Camino Journey: The Hunger for Spiritual Substance and the Church
Peter Sadie – My wife Charmaine and I had the privilege of walking the last 220km of the Camino in north-west Spain over a ten-day period recently. There are many blessings we received along the way:
- We grew close to a group of fellow young pilgrims who shared their lives and stories with us.
- We discovered our bodies are stronger than we realised as we walked 25km each day.
- Our emotions soared and sank as we came face to face with the beauty or battles at different moments.
- While we were engaged in the external journey, we needed to also face our own shadows on the inner journey.
- And, yes, we were aware of how we were accompanied by God’s spirit, in the encouragement along the way, and the sharing of food and wine with newly-made friends.
Closing the Gap
What strikes me about this adventure though is the urgent need to close the gap between our Church and our youth. The young friends we met were mainly unmarried couples from Europe (Finland, Cyprus, Italy) who had been brought up as Christians but were now hesitant about church participation.
We discovered many positive qualities in their concerns for justice and the environment which are synonymous with Pope Francis’ vision of Church. But when we asked why they avoided church services, it was evident they felt no sense of belonging within the Church.
And yet there was a definite hunger for a spiritual substance, that they recognised our consumerism-driven society is empty of.
As we attended Mass, I noticed that the majority of participants were over-50s with greying hair. The language was a challenge to most pilgrims, since the Masses were in Spanish, yet the symbols remained meaningful to us.
Youth Experience God Differently
I had to admit though that there was little in the Mass to attract these youth, in the message or music — and yet they continued to identify themselves as pilgrims.
So we invited a few of the couples to join us at Mass one evening, after we had helped each other through a gruelling uphill walk to the top of a mountain. They agreed and with the help of some explanation found some peace in the service.
Our youth, despite their escape into consumerism, have not lost their faith. They hold on to a God they experience in nature, in their friendships, in a sense of belonging to a community.
However, they don’t generally find God in our churches, where the homily is addressed to their parents and irrelevant to the issues they face in life — and the music is a little slow.
Our youth are hungry for spirituality, but we need to change how we address their concerns in a language and liturgy they understand.
If we fail to bridge their faith experience with our Church’s message, we face a bleak and emptier future.
Peter Sadie writes from Johannesburg.
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