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Love Stronger than Family Ties

MAR 08

They are brought in helpless, penniless and in pain—and often unwanted by family members. Here they find more love than had expected, better care than many families give, and a peaceful end in a godly setting.

“Sister, come quickly! He is violent!”

The two nurses were evidently terrified. They rushed to Sr Tabitha’s office, and blurted out, “Sister, please come. He is violent. We do not know what to do.”
Sr Tabitha rushed to the bedside of Anand (name changed), a middle-aged man suffering from mouth cancer, who had been admitted two weeks earlier.

She looked at him, and held his hand.

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Sr Celine Vas BS

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The Caring Never Stops

Mar 07

Basing herself on her own experience of running a hospice for the terminally ill, Dr Lavina explains, with touching true stories and evident expertise, palliative care and what it can do for a person when a cure is no longer possible.

One week after his admission to the hospice facility, Mr. D’ Souza exclaimed: “From being a cancer patient, I became a human being, a person. The hospital used code words to label me.  For the longest time I was ‘Ca Lung’ and the doctors and nurses called me just that. I had forgotten what my real name was.” Mr D’ Souza was breathless and in severe pain. Every breath was laborious as a large tumour was constricting his lung.  He was hooked on to an Oxygen Concentrator which eased his breathing. He was prescribed Morphine, which relieved his pain and, with that, his spirits lifted too. He was able to speak to his family and even laugh reminiscing old memories. “Why couldn’t you bring me here earlier?” he asked his family.

This is what palliative care does. It does not expedite the dying process, as some think, nor does it prolong life. It focuses on the quality of life and makes the last days as comfortable as possible. In palliative care, the emphasis is on the person and not on the disease. This requires a paradigm shift from the traditional pathology-focussed model of health care delivery. It looks as if, somewhere in the diagnosis-treatment spectrum, the person is often lost sight of, and is reduced to a mere bed number or a diagnostic label.

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Dr Lavina M Noronha

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A Huge Human Tragedy

Feb 07
What is our attitude towards the millions of children, women and men who have to flee their homeland because of violence, war and grinding poverty? Do we see them as our sisters and brothers, or as a threat or a burden—or do we simply ignore their desperate need?

On 7 January 2019, in his annual but defining address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Vatican, Pope Francis said, “Among the vulnerable of our time that the international community is called to defend are not only refugees but also migrants.  Once again, I appeal to governments to provide assistance to all those forced to emigrate on account of the scourge of poverty and various forms of violence and persecution, as well as natural catastrophes and climatic disturbances, and to facilitate measures aimed at permitting their social integration in the receiving countries.  Efforts also need to be made to prevent individuals from being constrained to abandon their families and countries, and to allow them to return safely and with full respect for their dignity and human rights.  All human beings long for a better and more prosperous life, and the challenge of migration cannot be met with a mindset of violence and indifference, nor by offering merely partial solutions.”

A day earlier, on 6 January, in a “heartfelt appeal” to European Leaders, Pope Francis in his Angelus message on the Feast of the Epiphany, urged them to show “concrete solidarity” and respond with compassion urgently to the plight of 49 migrants aboard two ships in the Mediterranean Sea. The Pope was speaking to over 60,000 people assembled in St Peter’s Square.

The Dutch-registered vessel ‘Sea-Watch 3,’ operated by a German humanitarian group, picked up thirty-two of the migrants off Libya on 22 December while ‘Sea-Eye’—a second ship run by a different German charity—rescued another seventeen people on 29 December. Most of them are literally stranded at sea for more than a fortnight.  Both Italy and Malta (countries with apparently Christian roots) have refused permission for the ships to land.

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DIGITAL DISCIPLES THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA

Jan 13

In a short span of over a decade, social media has changed the way we communicate today. Facebook was launched in 2004, then came YouTube, Twitter, Orkut, Instagram and other social media platforms. Today, social media plays a significant role and is being used in ways that shape politics, business, education, social issues, world culture, careers and many more.

As per Digital Economic Value Index, 25% Of the world’s economy will be digital by 2020 and the estimated worldwide digital advertising expenditure will be around $335.5 billion.
Internet users spend more time on social media sites than ever before. The more time we spend on something, the greater influence it has on us. As of now, almost one fourth of world population are on facebook and many millions are on whatsapp, twitter, linkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram etc.

Source:  https://dustn.tv/social-media-statistics/

Influence of Social Media

Digital revolution has changed how people gather and consume information. Social media has the potential to shape public conversations and perceptions, opinions, brand awareness,  and to attract customers and potential partners. Gone are the days when people had to rely on companies to tell them what to buy and Church to tell what faith habits they have to wear. Faith related discussions not only happens in the church and  families but also among reliable friends and digital resources. This is where the relevance of social media plays an important role – in making available relevant content to re-evangelize the nominal Catholics.

 Catholic Church and  Social Media

When the reach of social media is among billions of people from various cultures, how can the church ignore its potential to influence the cultures and people.  It is our responsibility as Catholics to bring church’s teachings to this vast population and fulfil the great commission that Jesus had given to each one of us. The Vatican has taken a serious study of this impact and it has a significant presence and influence across major social platforms.

Pope Francis is one of the most followed world leaders on Twitter with almost 18 million followers.  When Pope opened Instagram account, he set a record by gaining more than a million Instagram followers in under 24 hours. Some of the dioceses in the US and Europe have followed the trend and have a digital marketing team to concentrate on social media platforms to bring the communities closer to Jesus. However, the digital marketing initiatives are currently at infancy, in many of the Indian dioceses.

Digital addiction and social media overuse are a cause of worry especially among today’s youth. Though Pope Francis has been making the people aware about the dangers of social media overuse, he himself encourages Catholics to embrace digital media platforms to start a dialogue of faith and promote a culture of respect. “It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal,” the Pope said. Pope Benedict XVI  also advocated the use of social media to communicate the Gospel message to the tech-savvy younger audience.

Some of the  catholic channels and groups have been making good efforts to keep the audience involved through some relevant and creative content.


Evangelizing young people

If we look at the great evangelizers, we observe that they were in a place where people were and communicated to them in their own language. Today’s younger generation spend a lot of their time on their computers and mobile phones. They are in their own digital space. We need to be there where they are, speak to them in their language about the topics that engage them and provoke them and challenge them.

Opening a social media account/page and posting some pictures and posts is not enough to fulfill the purpose of reaching out to your prospective audience. To be an effective evangelizer on social media, we need to take care of at least the following 10 points.

