2018 AsiaNews Symposium: Fr Marcelo on restless youth, looking for answers from 'credible witnesses'
A PIME missionary speaks, with his own vocation as an example, about today’s young people, who go beyond speeches and seek human relationships built on trust. “What convinced me were not so many good speeches, what convinced me were credible men, men whose life spoke of the Gospel”.
Rome (AsiaNews) - Today's youth are "restless, not pleased with easy answers, not satisfied with a prefabricated faith”. They ask pertinent questions and demand precise answers, or at least someone willing to listen to them, this according to Fr Marcelo Farias dos Santos, PIME missionary for Japan, who spoke today at the AsiaNews Symposium on ‘Youth who resist’.
One of the most interesting passages in his message refers to a "new" and "fascinating" way of evangelising by PIME Fathers who got into the thick of things. This led him, as an adult, to do the same with the young. What they want are "credible witnesses” who “first live what they say by demonstrating it with their lives.” Young people today prefer "good relationships" built on trust instead of beautiful speeches. His address follows.
Good morning to all of you, dear friends of AsiaNews.
My name is Fr Marcelo, I'm a PIME missionary from Brazil. I am also a friend of AsiaNews and it is with great joy that I am here today to share with you a little bit of my story; in particular, my vocation: how I chose to dedicate my life to the Lord through PIME, the institute to which I belong. I am doing this at the invitation of my dear friend Fr Bernardo, on the occasion of the Youth Synod.
I'm 34 and have been a PIME Father for eight years. I am originally from the Diocese of Macapà, in Brazil, which is in Amazonia. This is very important because our diocese, this year, celebrates 70 years PIME presence. The latter has given our diocese, in addition to several missionaries, also its first bishops.
In practice, our diocese was founded by PIME missionaries. Our first bishop, Mgr Aristide Pirovano, a PIME missionary, was like the patriarch who brought many other [missionaries] with him.
In a certain sense, I consider myself the product of the work, sacrifices, and lives of many PIME missionaries in our diocese. Hence, I like to think of my vocation as something very natural, a natural consequence of a sacrifice of love made by PIME missionaries for God in our land, in our diocese.
Since boyhood I grew up [immersed in this spirit], went to church, served as an altar boy, helped in the catechesis. My parents were always very active. I come from a very Catholic and practising family.
Having grown up among PIME missionaries, I did not initially see a distinction between diocesan priests, religious, missionaries, also because the overwhelming majority of the priests were the Fathers of the institute. For me, they were simply our priests.
When I thought that maybe God was calling me to consecrate my life to him, they were just the first human role models I had. Some became my great friends, great examples of life. When I began to think about this choice, around the age of 12-14 years, I told myself: "If the Lord is really calling me to be a priest, I would like to be that way, like them. Because they are good, because they are among us, because they are not shut away in an office, in a sacristy, but they mingle with people, play with kids, have a coffee in people’s homes, share their daily joys and the labours." This is what struck me about PIME missionaries and fascinated me so much that I decided to follow the path of discernment.
At the age of 16 I started this journey of two years, in my diocese with Fr Dante Bertolazzi, a great friend. He is probably the one who most influenced my choice. Usually I say that he is the real "culprit" of my vocation, my missionary model. He followed me for two years until 2002. With the permission of the PIME regional council of the time, I applied to enter the seminary and I started by formative journey: four years in Brazil and four in Italy, at our Monza seminary.
In 2010 I was ordained priest and for the first four years of my ministry my superiors asked me to dedicate myself to young people. This is one of the reasons I am talking to you right now. I am guessing that Fr Bernardo invited me to address a few words, especially about this brief experience of mine, given that I spent four years with PIME’s youth and vocational outreach in Italy, especially in the north-eastern part of the country.
During this period, I was able to meet many kids. I was able to help some of them make the choice of a lifetime. I can say that it was not only a period in which I helped others, but I too was helped, matured and learnt a lot. I learnt so much from them, because sometimes we clergy feel so much like the teachers, feeling so responsible, that we forget that people teach us, help us, strengthen us, confirm us in our choice. Those kids, those young ones, helped me a lot.
