Opinion & Analysis

Bangladesh's Catholic youth need guidance

2:42 PM, October 3, 2018

Bangladesh:Youngsters should grow up in the light of the Gospel to realize their potential for the country and society.

Bangladeshi Catholics take part in a boat ride during a youth camp organized by Magis Bangla, a youth movement sponsored by Jesuits, in Gopalganj district on April 9, 2017. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)

Thousands of young people including Catholics in Bangladesh are searching for deeper meaning beyond friends, family and work. They are not satisfied with the current socioeconomic, political, cultural and religious maneuverings in the country.

The ways of addressing the issues of politics, education, unemployment and development are utterly distressing and discouraging for them. On the one hand, a good number of youth denounce religious fundamentalism, but on the other hand the rise of extremism among young students is alarming.

These days we see a lot of Christian youth organizations and movements, but they are not so active in organizing programs and activities. The vested interests of some group leaders are misleading the young. The overuse of modern technology and electronic devices is eating up a lot of time and talents of our youth. Many are getting involved in irresponsible and unhealthy relationships.

The Christian youth of Bangladesh are facing the negative impacts of a consumerist and materialistic worldview. At times they are misled and exploited by cynical leaders of our Christian society. There is a tendency to lead a meritocratic life among some young people.

As a result, they are not ready to take risks and make bold decisions. At times they are carried away by the ideals of the Muslim-majority youth group, but they hardly accept a sense of religiosity. They take the life of Christian faith quite casually and halfheartedly. That is why the practice of Christian faith and life among many of our young people is not so strong. Many are frustrated and give in to drugs and alcohol.

Young people have a key role in influencing and building the church in Bangladesh. Our Catholic institutions, movements and youth ministries have an important, progressive and peaceful role in forming active Christian leaders. In Bangladesh, often what the church provides is not holistic, and faith and action do not go hand in hand. On one side of the spectrum we encourage young people to build a personal relationship with Jesus, on the other side we encourage them to get involved in justice and action, but we often fail to give them the opportunity to reflect on how their service relates to their values and the Gospel.

We need to work with young people to find their mission in the world through both action and reflection. Pope Francis too tells us that we need to provide formation and education, which teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of moral values. The youth are not attracted to religious commitment due to the micro-family system, easy accessibility of money and the internet.

The Christian youth of today are torn between the values of the Gospel and worldly standards. They are divided in many groups, so the church should take more inter-denominational initiatives and activities

Some initiatives have been taken by the church, but giving youngsters a mere chance of serving food to the hungry, distributing relief materials, cleaning cemeteries, selling candlesticks or attending a youth program, rally, seminar, church event is not enough. The church needs to provide ongoing information and regular opportunities to listen and discern their mission and consider how they are living it through action. Only then can deep transformation take place.

The church must ask what the young are saying because if we are to ever understand how to work with young people in developing their mission in Bangladesh, we must listen.

Pope Francis himself is aware and accepts the fact that "some customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them."

The church needs our young to be engaged because they are struggling and many are suffering. Young people are needed in the church. But if we (the clergy and leaders) are called to deeper and more radical action through the Gospel, that can be missed if our church becomes too exclusive to a particular group of young people with particular interests. Pope Francis states: "The excluded are still waiting."

The "see, judge, act" method has had a significant impact on me and many students that I have worked with through the Magis Bangla movement. The exclusive mentality of our religious leaders may not help us in the process.

The young people of Bangladesh are also facing the impacts of the consumerist and materialistic lifestyle of the West. The pope hopes for a better world as a result of the efforts, desire to change and generosity of young people. He wants the youth to listen to the Holy Spirit and make bold choices by listening to Jesus. The Holy Father also can ensure on behalf of the church to listen to their voices, sensitivities and faith along with their doubts and criticism.

We can see and feel that young people are placed at the center of his attention and heart. That is why the Synod of Bishops this month has the theme "Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment."

The pope's invitation is clear to the youth. It is to hear the voice of God that resounds in their heart through the breath of the Holy Spirit. That will lead them to a new horizon like Abraham. The hopeful pope makes it clear that in the process of this journey of uncertainty, if they fall, God will extend His hand to pick them up.

Father Pradeep Perez, SJ, is a Bangladeshi Jesuit priest and coordinator of Magis Bangla, a Jesuit-sponsored youth movement in Bangladesh.

Source: UCAN

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