  1. Vision/Direction: Knowing the target audience, their behaviours, where do we wish to lead them.
  2. Profiling : A social profiling of the target audience will help to decide on the tone and theme of a channel or a page and its content. For example, if our target audience is only women, the banner, colour of the page, branding of the page, timing of the post etc will change accordingly.
  3. Consistency: There should be a consistency in terms of the branding and identity, theme, tone and colour of designs, frequency of each posts etc. In order for an audience to rely on a page or channel, people expect some kind of regularity in terms of the post/content.
  4. Content: Without the right content, you won’t be able to communicate the message. A thought provoking, interesting, spiritual and actionable content is necessary for evangelizing through social media. Without quality content, social media has little appeal. It’s important that one understand the type of content they should provide to their audience to achieve the engagement and reach they’re looking for. Type of contents include blog posts, e-books, case studies, templates, infographics, videos, illustrations, podcasts, GIFFs, animated videos etc.
  5. Quality : In this digital age there are millions of materials available. People are very choosy about the things they listen to, watch and read. Amongst these, the quality and creativity of the content in terms of design, video and audio quality matters. The attention to these details helps to build one’s audience.
  6. Listening and Engagement: Interactivity is the one feature that differentiates social media from traditional media. Answering the comments, queries of the audience on a regular basis are necessary to engage with them. One has to be a good listener to build meaningful connections on social media. Listening helps you succeed in cultivating deeper digital connections. There are several tactics one can employ to bring your relationships with your audience to the next level – asking for reviews and comments, polls, responding to comments in real time, tagging, reference to others’ content, creating facebook or LinkedIn groups etc.
  7. Research and Analysis: A regular research on the expected audience and analysis of audience behaviour data will help one to improve on the content and the campaign. Google analytics and channel insights helps in getting those needed data to improve their experience.
  8. Creative Social Media Advertising: A regular campaign with very attractive and creative design helps one to reach out to those people whom we never imagine to reach through church, institutions or any social gatherings. Organic reach on social media has significantly decreased. For example, organic reach on Facebook for an average business has decreased dramatically from 26% in 2011 to less than 1 percent in 2017. Unlike traditional advertisements that tend to be interruptive, digital advertisements can be highly engaging, useful, and targeted, while bringing value to the intended audience. Properly implemented digital advertisements can help deliver the right content to the preferred audience according their behaviour and age, making spending on advertising much more effective.
  9. Not go after numbers: Numbers excites you and give you the needed boost but we shouldn’t lose the purpose and vision of the campaign by concentrating only on improving the number of followers and likes.
  10. Prayer: Whatever forum or platform we use, if our purpose is to evangelize through social media, we need to be attuned to Him.  We can give only what we have and realize the fact that we are in a spiritual warfare.

The world of social media offers great potential for those planning to spread the Gospel message. Social media, through its vast potential and interactive nature has to become a tool for modern discipleship. The church has to encourage and motivate for more digital disciples to reach to the unreached; encourage the discouraged; motivate the disillusioned and give hope for the hopeless.


Antony A J

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Social Media: The Thrills and the Ills

Jan 08

If you have not yet boarded the Social Media Super Fast Express, you have not yet entered the 21st century! With three billion people connected online through the Internet, Social Media has emerged as a powerful network with earth-shaking impact and influence. It is therefore necessary to know the ‘modus operandi’ of Social Media operations and functioning and also its advantages and disadvantages, its thrills and the ills.

The reach of the Social Media platforms is enormous. FACEBOOK has 1.1 billion members globally, TWITTER has 500 million and the YouTube Video Sharing website has over 1 billion users with millions of hours of content being watched.

The impact and power of the Social Media extends beyond the internet. So what are the powers and potentials of the Social Media?

Power and Potential

The power to create or influence opinions; the power to spread wide publicity; the power to create awareness on a wide variety of topics; the potential to create or change political and social opinions; the potential to create or change public opinion; platform for political campaigns; platform for digital marketing campaigns; a commercial tool, including evolution of marketing strategies; a recruitment tool; a tool to highlight human rights abuse in all its forms, to project sexual abuse and harassment, to highlight corruption in all its forms. On a personal level, Social Media can help you to find new ideas, new trends, opportunities, connect with audiences in deeper ways, bring attention to your work; help create, craft and enhance your brands.

There are examples of success in each of the above points, using the Social Media.

Pitfalls

Social Media can create an isolated environment for a person that keeps him/her aloof from family or community. Such isolation can attract people, especially youth, to racism, fundamentalism, terrorism, pornography or paedophiles. The ISIS effectively used Social Media for recruitment to their cause.

Social Media can also expose people to wrong or false propaganda and of course ‘FAKE’ news that can be used during elections to damage and defeat a candidate. They have a storage of personal information on people that can be diverted to influence elections or promote commercial brands or propagate falsehoods. For example, Cambridge Analytica of UK obtained information of 40-50 million Facebook users without their consent.

According to Sree Srinivasan, a Mentoring Guru, “It is not who follows you on Social Media that matters; it is who follows who follows you that matters.” His advice: “Focus on connecting and engaging with influencers, while having more meaningful connections overall.”

Finally, Social Media can lead to ‘addiction,’ where people, especially youth, spend enormous amount of time scouting and surfing often unnecessary or dangerous websites and platforms. It is therefore essential that parents have the rapport and cordial relationship with their children to monitor their Social Media contacts and platforms and guide them.

There is no doubt that Social Media is a wonderful tool with a host of advantages and opportunities. All of us should embark on the Social Media Super Fast Express and benefit from the various options available. You meet fascinating people on Social Media platforms and one can learn a lot from them!

However, it is also important to be aware of the disadvantages and ills of the Social Media and protect ourselves and our children from being victims of the ills.

What is fake news?

Lots of things you read online especially in your social media feeds may appear to be true, but often are not. Fake news is news, stories or hoaxes created to deliberately misinform or deceive readers. Usually, these stories are created to influence people’s views, push a political agenda or cause confusion and can often be a profitable business for online publishers. Fake news stories can deceive people by looking like trusted websites or using similar names and web addresses.

According to Martina Chapman (Media Literacy Expert), there are three elements to fake news; ‘Mistrust, misinformation and manipulation.’

The Rise of Fake News

Fake news is not new. However, it has become a hot topic since 2017. Traditionally we got our news from trusted sources, journalists and media outlets that are required to follow strict codes of practice. However, the internet has enabled a whole new way to publish, share and consume information and news with very little regulation or editorial standards.

Many people now get news from social media sites and networks and often it can be difficult to tell whether stories are credible or not. Information overload and a general lack of understanding about how the internet works have also contributed to an increase in fake news or hoax stories. Social media sites can play a big part in increasing the reach of this type of stories.

