My first three years of pastoral work in eastern Cameroon were spent as a diocesan youth chaplain. I was involved with at-risk youth during my years of ministry in the CICM formation house in Cameroon as well. Each of these experiences awakened in me a passion for the spiritual mentoring and attentiveness needed to work with young people.
For various reasons and often despite their goodwill or intent to live a decent life, many of today’s youth find themselves in desperate need of positive influences and guidance.
Building a Vibrant Parish in South Africa
After arriving in South Africa in 2010, I was appointed as the pastor of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta parish community. This church was established in 1998 as an annex of the community of St. Patrick’s parish in Benoni. The new center was intended to cater to the spiritual needs of Crystal Park and surrounding communities.
In the years since it was established, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta has become a center of worship not only for Catholics, but also Christians of other faiths as well. It became an independent parish in 2011 and its membership has been steadily increasing over the years, fueled by the influx of new families to Crystal Park and its associated communities.
This large community is quite diverse: there are people from many different cultures and a wide range of economic standing. Challenges are many, but we are motivated and encouraged by the willingness, the dynamism and determination of young people and adults who show a desire to learn and contribute to the material, spiritual, multiracial and multicultural building of their Christian community.
The Long-Term Impact of Apartheid
The systematic racial segregation and discrimination of Apartheid have left a lingering impact in the daily lives of many South Africans.
Apartheid was only officially abolished in 1991, though non-whites were still not allowed to vote until 1993, and a new constitution that enfranchised blacks and other racial groups only took effect in 1994. So this multiracial and multicultural society has just 20 years of legislatively backed racial equality. Many people of color—especially blacks—suffered under Apartheid and even lost their lives, leaving behind orphans and widows.
Though the South Africa of today enjoys mostly peaceful elections and race relations, it does still suffer some visible ripple effects of the Apartheid system.
Growing Young Leaders of the Faith
In the context of South African society and the Church, our daily challenges and concerns as Christians center on providing a model of universal brotherhood among a sometimes divided people.
Our pastoral work lies in preaching and teaching forgiveness, reconciliation, love and unity. The training of adult and youth leaders in the parish, and in the diocese in general, remains one of our most important priorities: so that trained leaders can be the leaven in the dough, spreading the Good News of universal love among God’s people.
My work also gives me many opportunities to be and work with young people in the context of pastoral activities, and I have always been impressed and enriched by their energy. So many of them demonstrate a transformative will to live life fully and to strive for a life worthy of being called God’s children.
Despite all the challenges and temptations related to their period of growth, and despite their social circumstances and often deplorable or inhuman situations, I have witnessed young people who do not give up on their baptismal commitments or their aspirations to be the hope of tomorrow for the Church and for society.
Energy and good intentions need framing though: if they are not sustained and promoted the individual can become hopeless and vulnerable to negative forces. The immediate consequences to the young are evident around us: drugs, prostitution, robbery, criminal assault, teenage pregnancies, prejudice and racism, and more.
Most who have avoided such pitfalls would agree that they owe their good fortune to the benefits of having a solid, thoughtful support system in their formative years. It is no secret that a healthy family environment and the benefits of stability, opportunity, resources and support are the typical cornerstones of successful development for young people.
The Energy and Optimism of the Youth Brings Hope
The youth of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta are involved in various aspects of parish life. They animate a weekly Eucharistic celebration through singing and reading the Word of God. They also meet each Sunday to assess and plan their activities for the week, as well as engage in Bible sharing. They often pay visits to local orphanages and retirement homes with joy and enthusiasm. For their financial autonomy, they have committed to organizing car washes at a local petrol station, and the funds no doubt will help finance the birthday celebrations they do not let go unnoticed!
The youth of the parish are keenly aware of the dangers faced by their peers who run the streets, falling victim to alcohol and drug use as well as criminal behavior. But the choice these young people have made is to remain focused on the endeavors that will positively shape their lives and bring them closer to their God given potential.
Finding and Spreading Missionary Joy
Because all Christians are missionaries by our baptismal commitments, we have an obligation to share our belief in the God of all possibilities with others. We believe that all people should be able to feel the joy of being loved by God, the joy of salvation, the joy of inspiring others to be closer to Jesus, and the privilege it is to spread the Good News through word and deed. It is a gift that one cannot keep to oneself: it is to be shared.
I find joy and enthusiasm for the work through the spirit of the people we accompany in our apostolate here in South Africa. It is something very special to experience the promise that the Son of God made to the Apostles: “All this I tell you that my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete.” (John 15: 11).