Faith in Action Week

27th January 2015 - by James Trewby

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One reason I hear from young people for giving up on faith is that they can’t see the value in it. What’s the point of church if it’s just a weekly collective murmuring in a cold building once a week? Clearly it should be more than that; one important part of Mass is the ‘sending out’.

There must be a relationship between who we are in church and who we are in the wider world. As Romero said: “A religion of Sunday Mass but of unjust weeks does not please the Lord. A religion of much praying but with hypocrisy in the heart is not Christian. A church that sets itself up only to be well off, to have a lot of money and comfort, but that forgets to protest injustices, would not be the true church of our divine Redeemer.”

When I reflect upon it I find that my ‘faith’ and my ‘action for justice and peace’ exist in a complicated and dynamic relationship. Sometimes practicing my religion leads to and strengthens my work for justice. At other times the actions I’ve taken have supported my faith and led me to God. And sometimes I can’t tell them apart – action is prayer and prayer is action. I suspect one reason my faith survived the teenage years was because I was lucky enough to see examples of people ‘living faith’ around me. I particularly remember a sister warmly welcoming young people to return to a youth club the next day even as they threw stones and insults at her – inspirational!

So, how to inspire young people with faith in action? That was the question which led to a wonderful (but EXHAUSTING) week at Savio House, the Salesian youth retreat centre in Bollington. We invited schools to select potential ‘young leaders in Justice and Peace’ and in return received 13 wonderful Year 11s/12s from across the country. We came together for a packed itinerary. This included a visit to Church Action on Poverty’s office in Manchester where we learnt about inequality in the UK though quizzes and discussions, visits from Columban Lay Missionaries, the Columban JPIC Co-ordinator and Salesian Volunteers who shared something of their vocations and a workshop from Pax Christi’s Schools and Youth Outreach Worker exploring peacemaking and non-violence. With lots of games, a wide range of prayers (including Taizé, proclaiming psalms at sheep on the side of a hill very early in the morning and lectio divina), and sessions with CAFOD and the St Antony’s Centre (which focuses on promoting Christian Social Thinking in relation to industrial and economic issues), it was a very busy 5 days.

So what did the young people think of it all? A Year 11 male from Salesian College in Farnborough said that the week “made me think more profoundly about the ideas of charity and equality and the issues of poverty and social injustice”. A Year 11 female from St Joseph’s College in Swindon learnt that “the saying ‘turn the other cheek’ does not actually mean that we should ignore the situation but that we should find creative, non-violent solutions. The sessions changed the way I looked at the world and gave me more ideas on how to improve it.” One young lady from St John Fisher High School in Wigan wrote a poem reflecting on her experience:

We break bread with strangers from around the world,
not knowing we will grow a bond.

We turn that bond into love,
love for one another.

We learn together in an environment which makes us feel safe and secure,
an environment where we know God is among us.

We are taught lessons by missionaries,
that by these lessons, we might find our purposes in the world.

We observe struggles overseas and within our community

We see there is beauty and light in the darkest places.

Everyone has a candle, a fire within them,
but it takes courage to let your light shine.

I also asked Nathalie, Columban Lay Missionary, for her impressions of the group. She said: “It gives me hope to see young people gathering together, wanting to know more about God, with inquisitive minds and concern for the realities of injustice and war in our world today, and to see how young people see all these elements as essentially connected.”

The week certainly appears to have been a success. These young people hopefully now understand something of the Christian ‘vocation for justice’. Obviously the work is far from done – this week was only a stimulus for what comes next. They need to reflect on the week and turn it into action, bringing this passion and understanding back to their local communities and acting as leaders amongst their peers. I look forward to working with them, encouraging them and hopefully celebrating what they do.

So is that it? Is that the secret of engaging young people with justice and peace? If only! However, I am more and more convinced of the importance of giving young people opportunities to encounter active faith – exposing them to groups and individuals whose faith is lived out in action for others, for creation, for peace.