Types of Fake News

There are differing opinions when it comes to identifying types of fake news. However, when it comes to evaluating content online, there are various types of fake or misleading news we need to be aware of. These include:

  1. Clickbait

These are stories that are deliberately fabricated to gain more website visitors and increase advertising revenue for websites. Clickbait stories use sensationalist headlines to grab attention and drive click-throughs to the publisher website, normally at the expense of truth or accuracy.

  1. Propaganda

Stories that are created to deliberately mislead audiences, promote a biased point of view or particular political cause or agenda.

There are five categories collectively referred to as fake news. Some of which are actually fake (disinformation), others due to human error or biases (misinformation). Either way they all have a very loose connection with the truth and basically sit on a continuum of intent to deceive.

  1. Satire or Parody: Sites such as the Onion or Daily Mash publish fake news stories as humorous attempts to satirize the media, but have the potential to fool when shared out of context.
  2. Misleading news that’s mostly true but used in the wrong context – selectively chosen real facts that are reported to gain headlines, but tend to be a misinterpretation of scientific research.
  3. Sloppy reporting that fits an agenda: News that contains some grains of truth that are not fully verified, which are used to support a certain position or view.
  4. Misleading News that’s not based on facts, but supports an on-going narrative – news where there is no established baseline for truth, often where ideologies or opinions clash and unconscious biases come into play. Conspiracy theories tend to fall here!
  5. Intentionally deceptive news that has been fabricated deliberately to either make money through a number of clicks, or to cause confusion or discontent or as sensationalist propaganda. These stories tend to be distributed through imposter news sites designed to look like ‘real’ news brands, or through fake news sites. They often employ videos and graphic images that have been manipulated in some way.

It is important that you are able to identify, differentiate and manage real and fake news.

Dr Derek Lobo- Retired Regional Adviser for Leprosy, WHO South-East Asia Region


Dr Derek Lobo

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ONLINE SAFETY TIPS EVERY PARENT SHOULD KNOW

Jan 11

The following tips are taken from Symantec Corporation website:
https://us.norton.com/internetsecurity-kids-safety-parents-best-practices-to-social-media-security.html

Communicate with the Children

Talk with your children and students about the Social Media safety tips. It will be good that you also take the following steps:

  1. Know the social media your children want to use. Read reviews of these sites.
  2. Have an account on the sites your children use.
  3. Teach your children the good and bad aspects of this site, e.g., giving too much personal information.
  4. Check the age requirement of each social media.
  5. Check the privacy settings of each.
  6. Learn the special words children tend to use on social media. The meanings can be quite different from what you may think!

Some Popular Sites:

  1. Facebook: Minimum age: 13years. Users can share pictures, videos and comments.
  2. WhatsApp: Minimum age: 16. Users can send texts, audio messages, videos and photos to one or more persons
  3. Instagram: Minimum age: 13. Users can take pictures, edit and share photos or short videos.
  4. Snapchat: Minimum age: 13. A photo-sharing app. Content will self-destruct after a fixed amount of time. (But remember: The viewer can take screenshots and save them.)
  5. Twitter: Minimum age: 13. A microblogging site. Each message may have 140 or fewer characters.

Caution!

Users need to be cautious about the following points:

  1. Know the network you are using: Do not approve friend requests from people you do not know. So, too, minors in particular must be warned not to meet in real life persons they have met only on the Net.
  2. Beware of imposters: There are people posing as someone else or even as a child, to gain the user’s confidence. Careful if they ask for money or intimate photos.
  3. Avoid questionnaires: Do not give away personal information.
  4. Do not reveal your location, especially if you are vulnerable (a minor, a woman living alone, etc.)

Ground Rules for Children

  1. Keep the computers in common, open spaces of the home or institute.
  2. Allow minors to use the Internet only for a limited amount of time.
  3. Know the Social Media your children want to join. Read reviews.
  4. Check, and follow, the age limitations of each website.

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SOCIAL MEDIA AND US

Jan 07

The internet is down! And I can’t update my Instagram account!!!” exclaims Sonia, exasperated with the lack of internet connectivity. Like Sonia, many youngsters and some adults consider social media apps like Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, SnapChat or Hike to be an essential dimension of their lives.  Social Media has become a part of our world and is here to stay.

Rapid progress in communication technology in recent decades has enabled people to connect with many persons, cutting across geographical boundaries. It has helped businesses, services and institutions to expand their reach beyond local neighbourhoods and acquire a global clientele. Academicians and researchers are delighted with the extent of information available in a few keystrokes, while parents are content knowing that their children are just a mobile call or message away.

Parents and educators appreciate the benefits of the Internet, but they are alarmed at the flip side of social media…  cyber-bullying, hacking, porn or online challenges like the Blue Whale game. Modern communication technology is a double-edged sword, and we need to be informed about its impact on the different dimensions of our lives, and how to judiciously handle it.

Personal life:   Like a puppet on a string…

Today, many youngsters enjoy connecting with their peers and other persons through social media. They like the quasi-anonymous social interaction that it provides, and they feel it’s good for building up their confidence and self-esteem. Some of them, however, go to the extent where their moods and feelings depend on the likes, comments or reactions they receive. Instead of enjoying their unique daily experiences, they compulsively take photos and videos of mundane activities and post them for public consumption. Such over-dependence on social media can even cause personality and brain disorders (like self-centredness, narcissism, anxiety, depression, ADHD, etc.).

 Personal Data: Look at me!

Some people love to flaunt their status, their friendships, their achievements and their latest gadgets… together with their full name, address and contact numbers. They forget that they can fall prey to identity theft, misappropriation of personal data, access to their private images / videos and subsequent blackmail.  Besides, many popular apps keep track of personal information and store details of individuals without the user’s realising it. There is also no sure way of verifying if an attractive friendship request comes from a real person or a scammer operating a fake identity.

 Use of Time: Social media doesn’t obey the clock…

People like the fact that the Internet and social media help them communicate rapidly and get jobs done efficiently. Students justify prolonged use of social media saying it helps them in their studies (by facilitating group discussion/work, sharing resources). While it’s true that the Internet helps people save time and effort, it could also become a distraction, leading to decreased performance in school or at work. You say you’ll check your messages for just five minutes, but then you get carried away for 15, 30 or 50 minutes… and before you know it, you’ve lost time meant for study, work or an assignment. Tragic accidents have also happened because a person was busy on his mobile while walking on the street or crossing the road.

 Access to knowledge:  You get what you look for…

The Internet and social apps have facilitated access to knowledge and information. You don’t need to go to a library or borrow an encyclopaedia when you can find what you wish through an online search. Youngsters love media sharing apps through which they exchange videos, music and other content. But getting information so easily can have a detrimental effect on learning, thinking critically and creative expression. At the same time, if you aren’t careful, the ‘knowledge’ you acquire online may well be misleading, tendentious or fake altogether. People often furiously forward social media messages without verifying them, thus leading to the proliferation of fake news, rumours or vicious propaganda.

