JOURNEYING WITH YOUTH
Do the words ‘cool’ and ‘Catholic’ correlate? “Certainly many of the vibrant young Catholics I engage with consider they do”, says Fr. Robin Koning SJ, Vocations Director for the Society of Jesus in Australia and New Zealand.
“In their home parishes, they might be the only young people at Mass. Then they go to a Catholic summer school or the international World Youth Day where they mix with large numbers of Catholics their own age and they realise they’re not weirdos – that it can be cool to be Catholic. They encourage one another in finding strength through their faith in Christ and their involvement in the Church.”
Fr Robin views his engagement with young Catholic adults through two lenses: first, as an integral part of his vocation promotion work; and second, his contribution to the “journeying with youth” aspect of the Society’s Universal Apostolic Preferences.
“I view young adult ministry as the broad end of the vocational funnel, so to speak. It’s about letting young adults know that Jesuits are around and getting to know young people, accompanying them. It’s not the hard sell side of it. It lets young people know that the Jesuits are alive and in business, that we have something to offer the Church, and are part of the mix of different vocations within the Church. The faith and the energy of these young Catholics are inspiring. They want to know more about their faith and to grow in their relationship with the Lord.
“This manifests itself so strongly at Hearts Aflame, a Catholic summer school for young adults that began 30 years ago and that is held annually in New Zealand. This year’s was the third one I’ve been to, after we missed two years because of Covid. The first time, I sort of invited myself! I gave some talks on Ignatian prayer and basically observed how it all worked. The second time I was asked to give a series of talks on the discernment of spirits, and this year they asked me to lead the day-and-a-half retreat that is the starting point.
“The whole program is ten days, encompassing various aspects of faith formation for young people such as talks on theology, spirituality, and other topics of interest to young people, Masses, adoration, the prayer of the Church, pastoral care and spiritual direction. Of course, a big part of it is for the participants to get to know other young Catholics, and also to have the chance to chat over a meal with a religious or priest which many of them don’t normally get the chance to do.
“Quite a few vocations have been nourished at Hearts Aflame – to priesthood, religious life and also Catholic marriage.
“This year we had about 120 participants, young adults from the age of 18 to 35. There were also about 30 or 40 volunteers, priests and religious who give input and help with pastoral care. Of the 120 who attended this year, half were first timers, while the other half were coming back because they’d been enriched by their experience in the past.
“There is a wide range of young people who attend Hearts Aflame. In my first year there, one of them was an atheist who had met some Catholics and was intrigued by what this ‘faith thing’ was about. So he came along, even though he didn’t have any faith at that stage. There are also a number of people who have come back to their faith, done the usual journey and moved away for a while but something has come up and brought them back. Or it could be that their life has got a little bit messy and they’re looking for something else or they’ve realised there is something more to their faith that they hadn’t picked up on before. Then they come to Hearts Aflame and find that there’s actually a whole richness and fullness and beauty and depth to our Catholic faith that they haven’t engaged with before.”
Find out more information on Hearts Aflame Catholic Summer School.
Photos provided by Hearts Aflame NZ.