Thursday, September 27, 2012

Empowering Young People

Empowering Young People
to be Agents of Change
in Eradicating Poverty

By Fr. Tom Brennan, SDB

As the Salesians of Don Bosco and the entire Salesian Family throughout the world prepare for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Don Bosco, they organized an event at United Nations Headquarters in New York to highlight the Salesian contribution to the work of the U.N. throughout the world. The panel discussion, “Empowering Youth to be Agents of Change in Eradicating Poverty,” took place on September 24. Representatives of the Church, governments, and the Salesians presented their perspectives on the effectiveness and importance of the Salesian charism in changing individuals and societies.

The Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the U.N. and the Permanent Mission of Honduras to the U.N. were generous partners in having this event take place during the High Level Meetings on the Rule of Law, and the Opening of the 67th General Assembly. Fr. Thomas Brennan, SDB, the representative of the Salesians at the U.N., and Miguel Rimarachin, a U.N. staff member and Salesian alumnus, facilitated many of the details of the organization of the event.

In their welcoming remarks, Ambassador Jorge Valero from Venezuela and Ambassador Mary Elizabeth Flores from Honduras told of the positive impact of the Salesian works on behalf of the young in their countries and in all of Latin America, especially in education. Ambassador Valero noted that UNESCO has considered the Salesians as the “largest educational agency that exists today.” Through their presentations they gave witness to the reality that Don Bosco began a vast movement of persons to advocate on behalf of the young, especially those who live in poverty or are marginalized or excluded.

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, stressed the role of the family in assisting young people to become agents of change in their societies. Additionally, he noted the need to overcome individualism by striving to achieve the common good. Societies themselves must also help create opportunities so that young people will be able to rise to their full potential. This begins when the young are viewed as protagonists rather than as problems in a community.

In his role as President of Caritas Internationalis, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, SDB, has seen the effective promotion of youth as transformative throughout the world. Citing examples from Salesian and Caritas projects, he spoke with enthusiasm about the generosity of the young. He noted that many young people are volunteering their time and talent to improve the lives of others. In fact, the transformation of societies often begins with the zeal, enthusiasm, and creativity of young people, who often challenge us to see things in new ways and approach life with great passion and dedication.
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, SDB (third from left), addressing the forum. Bro. Jean Paul Muller, SDB (first at left), also addressed the forum.
Bro. Jean Paul Muller, the treasurer general of the Salesians, has vast experience with education and development projects. He highlighted a number of concrete examples of effective practices carried out by Salesians around the world that are helping young people escape the poverty trap and allowing them to live free from want and fear. He stressed the pedagogy of work, and encouraged us to assist the young in earning a salary and learning how to spend their financial resources with attention, mindfulness, and justice.

All of the speakers noted that voices of the young are important. We need to listen to their aspirations and dreams, their struggles and challenges, if we are to help them create an enabling environment for more inclusive, just, and equitable societies.

“Nothing for us, without us” has become a rallying cry for many of those in civil society who seek to effect the common good in their respective societies and cultures. The young seek this consideration as well. In many societies, the young do not have access to power or are excluded from influencing the debates that affect their lives. The implementation of youth-centered groups that allows them to voice their concerns can change this.

Youth unemployment must be addressed; so must child labor and child soldiering.

The social protection floor, providing for the basic needs of the young, allows them better to achieve their potential because they are living in an environment conducive to growth and development. Providing them with access to education, health care, clean water, and sanitation frees them to grow into productive citizens.

Opportunities for sports and leisure activities should also be encouraged and provided. Cultural outings and exposing young people to the wealth of their heritage and to other cultures gives them more resources to engage in a globalized world.

Spirituality is a core value for us as Salesians. We hold that awakening an openness to God and his work and presence in individual lives and societies is key in empowering young people. We encourage young people to develop their spiritual life without proselytizing. Our experience working in cultures where Christianity is not the prime religion has deepened our awareness of spirituality and the need for interreligious dialog.

At the end of the discussion, the President of Honduras, Porfirio Pepe Lobo, gave a heartfelt reaction to the discussion that had taken place. He noted the need to consider human rights, ecological rights, and a future that feels the impact of globalization if we are to assist the young to be agents of change. He called for an interior change for all members of society to help all prosper.

Don Bosco responded to the needs of the young in his times, and he challenges us to do the same today. To accomplish this, we must listen to the young and accompany them on their journey of self-discovery and fulfillment. 

A sizeable representation of Salesians accepted Fr. Brennan's invitation to observe the discussion. Afterward, the cardinal and the treasurer general posed with the those who came from the formation community in Orange, N.J.

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