 Ethics: Living life my way…

Interaction with peer or support groups can often have a strong influence on the attitudes and behavioural choices of persons, for better or for worse. The Internet and social apps also facilitate easy and unbounded access to morally questionable content (violence, porn, depraved ideologies) and practices (sharing pirated software/media, revenge posts, sexting). For many youngsters, social media offers a place where they have no boundaries, and where they can ‘do things their way.’  This behaviour is ethically and practically harmful, because institutions and employers increasingly conduct social media profile checks on potential students and employees.

 Professional and Personal Relationships:  Friends galore, risks too…

Social apps can help people connect with others having similar interests, as well as join professional networks and find better jobs. At the same time, unbounded use of social media can become a distraction from work, or lead to breach of confidentiality and professional boundaries. Undiscriminating social media users can be at risk of getting involved with persons having ulterior motives, who use fake identities to engage in emotional manipulation, cyber bullying (online abuse, harassment, blackmail) or setting up a violent/exploitative physical encounter.

 Parent-Child relationships:  Near and yet so far…

Today many parents give their children mobiles and smartphones so that they can easily contact them or keep tabs on them. VoIP calling apps (Skype, WhatsApp, Hike) have become extremely popular with families whose members live far away for reasons of study or work.  However, the same devices which keep family members in touch with one another, can also be the cause of straining of relationships. It isn’t uncommon for family members to be together at home, with each person busy on his/her electronic device to the detriment of family bonding.

 Commerce: Making it work for you…

The Internet has facilitated low-cost communication and speedy financial transactions, which are a boon for business. Free and open-source software (like Android, Mozilla, Open Office, Google) bring the power of computing and the internet to the masses. Many start-ups and established enterprises use social media interactions, feedback and ratings to garner funds and boost their sales. However tech-savvy criminals can also use technology to hack into computers, steal bank card details or siphon business data. Unscrupulous persons and businesses use pirated software in a bid to cut costs, but ultimately end up being victims of malware, viruses and trojans.

Socio-Political issues:  Building or breaking society…

Social media has the power to reach out to the masses, to dispel prejudices, educate people about social issues, demand transparency and efficiency in governance, and influence important state decisions. Unfortunately, it is also being used to spread prejudice, hatred, discrimination and violence against particular individuals and groups. Social apps are employed to promote worthy causes, but can also be misused to gather support for anti-social, communal or extremist agenda.

Social Media popularity is not a passing fad; it is part of the new normal in our world. As such, instead of ignoring, vilifying or rejecting it, parents and young adults would do well to grow in awareness about its modalities, its benefits and undesirable consequences. Parents and educators also have the responsibility to educate the younger generation to the balanced use of social media, as well as verifying and monitoring its actual use by children. We need to learn to harness its capabilities to establish meaningful relationships, instil knowledge with values, encourage ethical business sense, and promote harmony in society.

Cleo Braganza is a Salesian priest engaged in parish ministry in Mumbai. He likes using modern technology for pastoral work.


Fr Cleophas Braganza SDB

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Ways of helping

Dec 06

Christmas is a time for giving, a time for thinking of others, of finding happiness by reaching out to others. Here are true stories of people who reached out and made a difference—mostly in small, almost unnoticed ways. They show us that, instead of drowning in sweet words and generalities, or spreading bad news (as much of media seems to do), we can spread some love and joy around us, if we choose to.

  1. Come for My Wedding

Years ago, while discussing with the managers of Pallavan Transport Company in Chennai on ways of helping drivers and conductors, I heard this touching story. Many of the conductors, a manager told me, were educated, but did this job for want of better opportunities. They feel people do not see them as human beings, but simply as someone selling them a ticket. In this connection, he told me that most of the 8000 drivers and conductors had gone to see a Tamil movie called Aval Oru Thodarkathai. Why? The reason was heart-warming. In it, a young woman comes to invite the driver and conductor of a particular bus for her wedding. They ask her why. They do not know her. She tells them, “You may not know me. But I know you. I have been taking this bus every day, and seeing both of you every day. So, I want you to come for my wedding.” The drivers and conductors felt: “Here is someone who thinks of us as human beings, not just as drivers and conductors.”

Whatever a person’s job or status, income or education, all are human beings like ourselves, with the same feelings and the same desire to be recognized and treated as human beings. Is this the way I treat people?

  1. An Angel for Patients Left Alone

I wrote about him years ago in The New Leader. Mr Devassy, a poor man with a very limited resources, would cycle fifty kilometres every day to go three times a day to the  government hospital in Alleppey with food for those who did not have. Seeing what he was doing, others, especially those from his parish, started giving him food for the patients. He would care for patients who had no one with them, especially those from other states. He would take them to the right doctor, dress their wounds, help with their toilet, look for blood, and take them to his small house if they had nowhere to go after they were discharged. Among such patients was Perumal from Tamilnadu, paralyzed after a fall; Ranjit Kumar from Bihar whose wounds he would dress; Latif from Karnataka who had his leg amputated; 69-year-old Narayananan with head injuries and fractured legs whose relatives did not want him back; Navaneen, 68, abandoned by his sons.

Asked how got into this, Devassy replied, “I was once hospitalized. I noticed that an old man next to me had no one to look after him. I started with him. Later,  I thought: Why not help more people?” His outlook: “to see others’ bodies as our own body.”

May such GOOD people prod us, lethargic and often self-centred “followers of Christ” to move from a worldly Christmas of cards, cakes, paper stars and special meals to welcoming Jesus. Do we take Him in? How? How often?

  1. A Top Surgeon’s Humanity

Dr T. J. Cherian MD was certainly a legend in his life time. I heard from other doctors that he was perhaps the most admired medical professional in Chennai—extremely competent, a wizard at diagnosis and very caring towards his patients. He could have minted money if he wanted. But that was not what he was after. One day, a Class IV railway employee from North India was brought for heart surgery to Railway Hospital, Perambur, Chennai. After the surgery, Dr Cherian asked him how he was. The man told him that he was alone and scared. He had no one with him, since he was from North India. Can you guess what this great doctor (who was then director of this famous hospital) did? After supper, he took a mat and slept near the patient!

I have heard many stories about this doctor’s unusual skills and competence. This story and others about his human side are part of what made him a legend.

  1. “I want to be the first to help!”

A parish priest told me this story. He was working in a poor part of Tamilnadu, where most of the parishioners were landless Dalits. The church was old and small. A decision was made to build a new church. How would they find the funds for it? Most of the people were poor. Struggling for money, the priest had this touching experience. A poor woman selling groundnuts on the roadside came to him. She said, “Father, I heard that we are going to have a new church, and that you are looking for help. I want to be the first to help.” She gave him one hundred Rupees—a huge sum for her.

