Youth from all over the world gather in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this week to rediscover themselves and discuss the way forward for their generation – a generation that is already immersed in stiff crisis long before it sets in. The World Youth Day (WYD) is a creation of the Catholic Church as a way of recognising the significant role the youth play in global affairs, particularly in the areas of leadership and morality.
Because of the importance of WYD, the United Nations and other global bodies have taken far-reaching interest in it. The United Nations, in particular, is collaborating with the organisers to consider the young people’s role in the advancement of global peace. In fact, it has already held a special event in this regard tagged ‘Youth and the Culture of Peace’ – a morning of debates about the role of youth in sustainable development and peace. The forum held early in the week witnessed presentations by five youth representatives from five continents. About 650 youths attended the UN event.
As indicated earlier, WYD is a way the church draws the youth together to listen to them and learn from their expectations. According to the planners of the event, it also affords the youth a rare opportunity to have a focused time with God, and through that take a more passionate and humane look at themselves and the world at large.
The church must have contemplated that judging by the way the youth were going that it would be proper and fitting to design a forum through which it can communicate its key messages to them, and by so doing reorient them to be better attuned to their responsibilities as future global leaders. It had also imagined that the speed with which indiscipline and immorality were spreading among the youth population, it would get to a stage where it would be difficult to contain them.
As a build-up to the Rio event, the World Youth Day Cross (a huge wooden cross that was used throughout the Holy Year of 1983-1984 and which Blessed Pope John Paul II at the end of that year entrusted to the young people of the world) made its journey throughout Brazil, terminating at Rio – venue of this year’s WYD. It is from here that it will begin another round of journey to the next host-country. As soon as Pope Francis announces the next country to play host to the World Youth Day, the cross will be taken to that country for the journey round important cities of the country. It is also planned that the cross will be displayed at all the events at this year’s WYD.
The whole idea behind entrusting the cross to the care of the youth is to sensitize them about the need to always look up to the cross as a symbol of Christ’s love for humanity, His death and resurrection, and the hope it holds for mankind’s redemption.
Since the end of the Holy Year of 1984 the cross had done trips to Germany, France, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Luxembourg, Ireland, Scotland, Malta, the United States, the Netherlands, Korea, Poland, Switzerland, and Australia. It was a significant source of faith at the WYD in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1987; Santiago de Compostela, Chile, 1989; Czestochowa, 1991; Denver, 1983; Manila, 1995; Paris, 1997; Rome, 2000; Toronto, 2002; Cologne, 2005; Sydney, 2008;and Madrid, 2011.
Interestingly, the cross has also, in addition to WYD, travelled throughout Africa and the Oceania in 2006 and 2007, respectively.
The beauty of WYD is that it affords many of the world’s youth, who do not know Christ and are estranged, to find solace among their peers whose presence and ingenuity will definitely inspire them. There is no doubt that many young people across the world have fallen victims to their own passions, often being manipulated by persons whose dispositions are weird and pervasive. The opportunity WYD provides them is quite unique. Indeed it presents them a platform to interact with their contemporaries from other countries, providing them the pleasure (not carnal, but spiritual) they need to ease off the burden fate has unconsciously placed on their delicate shoulders.
The vision of the church in designing WYD is worth commending. In truth, there is no other forum that brings a sizeable number of world’s youth together as WYD. Though it began as purely a gathering of Catholic youth, it has grown in scope and content, attracting people from other faiths, particularly the troubled, including international agencies such as the United Nations.
I am very passionate about the youth and their future, which is why I am devoting this column this week to WYD in Rio. I attended briefly the 2002 WYD held in Toronto, Canada. It was a fantastic assemblage of God’s youth in their most zealous and unobtrusive personality. Up till today, I remain indebted to my close friend who talked me into attending with him. It was a decision I would forever cherish.
I reason that if other groups and nations can copy the example of the Catholic Church in bringing their youth together, it will go a long way in addressing some of the untoward behaviours associated with our youth. Why are governments all over the world yet to see the wisdom in paying more attention to the youth and their future? When will the world come to terms with the impending calamity if our youth are allowed to wander to a point of no return?
The crimes and other misdemanours involving the youth are as a result of negligence and erosion of family traditions and values. Unfortunately, when the drift started nobody thought it wise to intervene until the situation snowballed into a huge combustion. I fear that at the rate immorality is eating up the conscience of our youth our world will soon witness internal hemorrhage in its moral conscience. What many of us probably do not know is that we have gradually dug a huge pit that may swallow up all of us when the time of reckoning comes.
