organizations and pious societies; by being effectively involved in Church’s evangelization outreach; service and care of the sick, the needy and the rejected. Youthfulness can be filled with questions and doubts. Participating in these parish programs and activities can help you cope with these questions and concerns.

A most important aspect of your faith development is the knowledge you will gain by reading the Bible and studying the teachings and tradition of the Church. Read the Bible—it is the story of God’s love for us and our response to that love.

Your parish should have programs for you that recognize your special talents and role in the life of the Church. You bring to the parish community youthfulness, energy, vitality, hopefulness, and vision. Don’t be afraid to share these wonderful traits and talents, and don’t be discouraged if you don’t always get the welcome you’d like to get. Sadly, we must admit that not all of our parishes make youths feel welcome, but this is part of your mission—to help parish leaders see how you can be a wonderful presence and resource for the parish.

If you live in an area touched by violence or similar problems, your parish should be a safe haven for you and advocate for your needs, assuring a measure of hope. In all parishes, you can find excellent role models and mentors—they can walk the journey with you, listen to you, and give you guidance.

What Am I to Do with My Life? Be Disciples of Jesus Christ!

As a baptized member of the Church, Jesus Christ calls you to follow in his footsteps and make a difference in the world today. You can make a difference! See how God’s grace has worked in people like Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Elizabeth Ann Seton, and people in your own family or community and how it has inspired them to do great things by living the Christian life. In the words of the Holy Father, John Paul II “Offer your youthful energies and your talents to building a civilization of Christian love . . . commit yourself to the struggle for justice, solidarity, and peace.”[3]

You can make a difference now, and some of you already do—at home, in school, with your friends, and at places of your afterschool working experiences. You can do this by treating all people justly and with respect; by being a voice for the voiceless, especially the unborn; by being a peaceful person in your language and actions; by sharing your time, talent, and money with your family and those in need; by being a friend to those who are lonely or shunned; by being a healer and reconciler when conflicts arise; by helping friends do the right thing; and by valuing people who are different from you—people of different cultures, people who are disabled, people who think differently from you. When you do these things, you will make the world—your family, school, community—a better place, a place where Jesus Christ dwells. We’re not saying it will be easy. You may be misunderstood and ridiculed at times, but you will never be alone. Christ and the Christian community walk with you.

The Church invites you to know Jesus Christ as a companion and friend, teacher and saviour, and to discover what he has to offer as you live your life today. See in Jesus Christ the one God-man whose life gives meaning to the joys and sufferings of millions of people over thousands of years. See in Jesus Christ the one who can help you live your life to the fullest! “I came so that you may have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

Remember, you can make the world a better place. As the Lord told Jeremiah, “You are not too young!” (Jer 1:7). Take up the Holy Father’s challenge to go out into the streets and, like the apostles, preach the gospel message of Christ. The Church promises that she will walk with you as Jesus does. She will work with you for justice and peace in your schools, in your families, and with your friends. She will stand by you in the future in carrying out your vocation as parents, priests and religious, teachers, homemakers, factory and construction workers, managers, nurses, or whatever God calls you to be in this world. Never forget the words of our Holy Father: “For me, I’ll make my own the words of St. Paul. I have great confidence in you, I have great pride in you; I am filled with encouragement, I am overflowing with joy (cf. 2 Cor 7:4). So much depends on you.”[4]

Having examined these three aspects of your life as a youth, a catholic youth let us now look at those challenges that you are likely to face in the 21st century society. Put more precisely what are those challenges that confront a catholic youth on campus in this age?

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Some of the problems and challenges of youths today

Ignorance

When Francis Bacon wrote in his Novum Organon that Knowledge is power he was right. Time has vindicated this Baconian principle. Today there is a widespread of ignorance in the world. The worst set of the ignorant are not those who have not the opportunity to learn but know who refuse to learn. Learning is a process no one ever graduates from. We learn everyday. We learn from not only the books we read but also from everyday experiences in life. Try to strive after genuine and true knowledge of the things of God and of the world. It is only when you know that your power of choice and decision makes meaning. The Philosopher Plato was to some extent right when in his Protagoras wrote that no one does evil willingly, evil is as a result of ignorance. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) it is stated that the reason God created man was to know him, love him and serve him and to be happy with him in eternity. You cannot love and serve what you do not really know. As a Catholic Youth and a Catholic Student as well as a Christian try to seek a better knowledge of God so that you will appreciate him better. Though we do not see God there are many ways to learn and know about God. The reading and meditation on the word of God, attention to the teachings of the Church, attending spiritual exercises in the Church etc are just few but most important ways to learn about God.