That brings me to the next story.

  1. “What struck you most in India?”

I asked a young American called John Stasio who came to India some years ago, travelled around, did some voluntary work and went back, “John, what struck you most in India?” His answer was as unexpected as it was beautiful. He said, “The generosity of the poor. I had never seen such poverty before that. But I also saw how generous the poor are. They have so little in their hut; they are ready to share that with you. I had never seen such generosity before.”

  1. “They need help. They have no money.”

A Sister Lawyer I know did so much to help a rape victim. The victim was poor, and the rapist was rich and well-connected. There is hardly any chance for a poor woman to win such a case and get justice. So, this Sister used her legal skills to help the woman get justice. (Name withheld for reasons of privacy.) There are a number of Sisters, Priests and other good people who are lawyers, and take up the cases of poor people who cannot afford to pay legal fees. In most countries, jails are crowded with poor people. The rich can use money and influence to stay out of prison, and win cases. The poor cannot.

  1. A Child’s Savings for Flood Victims

Many of us will have read this story.

Anupriya, an eight-year-old girl from Villupuram in Tamilnadu, saw the plight of flood victims in Kerala. She had collected Rs 9000 over four years to buy a cycle. She donated the whole amount to help those affected by the flood.

As in Jesus’ words about the widow’s mite, a poor girl’s gift of 9000 will mean more to God than 9000 crores from a rich business or government.

  1. Fasting Instead of Finding Fault

This touching story was told to me last week in Pune. A young Catholic woman told me how good her in-laws are. As an example, she said: On hearing people criticizing priests and religious, her father-in-law decided that it is better to pray for someone than to talk ill of them. So, now, he fasts one day a week, and offers it for priests and religious. Is this out attitude when we hear of someone’s failures? Do we do something about it or simply spread the bad news?

  1. Their First Christmas as a Couple

Bernard and Angela (names changed) were a newly married couple. This is how they spent their first Christmas as a couple. They decided, instead of going out for a grand meal or buying presents for each other, to spend Christmas helping the Missionaries of Charity to serve meals to the poor. They prayed with them, helped the Sisters to serve the poor, and shared the meal the poor had.

Isn’t this a much more beautiful Christmas meal than an expensive dinner in a swanky place? Or exchanging beautifully wrapped gifts that people really do not need?

  1. A Christmas Tree with Names of People

A parish priest I know put up a lovely Christmas tree near the Church. On that tree he hung (or stapled) names of poor families in the parish. He then invited the better off people in the parish to pick up a name from the tree, and invite that family to share a Christmas meal. A number of parishioners did.

  1. “We Feel Honoured to be Here”

Sr Celine Vas, our associate editor, shared with me something beautiful she and her colleagues at St. Aloysius College in Mangalore did once. There were many drivers idling away near the college. Sr Celine suggested to the principal to invite them to the college and conduct a half-day programme for them. This was done—with a talk and items by the students. The principal presided, and gave away prizes to the drivers. As snacks were being served to them, one elderly drive went to the mike and said, “I was outside this college for forty years. I had no chance to get in. Today is a great day in my life. I feel these students and the Sister recognized us as human beings.” Another driver said, “Countless students and parents have travelled in my taxi, but I never felt I was part of this college. Today I feel great to sit here where so many students have sat and made a name. My poverty prevented me from getting an education, but today I feel I am part of this great institute. Thank you for treating us like your family.”

  1. A Proud Father, a Great Son

A good lay Catholic, whom I have long admired for his integrity and compassion, told me of an experience that thrilled him. While travelling in a crowded train, his teenage son had packed his sleeping bag—a gift from someone overseas—carefully in its case so it would not get dirty. At night, when his father went to the toilet, he noticed that a young couple who had no berth, were lying on the floor on a sleeping bag. He recognized the sleeping bag as his son’s. His son had got up at night, and, without telling anyone, unpacked his brand new sleeping bag and told the couple sleeping on the bare floor, “You can use this.” The man told me, moved: “I feel so happy that my son has a character like this.”

  • * *             *

There are many, many good people around us. There is much good being done. Unfortunately, evil is more sensational and gets more publicity. We can either simply repeat the scandalous stories we hear, or look around, see the good, learn from it, and tell others about it.

Jesus’ birth was not a huge public event noticed by any media. It was simply the birth of an ordinary woman’s child. But that birth changed history.

We too can do our part to make the world better if we spread a bit of goodness around us when we can. The opportunities are endless, the good examples are many, and our own possibilities are more than we think.

What are you doing with the gifts you have?


Fr Joe Mannath SDB

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Cover Story

LISTENING TO THE CRY OF THE POOR

NOV 08

Freedom from Poverty and Solidarity with the Poor

In this article, an expert explains the crucial issues involved in poverty—what it is, what causes it, who and how many are affected, the many forms of poverty around us and ways of tackling this central human problem.

Continuing poverty is one of the most pressing problems faced by humanity today. The magnitude of human deprivation is still alarming. As per global poverty update from the World Bank, almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. More than 80 per cent of the world’s population lives in countries where income differentials are widening.

The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (IDEP) is dedicated to focus our attention on the issue of poverty and the dignity of the poor. Every year, October 17th is observed as IDEP. The 2018 theme is “Coming together with those furthest behind to build an inclusive world of universal respect for human rights and dignity.”

Since 1992, United Nation has observed October 17th  as the World Day for Overcoming Extreme Poverty. The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty promotes dialogue and understanding between people living in poverty and their communities, and society at large. “It represents an opportunity to acknowledge the efforts and struggles of people living in poverty, a chance for them to make their concerns heard and a moment to recognise that poor people are in the forefront in the fight against poverty.” (UNSG 2015)

Sustainable Developmental Goals

Poverty eradication is the central theme for many of UN deliberations. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in its 70th session on October 2015. Of these seventeen goals,  Goal 1 is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere, and Goal 2 is to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. All other goals are collectively to contribute to ending poverty.

The global community has agreed to eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 (roughly Rs 90) a day by 2030.  According to their agreement, ‘by 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions’.

To reach the goals of poverty eradication, the global community has agreed to implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all poor and the vulnerable. So, too, to ensure that all men and women, in particular, the poor and the vulnerable, have equitable rights to resources, as well as access to essential social and health services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services.

UN policies and Plans

The UN member states have promised to build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters.

The UN member states also have promised to ensure significant mobilisation of resources from a variety of sources, including through enhanced development cooperation, to provide adequate and predictable means for developing countries, especially the least developed countries, to implement programmes and policies to end poverty in all its dimensions.