Even in our country Nigeria today, our youth wander like sheep without a shepherd; and nobody seems to be worried. But I am deeply worried. This is why I have made it a routine to support them in various forms – ranging from the provision of jobs to sponsorship and self-development enterprises. I find unemployment among the youth as the greatest disservice we have done to them. How can our tertiary institutions keep churning out millions of graduates every year without commensurate employment opportunities for them? These unemployed youth become vulnerable and susceptible to manipulation by persons with crooked minds.
The Child Rights Act has not done much to enforce the rights of the child and protect it from constant abuse. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of rape cases, with children as the most vulnerable species. Even cases of armed robbery, assassination kidnapping, and drug abuse involving the youth are also on the increase. Painfully, what those in authority talk about more is what punishments can be meted out to offending youth, instead of finding solutions to the myriads of problems facing them.
I advise the federal and state governments to pay more attention to matters concerning the youth. First, it should convene a national conference of all Nigerian youth to discuss their future and collectively fashion a way forward. Second, a census of all Nigerian youth should be organised to identify the number of them there are and locate their individual skills, with a view to offering vocational education to those of them not able to secure admission into tertiary institutions. Development of middle manpower has always posed a big problem to the effort by government to maximize the ingenuities of many of our youth. Today, it has become acutely difficult to secure the services of qualified technicians such as electricians, mechanics, welders, etc. This group of technicians was used to be produced by many of the government technical colleges across the country. Sadly, many of the technical colleges have closed shop, thereby causing scarcity of this important group of middle manpower. What the government should do is to revive some of the comatose technical colleges and establish more to meet the needs of millions of youth seeking admission into a few available universities, polytechnics and colleges of education in the country.
In addition, government should consider the option of introducing social welfare scheme to cater to the needs of legion of unemployed youth to save them from going astray. There is no begging the fact that many youth find solace in crime because of apathy on the part of the government and those who have the means to make life better for the youth to assist them. I believe very strongly that the Nigerian youth are profusely talented and, therefore, will embrace any moves by the government to enrich them through any legitimate and functional process.
The constant haranguing of the youth should also stop. The present situation where the youth are chastised does not do anybody any good. Instead of berating them we should sympathize with them and support them, making them understand we care. This will go a long way in making them change their mindset and work more consciously for the progress and development of our nation.
The next thing I expect the government to do is to make it criminal for anybody or organisation to corrupt the youth in whatever manner. Those the law should target include pedophiles, rapists, illicit drug-dealers, child-traffickers, etc. This category of perverts is the worst enemy of the youth.
Teaching of Morals and Civics should be reintroduced and made compulsory in all schools in the country. I wonder who abolished them in the first place. Erosion of morals and values contributed partly to the present decadence in our society. It is regrettable that moral values have been jettisoned in the formulation of the curricula of schools. How would one expect the youth to demonstrate exemplary characteristics when they lack, right from their respective homes, basic values on which the individual personality is built?
What is happening in Rio (WYD) is a thing of joy! Pope Francis arrived there on Monday evening with a modest entourage, in response to the reforms going on in the Vatican. He presented an important speech to the Youth, which captures the essence of the church’s mission in evangelization, especially as it concerns the youth. His modesty and humility were exemplified in a very generous dose when he rode in a small car in a motorcade from the airport to the Guanabara Presidential Palace, barricaded by a surging crowd of enthusiasts – youth and the people. His presence and simplicity and message must have inspired the youth greatly. The visit is also the First Apostolic trip by the new Pope outside Rome. Before he left the Vatican City for Rio he visited his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, to greet him and seek his prayer. This disposition was indeed remarkable.
Brazil is currently passing through difficult times because of the recent civil unrest over government’s stifling economic policies and dwindling fortunes of the citizenry. The civil disturbances almost constituted a snag to security at WYD when a locally-made explosive was discovered by vigilant security agents.
We look forward with eager expectation to the day Africa will play host to WYD. Most countries in Europe and Latin America had played host to it. It is high time Africa was considered. The choice of Africa will also help to promote evangelization and consolidate the gains the church had made in recent times on the continent.
I pray God to grant the youth assembled in Rio a successful conference and the grace to assimilate the lessons they will learn in order to put them into practice for the good of the world and the coming of the New Jerusalem.