In the second week of April 2016, Jesus Youth, a Catholic movement originating from India, was officially recognized by the Vatican as an International Private Association of the Faithful. The solemn bestowal ceremony was held in Rome on the 20th of May. Jesus Youth has been the first movement from India to receive such approval and the second one from the whole of Asia.
The name “Jesus Youth” is more of less familiar to the Catholic circles in India, but the newfound recognition has stirred up a renewed interest in the movement.
WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT THIS MOVEMENT TO GAIN A PONTIFICAL ATTENTION?
AND HOW HAS IT GROWN TO THIS STATURE?
WHAT IS ITS MISSION?
WHAT WORK DOES IT DO?
A real case may answer these questions better than theory.
Smitha’s story is perhaps the testimony of a majority of the members of the movement.
“I secured admission to this famous engineering college and plunged into a hectic life of coping with the difficult curriculum and at the same time seeking approval and getting accepted into the trendy peer group and their fashionable ways.” A few senior girls in her hostel gently reached out to her and invited her to a friendly evening of prayer and Bible study in one of the hostel rooms. In the beginning she went there to please her seniors. Later their joyful company and their mature view of life kept Smitha as a regular member of the group. A few months later she was invited to attend a weekend retreat for students. That became a life-changing experience for her, as it provided greater clarity about her faith and a newfound depth in prayer. And she was introduced to the Jesus Youth path called ‘the Six Pillars.’ Today, Smitha is a vibrant missionary in JY Campus Ministry.
A gradual growth
This is how the movement was born.
The UN declared 1985 the Year of Youth. In Kerala, a grassroots network of Catholic youth was already active from 1978 and its leadership planned a number of initiatives that year. All that concluded in a leaders’ conference held in December at Cochin, which was named ‘Jesus Youth 85’. The phrase became quite popular and the members started calling themselves by that name and the network of groups also came to be named as Jesus Youth.
With its focus on an experiential renewal based on Charismatic spirituality, JY programs bring youth to a personal Christ encounter and to its spiritual mentoring groups. The movement spread through friendly contacts and motivation for evangelistic initiatives. By 1985, it had spread to all parts of Kerala. As committed Jesus Youth moved to other states for higher studies and jobs, they carried along their missionary enthusiasm. And the result was Jesus Youth initiatives in other centres of the nation.
By mid 1990s JY groups were already well in place in the Persian Gulf. In another few years, it spread other parts of the world. A coordinating system was put in place in India in 1998. In 2002, during the Toronto World Youth Day gathering, an International coordination team for the movement was formed. In 2008 Jesus Youth received official recognition from the CBCI. Now the Universal Church has approved the movement. Presently Jesus Youth movement is active in about 35 countries and in all 5 continents.
Sharing the Good-news with Joy
The name Jesus Youth evokes different images in people’s minds. Campus student groups in universities and colleges, parish-based prayer gatherings, Rex Band and similar music bands, year-long fulltime volunteering trainings, JY professional initiatives among doctors, engineers and nurses, interesting training sessions for teens, young family groups and a variety of other groups and initiatives sprout and grow under the banner of Jesus Youth. Those who are familiar with the movement are surprised not only by tireless zeal of its members, but also by its creativity and variety. How is all this held together? What is the secret of its cohesion and continuity?
In the wider Catholic world Jesus Youth is not singular in its nature. The recent Popes, starting from St John Paul II, noted with enthusiasm and encouragement a new brand of Catholic entities, now referred to as Ecclesial Movements. These post-Vatican II groups bring together enthusiastic lay leaders, priests and religious around some specific charism. The Church has been quite positive in discovering and promoting these new ways, discerning unprecedented intervention of God’s Spirit in the contemporary times. The Focolare Movement, the Neo -Catechumenal Way, Opus Dei and so many other movements are recognised under this label. John Paul II talked of this lay commitment with admiration: “One solid cause of hope [for a new springtime of Christian life in Asia] is the increasing number of better trained, enthusiastic and Spirit-filled lay people, who are more and more aware of their specific vocation within the ecclesial community” (John Paul II, Ecclesia in Asia, 9)
What is the specific charism of the Jesus Youth movement? Introducing Jesus and His Church to the contemporary youth. This takes place effectively through a variety of initiatives.
Through a variety of groups and a wide array of colourful programs, the JY movement introduces young people to a new relationship with Jesus. They in turn begin an active Catholic life. Those who continue in Jesus Youth groups are trained to become active evangelizers of other young people.
The Six Pillars
Jesus Youth is an attractive platform where youth of all sorts discover the beauty of Catholic life and connect to it effectively. Starting with a God-encounter, youth are led to a life of commitment to the “Six Pillars,” namely, daily prayer, Word of God, Sacraments, fellowship, witnessing to the Lord and serving the poor. When one gets connected to Jesus Youth, he or she is gradually introduced also to practical ways of evangelising in one’s everyday life. An array of talent-cum-career-oriented missionary initiatives called ministries have come up in the movement. Campus, teens, nurses, teachers, doctors and a host of other ministering network ensure a wider reach and relevant Christian guidance to all kinds of young people.
A strong missionary call in the movement finds its rich fruit in a natural vocation promotion and career guidance. Through the example of the active senior Jesus Youth who are already working and leading a family life, youngsters receive a spontaneous life-related mentoring. JY has not only become a formation ground for the preparation for joyful missionary families. Through it many youth have discovered their call to priesthood and religious life. Many priests have found a new missionary dimension to their priestly ministry through their contact with JY.
This was the case of Fr Cherian, who was introduced to Jesus Youth when he was in the Seminary. He joined the Jesus Youth Fulltime Volunteer Program and took a year-long missionary commitment in the North East of India. “I became much more person-oriented through my contact with the Jesus Youth movement. From a liturgy-centred priest I was changed into a pastor concerned with the life and problems of people. Through my contact with these committed lay people, the intellectual and theological input I received in the seminary found its practical application. Not only with the youth segment that I am active, but with all sections of the society and, what is more, even in our priestly koinonia I am a voice to connect to today’s challenges.”
Deeper and wider in mission
Planting Spirit-filled missionary enthusiasm in ordinary youth is the special gift of the movement. Over the last few decades the movement has developed a variety of formation packages to ensure growth in Christian maturity and personal holiness. Many priests and bishops discover in the movement a good way to invite to the heart of the Church the contemporary generation that would otherwise never connect to spiritual life. And this invitation and a further continuous personal mentoring are done in a manner quite appealing to the tech-savvy generation.
A senior bishop would put it this way, “Jesus Youth is an enormous opportunity for the Church and society. I find its non-competitive leadership and non-threatening evangelisation fascinating.”
– Dr Edward is one of the pioneering members and senior animator of Jesus Youth. He shares several key responsibilities in the church including being the joint secretary to the CBCI commission for Laity. Hes also serves as a syndicate member, Sree Sankaracharya University, Kakady in Kerala.
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