By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — While youth ministry and education programs must be updated to meet the needs of young people today, the church’s outreach still must be based on love, concern and spiritual guidance, Pope Francis said.
Writing to members of the Salesian religious orders marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of St. John Bosco, the pope said, “The world has changed much in these two centuries, but the spirit of young people has not: young men and women still are open to life and to an encounter with God and with others.”
Without proper assistance, he said, their ideals and aspirations place them at risk of “discouragement, spiritual anemia and marginalization.”
In his letter dated June 24 and posted on the Salesian order’s website in mid-July, Pope Francis told the Salesian priests, brothers and sisters that they must look at “the resources the Holy Spirit raises up in situations of crisis,” and not just the ways modern culture “injures” the young.
For example, he said, Salesian outreach to young people must “follow the paths of new means of social communications and of intercultural education among people of different religions or in developing countries or in places marked by migration.”
The challenges present in Turin, Italy, in the 19th century — challenges which led St. John Bosco to found his order and his schools — he said, “have taken on a global dimension: idolatry of money, inequality that breeds violence, ideological colonization and the cultural challenges found in urban contexts.”
The key to helping young people today, he said, is the same as it was in St. John Bosco’s time: love, “understood as a love demonstrated and perceived, where kindness, affection, understanding and participation in the life of the other are expressed.”
Don Bosco insisted his schools and technical training centers have a family atmosphere, he said, one in which the instructor was a “father, teacher and friend of the young” and where there was a “climate of joy and celebration” with “plenty of space for singing, music, and theater” and time set aside for recreation and sports.
“Don Bosco will help you not disappoint the deepest aspirations of the young: their need for life, openness, joy, freedom and a future;their desire to work together to build a more just and fraternal world, promote development for all peoples, to safeguard nature and environments for life,” Pope Francis said.