Vietnam’s vibrant youth


31 Oct 2018

My work as a Jesuit priest has taken me around the world, particularly to Asia. As a result, I’ve been able to see the vibrancy and strength of the Church in these countries and it’s always been a tonic for my own spiritual life. There’s no doubt that working with young adults in Australia, as I do, can be both inspiring and, at times, dispiriting.

I’ve spoken to so many parents and grandparents who feel, with great depth, a sorrow that their children and grandchildren have not embraced their faith. They are wonderful young people in so many ways, who don’t find the idea of religious commitment intelligible, let alone attractive. This hardly comes as a surprise to anyone reading this I’m sure.

Nonetheless, in counterpoint, I’ve just returned from a huge celebration of the centenary of the Eucharistic Youth Movement in Vietnam, which is the youth wing of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network. There are no less than one million young Vietnamese who belong to this organisation. Many, many thousands of youth turned out for these celebrations, and it was a sight to behold.

When you see the Church in places like Vietnam bursting to the seams at Mass, and seminaries and convents likewise full to overflowing, it is a wonderful reassurance, but also something else: it is a powerful, salient reminder that the way things are in a place such as Australia are not ‘normal’, in any sense, for the wider Church outside the ‘developed’ West.

I don’t know about you, but I, personally, find that powerful. It is extremely important and spiritually liberating to know that the Catholic Church is a glorious, growing, creative movement of the Spirit on which ‘the sun never sets’. This truth offers a perspective and a cause for both gratitude and delight, even while, at the same time, we might feel spiritually worn out by the gross failings of some of that same Church’s members.

It is not very fashionable, in Australia at least, to announce that one ‘loves the Church’. However, when I see the beauty of the youthful, energy-filled Church in Asia, perhaps I can be forgiven for loving her once again, and even for seeing our own beleaguered, worn outpost here, as part of her ongoing mystery.

Image: Celebrations of the 100 Years of the Eucharistic Youth Movement in Vietnam, including Fr David Braithwaite SJ, and some young Australians from The Two Wolves Community Cantina.

This article originally appeared in Madonna magazine Summer 2018/19 edition.

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