Further, the global community has agreed to create sound policy frameworks at the national, regional and international levels, based on pro-poor and gender-sensitive development strategies, to support accelerated investment in poverty eradication actions.

Pope Francis: World Day of the Poor

In addition to the UN system, other state actors, such as the Holy See,  observe the Day of the Poor. The Holy see declared 18 November 2018 as the day of the poor and ‘called all to make a serious examination of conscience, to see if we are truly capable of hearing the cry of the poor.’ According to Pope Francis, ‘We are so trapped in a culture that induces us to look in the mirror and pamper ourselves, that we think that an altruistic gesture is enough, without the need to get directly involved.’

The persistence of poverty, including extreme poverty, is a significant concern for the global community, reflected through the deliberations of the United Nations. In its 72nd session, the General Assembly launched the Third United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2018–2027), under the theme “Accelerating global actions for a world without poverty.”

Involvement of people living in poverty is essential for the eradication of poverty. The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty aims to ensure that the active participation of people living in extreme poverty and those who are left behind is a critical force in all efforts made to overcome poverty, including in the design and implementation of programmes and policies which affect them.

Creating and nurturing a genuine partnership, based on human rights, and respect for the  dignity people living in poverty are essential to building an inclusive world where all people can enjoy their full human rights and lead lives with self-respect—a necessary step towards poverty eradication.

How do we understand “poverty”?

The World Development Report (1982) defined poverty as “a condition of life so characterised by malnutrition, illiteracy and disease as to be beneath any reasonable definition of human decency.” Being poor is more than just material deprivation. Poverty is a multi-layered issue that concerns a person’s range of survival issues such as access to health care, the ability to influence the determinants of health, available educational opportunities and quality of life.

Poverty is a complex concept which may include social, economic, and political elements. Absolute poverty, extreme poverty, or destitution refers to the complete lack of the means necessary to meet essential personal needs such as food, clothing and shelter.

The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI)  has created a Global Multidimensional Poverty Index, which enables us a better understanding of the causes of poverty, an essential step in addressing the issue. The index offers a more in-depth measure of poverty through a checklist of “deprivations.”

The OPHI classifies poverty at an individual level.  The ten indicators of poverty are subdivided into three dimensions, Health, Education and Living Standard.  ‘For the health dimension, the measures are nutrition and child mortality, while, for education, the indicators are the years of schooling and school attendance. The standard living dimension includes access to cooking fuel, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, living space and assets.’ 

According to the OPHI report, more than a fifth (22 per cent)—or 1.6 billion people!—are considered to be poor, and 40 per cent of them live in India.

About 85 per cent of the poor are from the rural areas, where development progress remains elusive. More than half are deprived of health, education and standard of living. They are the ones living in households where educational attainment is less than five years, at least one member of the family is undernourished, and at least one child has died. Access to adequate sanitation presents challenges to 81 per cent of the poor.

Though poverty has been reducing in many countries, through the improvement in sanitation, education and health, the challenges remain for the global community in tackling poverty. It is evident that higher income does not always translate to a reduction in multidimensional poverty.

Connection between Poverty and Human Rights

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In this context, it is essential to acknowledge the connection between extreme poverty and human rights. People living in poverty are disproportionately subjected to many human rights violations.

 “Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, and human rights are violated, to come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty.”

Facilitating social inclusion is fundamental in assisting those left behind and enable them to overcome poverty in all its dimensions.

The commemoration of October 17 each year is an opportunity for people living in poverty to take the floor, share their experiences and expertise on how we can achieve greater social inclusion and poverty reduction, to respect the human rights and dignity of people living in poverty.

The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty underscores the importance of reaching out to people living in poverty and building an alliance around their priorities and concerns to end extreme poverty. It recognises the critical mutual roles and relationships we have with each other based on our collective and equal dignity and shared rights.

Poverty remains as one of the most pressing problems faced by India. The World Bank, in 2011 based on the 2005 Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) International Comparison Program, estimated that 23.6% of the Indian population, or about 276 million people, lived in poverty, that is, spending below $1.25 (Rs 90) per day, based on purchasing power parity.

We cannot simply blame a high population for poverty. When living standards and literary rates go up, people tend to plan their families. This has happened in the more educated parts of the country. To ask a couple to limit their number of children when they are not even sure of the next meal, is a cruel thing. We need to provide a basic minimum before people can feel they have control over their health and their future.

Caste-based social segregation and stigma, and unequal distribution of income and resources is another reason for persistent poverty in India.

Groups Most Affected in India

Older destitute women, women and children from marginalised communities,  indigenous population, members of certain traditional occupations, the urban poor, migrant workers in the informal sector—these groups do experience severe poverty in India. Traditionally oppressed classes, those who belong to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who continue to be subject to pervasive discrimination, e.g., Dalits and Adivasis, are disproportionally affected by poverty. With 104 million people, 47% of the rural tribal population lives below the national poverty line, compared to the national average for rural areas of 28 %. The level of poverty and malnutrition of the tribal people continues to be a significant issue. Though there are multiple programs for poverty reduction, they are seldom consulted on what is right for them, and their voice is hardly heard in any forums.

Poverty, including its extreme forms, is all around us every day, but receives little attention.  The desensitisation of society to poverty is a real scandal in India.  The destitute older widow on the road begging for survival, the orphan children who do odd jobs on the street, the pregnant mother who lost her child for lack of access to health care, the rickshaw puller whose only asset is his labour power and who is beaten up by the passenger because he insisted on the ten-rupee minimum charge for the trip he just completed—such pathetic human tragedies are all around us everyday.

The face of a traditional fisherman who laboured all night and returns home empty-handed and faces his hungry children, the face of the women waiting for their daily wages after they worked under the guaranteed employment scheme of the government, the face of the ‘Adivasi’ child waiting eagerly for the mid-day meal at the school,  the face of the  girl child who is struggling to cook a meal for her siblings with the fire from the twigs and leaves she collected,  the non-smiling flower girl at the traffic signals of major intersections in the city,  the face of the street sleeper—all these of part of our daily experiences. They are the human face of poverty.

 The poor in India disproportionally experience the violation of their citizenship rights, the impact of environmental change, urban pollution, lack of safe housing, violence, depletion of clean water, lack of access to sanitation and life-saving medicines and health care. Poverty in India particularly impacts children in a variety of different ways:  high infant and neonatal mortality, severe malnutrition, child labour, lack of education and child marriage.