Mediocrity

One of the serious challenges of youths today is the problem of mediocrity. This term etymologically comes from the Latin mediocris, meaning middling, ordinary, and unremarkable. It means just halfway or middle of a mountain. Something that is mediocre is only midway up a mountain or rises up to only half a mountain’s height, as it were – the thing goes just halfway to the highest point of excellence. Mediocrity is an arch enemy of excellence. Once a student has a mediocre attitude or mind set that student can never achieve excellence. A student who always believes in half measures can never be a hardworking student. Once a student has inculcated this attitude it eats up the fabrics of one’s life like a cankerworm. You feel lazy about everything; you are not committed to anything. You have an attitude of anything goes. You wish not for an A but for C and D in your courses. You only come to school for the sake of the certificate; you only attend lectures so that you not be marked absent. These are all examples of a mind set that is mediocre. It is a serious problem among our youths today. You have no principle; you have no focus; you have no vision then you can never aim at excellence. You are satisfied wherever you find yourself.

Conformity: If you can’t beat them, join them

Listen carefully to what St. Paul instructed the Roman Christians in his Letter to the Church in Rome. He said: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2) I always feel sorry for those students whose family background is Godly but who suddenly lose their faith in God while on campus. They suddenly join bad companies and are even more corrupt than those with poor Christian upbringing. They always want to follow and imitate others. The problem of conformism among the Catholic youths while on campus can easily be traced to our first problem: ignorance. Sometimes half-knowledge can be worse than total ignorance.

Materialism/fashion

The unwanton quest for material things and what is fashionable at the moment have driven many youths to shift focus and many at times miss their targets. Why do you believe that you are in competition with people in the type of lifestyle you live: your diet, your dressing and cosmetics, jewelleries? Greed is a serious vice noticeable among our youths today. It has become a problem. You are not contented with what you have or with what your parents have been able to provide for you and so you ‘use what you have to get what you want’ as is the slogan of the day. You steal, you sell your body, you indulge in all forms of exam malpractices, and sometimes you indulge in occultic activities just to get money or the ‘connection’ to acquire material things. I challenge all you members of NFCS listening to me right now to determine to be different. Appearance is not and cannot be reality; all that glitters is not gold. Try to look beyond the physical and material things of this life and seek the things that really matter.

Inattention to God

Many Catholic youths and students tend to have little or no time for God again on campus. They are carried away by the whims and caprices of campus life and forget their true identity. You feel you are now free from the problems of your parents at home, no one can dictate for you again. You are now the driver and anchor of your destiny. You have forgotten that even according to the philosopher Jean Jacque Rousseau that even when man claims to be free he is everywhere in chains. In so far that there are certain givens in your life you cannot claim absolute freedom. God must be given proper attention in your daily activities. When last did you consciously leave the comfort of your room to stay with God in the Church and communicate with Him and feel His presence?

No time syndrome

It was Archbishop Fulton Sheen who wrote that “He who is too busy as to have sometime for God is busier than his creator made him.” And I add a student who is too busy to attend to his academic needs has completely lost focus. Many at times we get entangled by this slogan of ‘no time’ to the extent that we fail to distinguish the essential things in life. We suddenly find ourselves as students for instance too busy to study, read and pray. What occupies most of your time? Is that what should eat up your time? Yes, it is true that time waits for no man. A wise man is one who knows how to make best use of his time and opportunities. When as a student you have no time to Worship God in the Church and no time to study then there is something wrong somewhere. All knowledge, all wisdom and all understanding come from God

The fallacy of everyone is doing it

What gives you the impression that everyone is doing it? That you have seen A, B, and C doing it does not and cannot mean that D, E and F are doing just the same. In logic this is technically referred to as fallacy of hasty generalization. There are objective moral truths and standards. So that even if when you think that everyone around you is doing this particular thing, it doesn’t make it right or wrong. Murder, prostitution, fornication, lesbianism, homosexuality, abortion and other forms of sexual immorality, exam malpractice in all its forms, stealing in all its forms, dishonesty etc will continue in themselves to be bad, wrong and morally unacceptable human conducts even if everyone indulges in them. Do not join the bandwagon; you can make the difference; you can even be the difference.

Final Exhortations – Enjoy your Youth but be careful!