During those four years I was able to reflect upon our young people today, also because I was able to make a comparison between young Italians and young Brazilians, with whom I shared a lot. These were two completely different experiences, not only culturally between the two countries. On the one hand, I was a young man who grew up in a specific Church reality; on the other I was an adult, a priest, called to accompany young people, to help them on their journey of faith. My role in these two experiences was completely different. Anyway, I think I learnt or at least understood some things about youth.
The first thing concerns the faith of our young people. Today it is easy to say that our young people no longer believe. Older folks especially criticise very easily our young people by saying that they do not believe. From my point of view, this is absolutely untrue and does not even apply to young people who do not go to church.
What do I mean by this? Based on my experience, when a young person no longer goes to church, it does not mean that they have no faith. I met many young people who, although they do not attend Mass on Sundays or go to church in general for various reasons, have always kept their personal faith.
Above all, this faith questions itself about God, about the existence of mankind and the purpose of human existence. Our young people are restless, not pleased with easy answers, not satisfied with a prefabricated faith, a faith that simply says: "Here it is, you just accept it".
Well, this is what they cannot accept. It is really difficult to conceive of a faith of this kind. They have questions, pertinent and specific questions, and demand answers. This is a first thing. So many times, our young people only want someone to sit with them, listen to them, and give or at least try to give answers of faith.
But here we come to a second point that I have learnt over this period of time: They [young people] do not accept these answers from anyone, because one trait of our young people today is that they demand credible witnesses. They want their interlocutors, first, to live what they say and show it in his life.
Here, I noticed that no matter how fair, good, convincing, your argument is, if your life is a contradiction, they will not listen to you, they will turn their backs and tell you "Come back another day", like when the Athenians told Paul: "We should like to hear you on this some other time."
Why? Because, for our young people, not only is the content of what is said very important, but so is the human relationship. This human relationship is built on trust, and this trust can be achieved only when they see in their interlocutor some transparency and consistency, which are the basis of a relationship of trust.
So, in my opinion, this is one of the reasons why our young people rarely go to church, or do not accept the life of the community or fail to participate more actively in the community. It is because they do not find either of those two points that I just tried to highlight: deep and exhaustive answers to difficult questions they ask themselves and answers given by credible witnesses.
This is one of the reasons why today it is difficult for our young people to make definitive choices in their lives in terms of vocation. What do I mean? For four years, I was involved in vocational outreach and I noticed that our young people cannot make a choice of faith, and therefore a vocational choice, because one thing is linked to the other.
To simplify: "How can I, just even think, to devote all my life to the Lord, if I cannot even understand who this Lord is? If I cannot define a space for him in my life? How can I think of becoming a priest, consecrated, if I do not find in the Church an environment of credible consecrated men and women, priests, models of life, evangelisers who can convince me with their lives, their existence, that it is worth making such a choice?"
Let me go back to the origins of my vocation. I understand, I do, the young people I meet, the youth of today, because with me it was the same thing. What convinced me were not so many nice words, what convinced me were credible men, men whose life spoke of the Gospel, men in whose faces one could see the joy of spending one's life even in difficult circumstances, who deeply believed in what they were doing. And who continue to believe because many of them are still around.
This is what led me to make this choice and I am happy and proud of the choice I made. I cannot wait to be able to do my part in the process of evangelisation through PIME, just to be able to feel a bit more like them.
I think this is the reason why today our young people struggle to make a definitive choice, at least with respect to the vocation to consecrated life. Of course, we could have another debate about the marital vocation, but I'm not here to go on too long.
These are just some of my thoughts; this is my brief experience. I hope it might somehow be helpful. I thank Fr Bernardo and all the friends at AsiaNews for this opportunity. I also ask you to pray for me at this point in time as I begin my mission in Japan. Thank you all.