The Way Out

Mass poverty and associated degradation of human dignity is not a product of fate, nor a justifiable social phenomenon. It is a product of specific structural-social arrangements, fuelled by inequitable distribution of opportunities. What is needed is the political will to introduce and execute policies and programs that will increase economic security and expand equitable opportunities for the poor and marginalised. A range of policy options is available to address acute poverty.  Creating jobs and reducing unemployment, raising the minimum wages, supporting equity in pay and benefits, providing paid leave and paid sick days, reforming work schedules that accommodate specific needs of women and vulnerable populations, increasing investment  in affordable, high-quality child care and early and primary education, ensuring and expanding  Universal Access to Health Care, ensuring that  economic growth is equitable, supporting agricultural growth and farm employment, increasing  investment in the development of infrastructure, accelerating overall human resource development, promoting decentralised non-farm employment, increasing social support benefits to the poor, promoting access to assets and credit, strengthening and expanding access to the Public Distribution System (PDS) and promoting increasing involvement of  local governments in poverty reduction and supporting the organizations of the poor and marginalised.

Poverty will remain a question of the political morality of the ruling class and of society in general. The demand for poverty eradication is not a call for charity; it is a fundamental human right. The legitimacy of any ruler should be assessed against his or her willingness and their sense of urgency to address poverty and developing poverty eradication programmes.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND SHARING IN COMMUNITIES:

  • Do I try to understand why so many people are poor, although the world is rich in resources?
  • Am I truly interested in making a difference?
  • What do I do in concrete for at least a few poor persons?
  • If I am an employer, do I treat my employees justly?
  • Have I become indifferent to the poor I see around me everyday—or do I do something about it?
  • How shall we—as a family, religious community, parish or institution—observe the Day of the Poor (Sunday, November 18th) in a meaningful way?

 

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Dr Joe Thomas is the executive director of an intergovernmental organisation of 26 governments-partners in Population and Development. He has hosted high profile bilateral meetings in Kampala, Geneva, New York, Beijing, Dhaka, Jakarta and Senegal. He has been active for 25 years in the field of global health, population and development. He is a technical advisor to WHO in Geneva. He was the Secretary General of the 12th International Congress of AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP). As the Director of UNAIDS-Technical Support Facility (TSF) for South Asia, he coordinated the work of nearly 250 consultants in ten countries. Twitter @joethomasIN   web   www.joethomas.in

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Cover Story

INCLUDE US! LISTEN TO US! GUIDE US!

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What do today’s young people expect from the Church?

How can we reach out to youth, help them in areas where they need help, and welcome the huge contribution they are able to make?

A Synod (a special international meeting of Catholic bishops) meets this month in Rome. Theme: Youth, Faith and Discernment.

The preparations have been afoot for over a year.

In March, the church representatives met with hundreds of youth—and listened.

This itself is a change—to listen to youth, rather than just preach to them or advise them. Young people are not children. They not simply the future, as we used to say. They are—and should be—a significant part of our present, both in the Church and in secular society.

The Church prepared a detailed questionnaire on the situation and questions of youth, and received many thousands of replies.

The Synod will include a representative sample of young people—a first for a Synod.

We—church personnel, parents, teachers, so-called experts, etc.—should not forget that what we call progress in any field was usually the fruit of young people challenging the status quo and the established wisdom—whether it was a young Rabbi called Jesus, or a young deacon called Stephen, or a rebellious young son later called Francis of Assisi, a young sister called Teresa in Kolkata, or young inventors like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg—who changed the world around us. Without the questioning and the so-called rebellion of the young, nothing new would have happened—in any field.

Is the Church aware of the enormous potential of this group, and serious about tapping its extraordinary energy, ideas, ideals and passion? Or do “Church people” (bishops, priests, religious and senior lay persons) see the young only as beneficiaries of our ministry, to be told what to do, but to whom we need not listen? Some may even see the young, unfortunately, as problems rather than as a huge reservoir of potential.

When we speak of the “Church,” do we mean both the old and the young, or mostly those who hold special roles and power—Pope, bishops, clergy, religious and  a few lay leaders?

In this short article, I shall try to summarize what I see as the expressed and often silent pleas and demands of today’s young people. My line of thinking is based on decades of being involved with the young, including young religious and seminarians,  and with helping others in youth ministry.

This is what, in my view, the youngsters want to tell us:

DO’S:

  1. Listen to us: Pope Francis seems to have understood this cry of youth very well. That is why he wanted those involved in preparing the Synod to send out questionnaires and really listen to what the young want to tell the Church. Far too often, it is a one-way street: Those in authority speak, and expect the young to shut up and listen—as if they had nothing worthwhile to contribute, as if everything will be fine, provided “you just do what we tell you.” This can easily happen in family, or parish youth group, or school or in a religious formation house—to talk without listening, to advise without understanding the other, to think that we know lots (or everything) and the young have nothing of value to contribute. St. Benedict used to say: “Listen to the young; God often speaks to us through them.”
  2. Include us: The young are as much a part of society or the church or of the religious order as the older members are. Do we include them in the decision-making process? Do we share responsibilities with them? For instance, there are excellent youth teams that organize and conduct prayer services and retreats. There are young graduates who do campus ministry. Peer ministry is a very effective way to reach out to more and young people. The style and tone of Pope Francis and of this Synod seem to be in this direction—not a top-down approach, but really involving everyone.
  3. Empower us: The young, while being gifted, creative and apparently strong, are generally insecure. They often hide their insecurity through noise, laughter, expertise with gadgets, etc. They need encouragement; they need empowerment. A kind word from a parent or teacher or parish priest or principal goes a long way to build up a young person (“Mary, you really read well,” “Anand, your help in preparing the parish feast made a huge difference,” “Sheela, you have a wonderful way with children,” “Prakash, I am edified to see the way you care for your grandfather.”) Empowering is not only in words, but in giving them opportunities to do things, to shine, to succeed, and thus discover their gifts even more clearly.
  4. Respect us: We (authority figures or older persons) have no right to humiliate or insult young people, especially in public, or to speak about them in a disparaging manner. Every human being has to be treated with respect. Respect breeds respect, just as crudeness leads to crudeness. In our culture, “respect” is often (and sadly) understood as a special way of behaving towards persons who hold a particular post, not as the basic right of everyone. Just as I expect respect from my students or employees, I need to treat each of them with respect.
  5. Challenge us: An easy life does not bring out the best in people. A family upbringing or formation setting which is easy-going, undemanding or too comfortable, without sacrifices, duties, insistence on doing one’s work well, being clean, punctual and reliable, will turn us into useless or parasitic adults who cannot hold responsibility, face life, or be dependable. Adults need to set an example of joyful and responsible commitments, and openness to be challenged. From such adults, the young will accept challenges, corrections and even hard demands.
  6. Show us the way: Each human being is living this journey for the first time. We did not have a trial run! Hence it is only natural that we feel confused, unsure of ourselves and the need for a guiding hand. Even when teenagers and young adults seem to revolt and reject what parents and others in parental roles are telling them, later, especially after they marry, they will quote their parents, favourite teachers and the priests and religious who inspired them. They need loving adults who show the way.
  7. Tell us why, not only what: When a boy or girl asks, “Why should I go to confession?” or “Why go for Mass?” they are not denying the Catholic faith. They are looking for the meaning of Confession or the Mass. It is wrong to shout at them for that, or to say, “That is your duty as a Catholic!” Today, with a more educated laity, we, clergy and religious, will face more questions: Why get married in church? Why can’t I marry a non-Catholic? Why send my child for Catechism? What about birth control? Questions show interest, not rebellion. It is an opportunity for dialogue, not a provocation for a fight.
  8. Make serious matters meaningful: The way we celebrate the Eucharist, or hear confession, or have community prayers (for us religious) should show their meaningfulness. They should not come across as dull and meaningless routine, simply imposed by law. If a young religious asks her superiors why to have so many hours of structured prayers, or finds the daily office meaningless, the right response is not that she lacks faith or is proud, or that she is young now and will understand later. Such answers just show that older members have no good reasons for doing what they are doing.
  9. Make important things interesting: One thing I learnt when I came to the Salesian house was that prayer should be made interesting for boys. There is no reason for imposing on a youth group a type of music that appeals mostly to older people, or to preach or write in a way that puts people to sleep! Just as a good maths teacher makes mathematics interesting, and a good music teacher makes the students fall in love with music, we must do the same with spiritual matters and the more serious pursuits of life, like study, service, community life, common prayer, conferences.
  10. We want to see you happy: When we were young religious, we used to watch the older members of our community to see whether they looked happy. We felt: If they look happy, it is worth staying in. If they are not happy, why waste our life here? It matters to children to see their parents and grandparents happy. It is very hard growing up in a home where the older members look miserable. The same with religious communities or the tone of a diocese. The tone is set by the superiors and older members, not by the younger ones. It matters for the faithful to see their priests and religious happy. Look at photos of Pope Francis. Doesn’t he come across as a loving and happy man?