– Youthfulness is a one in a life-time stage. You will always reap what you sow – whatever you sow during your youthful stage you will reap in your old age.

– The evil that men do not only live after them but with them

– Be careful what you do today because it will come back to you someday; change your ways while it is still day; make hays while the sunshine. Avoid procrastinating what you can comfortably do today

– Youthfulness is a time to discover yourself – your potentialities, your capacities. Try to discover who you are. You are the only person that can tell the truth about yourself. There is the you in you that only you know.

– Don’t be afraid of criticisms- they help to make you better and build you up for future challenges. Remember there is a part of you that you do not know but only your friends and enemies can tell you.

– Never forget that there is a God above watching you in all you do and remember that there are many things about you which your friends and enemies do not know but only God knows. Never forget that you are not a product of chance – you are a product of a conscious thought of God. In whatever you do always surrender to his will. Sometimes, it is difficult to decipher the will of God – ask him to guide your steps

– Try to build a good and correct Self-image/Self Esteem. This is because from my various interactions with young people I have discovered that often times they get into trouble because they have very poor self-esteem/self-image. What is Self-image/esteem? Self esteem simply means having good opinions about ourselves and our abilities; believing in ourselves; knowing who we are. Many young people do not know who they are at all- Believing that we are unique because we are made in God’s beautiful image. This fact alone makes us wonderful people, beautiful people and unique individuals. Also knowing that we are so special that in the whole wide world there is not even a single person like me or you; you are just you, anywhere and everywhere in the world, not even your twin sister or brother is exactly like you. Is that not wonderful? Realising this fact helps us a lot to believe in ourselves so that we have a focus we don’t do things now because every other person is doing them. No, no Iniobong is different; that is Iniobong. She may decide to go wild, to be a beast; she may decide to be a prostitute; that is her life. I don’t need to do that in other to be accepted; to be called a Cheek or a guy. Oh, no, I am uniquely different! Therefore, I don’t have to live like Iniobong or I don’t have to be in a cult like Ettebong simply to be accepted by the generality of people on campus? No, you see the problem of lack of high self esteem is the reason why most young people enter secret societies, most young girls become prostitutes because if you really know who you are, how important you are, how beautiful you are; I don’t think you will let yourself down. Always keep this at the back of your minds – the need to possess high self-esteem – believing in ourselves; knowing that we are beautiful creatures made in God’s image and therefore there are certain things we must not do because we are unique.

– Do not waste your time on things that will not benefit you and your future. Remember, your future is in your hands; the way you lay your bed is how you will lie on it. Invest your time, treasure and talent in ventures that will sustain you and your future. Be visionary and always plan ahead of time. Never be taken by surprise.

– Invite Mother Mary into your life. She is always there for those who fly to her patronage. She can intercede for you when ‘there is no wine’ (cf. John 2:3) in your life. Be constant in invoking her intercession especially through the Holy Rosary. Make the Rosary, a prayer close to your heart.

I want to use this opportunity to thank you all for your audience and participation. I thank you who have not only found out time to be here but for being active members of the Nigeria Federation of Catholic Students in this Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic Chapter. I bet you that there are many Catholic students in our various institutions of higher learning and even in this campus who have not yet seen the need and importance to belong to this fellowship. While encouraging you to keep kindling in you the fire of the Catholic Faith that you received at baptism, I also challenge and send you to go out in search of those other brothers and sisters of ours who have not yet joined this noble fellowship, speak to their heart and win them over here. For together; we can do something beautiful for God.

I pray that the Almighty God through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary the mother of youths and students should revive you in His grace so that in all things you may seek to do only that which pleases God and that when our earthly sojourn is ended we may be worthy of seeing God face to face in the Beatific vision – the ultimate end of all our struggles. Amen

NFCS …Living the Faith

[1] Originally a paper presented at the National Federation of Catholic Students (NFCS), AKWAPOLY Chapter Week, 2016 at the Saint Francis Xavier Autonomous Catholic Community Auditorium, Ikot Osurua, Akwa Ibom – Nigeria.

[2] A Message to Youth: Pathway to Hope A Statement of the NCCB Committee on the Laity and the Subcommittee on Youth October 1994.

[3] John Paul II, Homily at Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Denver, Origins 23:11 (August 26, 1993): 193.

[4] John Paul II, Homily at Cherry Creek State Park, Origins 23:11 (August 26, 1993): 179.