Last week delegates of university ministry in Europe gathered in Tirana, Albania, for a meeting on the theme: “Joie de vivre : what is it really?”.
Organized by the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) Catechesis, School and University Commission, the meeting took place from 23-25 March.
Participants in the gathering heard papers delivered by Professor Kaja Kaźmierska, who holds a chair of Sociology at the University of Lódz, Poland, and Father José Clavería, currently parish priest in England with experience of university ministry in Vienna and in Spain.
Professor Kaźmierska delivered a paper titled “Preparing the soil,” in which she outlined some of the characteristics of modern-day youth, describing “what happens in the lives of students today.”
“The common feature of youth in Europe, but also in the rest of the world,” she said, “is that they belong to the first generation that does not conceive a world without cell phones and without virtual reality, especially where the Internet has become a major source – if not the main source – of information, communication, expression of emotions, and, last but not least, social contacts.”
She went on to say that this easy access to information has inverted intergenerational relationships: the elderly are no longer teaching the young but it is often the other way round; knowledge is no longer derived from lived experience, but it has become mere information available online. In this new cultural context the identity of young people has changed too. The absence of any clear point of reference generates in them a “liquid” identity.
The professor then provided statistics showing that some key decisions in life (getting married, having children …) are often postponed to a more mature age and the very fact of postponing these commitments eventually weakens people’s capability of being faithful to them.
The other keynote talk was given by Father Clavería who spoke on the theme: “Preparing the soil: points of entry for the Gospel in light of our reflections on the students’ experience. In which way is the soil receptive to the Word? In which way is it resistant?”
If the soil in the lives of young people is unstable and sometimes barren, he said all the more so it is in this soil that we must sow the Word. How can we prepare it? The first step is the seeding: to proclaim the Gospel we do not need to wait for the soil to be ready, the Gospel itself has the power to “reclaim” the land where the seed is expected to take root. Only at a later time you will make the other steps.
Father Clavería went on to say it is therefore necessary to stimulate the curiosity of young people, to promote in them a state of mind as open as possible, helping them to understand that a free adhesion to God will set them more free. You have to look with them for the Church, with an emphasis on the fact that people accept the Church out of the Word of Jesus and not that people adhere to Jesus out of the word of the Church. Finally, we must introduce them to discipleship.
The floor was then opened to the representatives of the various countries to offer their comments. Fr. Michel Remery, vice secretary general of CCEE, shared his experience of pastoral care in the Netherlands, which has been collected in the book “Tweeting with God,” in which he highlights the good results of using Twitter as a means to succinctly convey some information on the Catholic faith.
Bishop George Frendo, auxiliary bishop of Tirana, gave a welcoming address to the participants, while the president of the bishops’ conference of Albania, Archbishop Angelo Massafra, Metropolitan Archbishop of Scutari, attended the first session and presided over the celebration of a Holy Mass at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Tirana. The Metropolitan Archbishop of Tirana Rrok Mirdita, took part in the fourth session.
The President of the CCEE, Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski, opened the meeting with the celebration of a Holy Mass in the Church of St. Mary Help of Christians in Tirana, and also coordinated all the works, concluding with the celebration of the Eucharist in the Cathedral of St. Paul in Tirana where the faithful had the opportunity to greet a pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima.
Representatives of the Albanian university ministry shared their experience of proclaiming the Gospel in post-atheist Albanian society, while highlighting the importance of commemorating the martyrdom of Christians under the Communist persecution.