DON’TS:

Here are a few don’ts, too. What are the things the young do not want to see in us. These are the things that would put them off, of make them stop coming to church.

  1. Don’t bluff: Don’t preach one thing and do something else. Be honest. If you make a mistake, admit it, and apologize. If we do not know the answer to a student’s question, don’t pretend to know. Tell them honestly that you do not know, and that you can look for the answer. Then they will trust you. If you try to hide behind clever words, and pretend, they will lose their confidence in you.
  2. Don’t abuse: Behind all abuse—physical, emotional, sexual or financial—lies the abuse of authority. That is, someone who has more power—because of being a parent, or teacher, or parish priest or lay professional or older—makes use of that power to do harm, not to help. Power is given for doing good. Thus, a parent can use his or her physical strength to carry a sick child; a parish priest can counsel an alcoholic; an adult can help a child to cross the street or to learn music; a policeman can protect a citizen from physical harm or theft. Power puts special responsibility on the one having it. It is a terrible betrayal if we misuse power to do harm to a weaker human being. Thus, we should not tolerate wife-beating, or cruelty towards children, or sexual abuse of minors or employees, or police brutality, or government employees asking for bribes.
  3. Don’t imitate us: The young want adults as guides, not simply as friends. To chat and have fun and play with, they have their companions. They will tease a class mate with a different hair cut or type of clothes. Hence teenagers tend to conform to the group’s language, dress code, etc. If we, grown-ups, under the mistaken notion of being popular, tried to dress or act or talk like teenagers, they would find that rather silly. A sixty-year-old mother should not try to dress like her twenty-year-old daughter. A priest or religious should not use vulgar language or crack smutty jokes, even when some young people do it. They need us as their models; they will find it ridiculous if we take them as our models. We can, and should, discuss music and sports with them, of course. But they need to see that we have standards we will not lower. Thus, it is fine for a priest or teacher to play basketball with the students; he would be foolish to start smoking in order to be close to them.
  4. Don’t expect us to be perfect: No one is perfect. No one. Neither the young, nor the old. As one of the great Salesian formators used to tell other formators “The young have a right to be immature. It is we, older people, who should be exemplary.” The young—e.g., our sons and daughters, our students, junior religious, young parishioners—have a right to see greater maturity in us. We have no right to expect them to be mature. It is our “job”—through example, guidance, listening and encouragement—to help them mature. This journey of growth never gets done.
  5. Don’t bore us: Jesus was not boring. The crowds followed him, even for days, even when they had not eaten. Children liked his company, and came to him. Why do some of us make the Good News so boring! Why are some Sunday sermons so badly prepared and a source of patient suffering than an experience the congregation longs for? Today, with the exposure the young (even more than older people) have to social media, they will switch off if the speaker or writer is not interesting. Gone are the days when the temple festival or the village parish feast was a big social function and a big break in the monotony of ordinary life. Today, there are so many, many competing attractions. Just as we can easily flip TV channels or change what we are watching on the smart phone, our listeners will “switch off” if they are bored.
  6. Don’t give up on us: There are times when even the best of us gets fed up, discouraged, utterly alone. There are times when we may see nothing worthwhile in our life. We may feel like giving up. How many couples and parents feel discouraged! How many priests and religious feel unappreciated or disillusioned! This is part of human life. This happens to youngsters, too. In fact, behind the noise and the apparent glamour which they at times hide behind, many young people are lonely, insecure, even fed up with life. Some may attempt suicide. Others run away from home, or escape into addictions—alcohol, drugs, pornography, compulsive use of social media. Behind these erratic behaviours is a search for genuine relationships and a meaningful life. When young people feel like giving up, or are afraid of facing life, they need a strong and caring adult hand (and heart) that does not give up on them. Left to themselves, the young can often feel rudderless, lost and utterly alone. They need us—even though they may not say it.

Can, we, who are supposed to bring Jesus’ loving and compassionate message to all, especially the weak and the lost, be the caring and wise adults the young need in their life? Can we be healing balm for their unhealed wounds? Can we help to steady their boat when the sea is rough and they feel rudderless and terrified? Do we take them seriously, learn from them, listen to them, offer them opportunities to use their enormous potential and boundless energy to make a positive difference? We need their enthusiasm, risk-taking courage, spontaneity, freshness of outlook, creative restlessness and endless questioning, just as they need our serenity, wisdom and witness (if we are serene, wise and inspiring adults). May we find each other’s company stimulating, the mutual challenges rewarding and the mutual support a perennial source of strength. Through it all, may the mutual love deepen and widen! That, coupled with and sustained by a deep God-awareness, is what makes us Church.

 

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