A recurrent question I have heard in parishes and pastoral areas in the Archdiocese since arriving here a little over a year ago is ‘Where are our Youth?’ It is often asked in a challenging tone, appearing to imply the barque of St Peter must be sinking in Wellington harbour because all we can see in our gatherings are grey or white-haired people. Are we simply irrelevant to young people? What might be the role of stewardship in relation to this?
The steward in Jesus’ day was the one entrusted with the care of the household. As disciples today, we too are entrusted with the care of our ‘household’ – the Church. Not only the Church, but as Pope Paul VI explained in Ecclesiam Suam – a document delivered in 1964 – the whole of humanity, because the Church’s mission is at the service of humanity. Our role is not about preserving or defending the Church, but one of reaching out in mercy to wherever humanity is hurting. Early in his papacy Pope Francis asked, ‘Are we still a Church capable of warming hearts?’
A number of hearts were warmed at the recent forum on Child Poverty. As reported elsewhere, over 1000 people turned out on a cold winter’s night to show how much they care about children in New Zealand living in poverty. As the forum start-time drew near, extra seats had to be put out and people were directed to the mezzanine floor – the Cathedral of St Paul’s was full to overflowing. I heard many comments from people saying how encouraged they were to see they were not alone in their concern for children and families in poverty. And it was not just the adults who were encouraged.
Towards the end of the forum a 10-year-old girl approached one of the politicians, ‘I have a friend’, she said, ‘who comes to school hungry every day. What can you do for him?’
While I do not know for sure what was in that little girl’s heart, I believe the power of being among so many people who were witness to their concern for people like her friend, may have helped her to bravely ask her question. It is a beautiful thought: when we gather together in solidarity with the poor, we can educate young hearts in a desire for social justice! When I use the word ‘educate’ I do not mean putting something into that young girl’s heart that wasn’t there – more it is about a revealing, a drawing out and, importantly, a validating of a concern already in her heart. I believe this is an example of stewardship at its best.
The four quadrants of stewardship – receiving God’s gifts with gratitude; cultivating them responsibly; sharing them generously; and returning them to God with increase – may sound like a programme for an individual to follow in their lives. But a powerful dynamic of holiness emerges when a community is acting together for the common good as people who care.
Later, in the Loaves and Fishes meeting place, over 100 young people, many of whom were first-time voters and who had been present at the forum, gathered to mull over what they had heard and to imagine together what they might do as a result. I popped my head in as I passed just to gauge how it was going. I heard one of the young participants formulating a question he wanted to ask the politicians. ‘But do you love the poor?’ he asked. There was what I took to be an embarrassed silence in the group. But perhaps his question was incisively prophetic for all of us.
Mike Noonan is Director Pastoral Services Archdiocese of Wellington.