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Thursday, August 16, 2018
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Holy Spirit Interactive: Fr. Rufus Pereira: Youth - Hope of the Church

Youth - Hope of the Church

by Fr. Rufus Pereira

Jesus looked at the youth – and loved him. He then said to him: ‘Come, follow me’” (Mk 10:21)

It was as one of the five office bearers of the Sodality of Our Lady, of St. Andrew's Secondary School, Bandra, Mumbai, that I, a shy and timid student in my early teens, grew in my love for Jesus and in my attachment to the Catholic Church - through the caring and cheering words and witness of the Priest Director and my fellow office bearers. It was of no surprise to us therefore, but it was to the great astonishment of staff and students alike, when not just one but all the five of us, immediately after passing out of school, opted for the priesthood. One of us would later on become the Principal of the same school; another would even rise to become the Secretary General of the renowned Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Little did I sense then that, when youth are highly motivated and rightly formed, they themselves would become in turn the motivators and formatters of succeeding youth.

It was however during my priestly formation in the seminaries, at Parel, Bombay, and at Rome, that I gradually became aware of and grew in appreciation of the 'youthful qualities' that made my companions from all over the world give up everything that the 'world' held dear and follow the Master: conscientious discipline, enthusiastic dedication, joyful fellowship, etc. At our get together every five years, I could see in my companions of half a century ago, whether they are now Archbishops or Papal Nuncios or Cardinals, and who now have become bald or gray-haired, or walk with a pronounced limp or stoop, the same 'eternal' youthfulness, that I beheld and enjoyed in the classroom or dining room, at recreation or on the playground. Far from having grown 'old' with the years, they seem to be still the same 'ragazzi' (boys) and 'mascalzoni' (rascals), for the fire of yesteryear still burns brightly in them (2Tim 1:6,7).

It was therefore right from the very first years of my pastoral and educational ministry that I had a great love for and felt a great responsibility for the children and youth under my care: my altar servers, some of whom are now priests and principals; my choir singers, many of whom are now nuns and principals, my students, many of them risen to prominence in various fields, a member of Parliament here or a Commissioner of Police there; my young men and ladies Sodalists, that succeeded in having elected from among them a crusading Municipal Councilor.

But it was when I myself some time later experienced the life-changing power of the Charismatic Renewal, that I discovered the potential in college and working youth, and even in school children, of becoming disciples of the Lord and evangelists to the world. I would therefore as Principal organize charismatic rallies and even live-in retreats for the Catholic children of the schools of the Deanery; and as Assistant Parish Priest I helped start, for example, a Charismatic Youth Choir, which led the music ministry at the second Charismatic Convention in 1976 - and which later developed into a choir of international fame - still very charismatic.

But it was mainly with the broken youth (mostly drug addicts) of my parish that I would devote much of my time and energy and, thanks to the Charismatic Renewal, help them to be freed and transformed. How can I forget the ex drug addict, who became my constant team mate in my youth retreats and even taught 'Religion' in my school, which then became the students' favourite subject; or the ex gangster and jail bird, who teamed with me in a retreat to a certain Seminary, (even today, those seminarians, now priests of many years standing, recall that his personal witness was more effective than all my talks); or the ex drug addict who established the first rehabilitation centre in the Catholic Church in India and helped us to conduct the first drug addicts rehabilitation seminar in December 1985 at Panjim, Goa; or the ex drug addict who went so far as to even help establish a centre in New York; or, to give just one case outside my parish, the ex drug addict college student who helped me to organize and conduct a charismatic retreat to the staff of his own college in Kerala (with full attendance).

It was a totally different experience for me however, but the dedication and enthusiasm was no less, not only to deliver and heal the broken hearted youth but to break the Word of God with the young disciples at the Catholic Charismatic Bible Institute since its inception in 1979, to live with them as the head, or Daddy, as they preferred to call me, of their Word of Life community, and to take them along with me for on site training at the parish Lenten missions in the city. Even now I can scarcely believe how these young men and women could have taken a year's leave without pay or even given up their jobs just to do the one year's course in Scripture - if they had not fallen in love with Jesus, - like Renu, who as expected then succeeded me as Director, or like Savio, the present chairman of the Goa Service team, who together with Jorim, current NCCRS member from Goa, led the organization of the first National Konkani Charismatic Convention this November 2004. The two of us priests, now not young anymore, helped sow the seeds in 1974, and these two still young married and family men are helping reap the harvest 30 years later.

Seeing the potential in the Renewal both to transform and to form the youth, we began already then to give charismatic youth retreats in the seminaries and colleges all over India. It was from the first such retreat ever given to a seminary, St. Joseph's in Kerala, that the Lord chose and used a final year Theology student to initiate what is now the largest renewal and evangelization centre in the Church. It was the first such retreat ever given to a college, St. Agnes' in Mangalore, that made such an impact on the students, that its Principal, Sr. Hedwige, on being elected as the Secretary of the College Principals Association, was inspired to organize an annual charismatic retreat exclusively for College Principals, and to invite them to organize similar retreats for their staff and students, partly financed through her.

Seeing the unexpected but abundant fruits of the charismatic retreats that we gave to the colleges of Kerala in those early years, a group of charismatic main and student leaders met and shared with me their vision to set all the youth of Kerala on fire for the Lord, - which I felt then, I must confess, an impossible dream. But it was this Upper Room meeting that gave birth to the Jesus Youth movement that has reached far and wide. Again it was a chance listening to the music and the talks at our first retreat to the Carmelite Sisters of St. Theresa's College, Ernakulam, that a student of that college, Mary Kutty, who happened to be there because she was a hostelite, was first inspired to initiate an evangelization program for school going children, the Christeens, that has reached far and wide too.

Only the Word of God proclaimed with power, and Personal Counseling offered in love, and the Anointing of the Holy Spirit asked for through prayer, have made all this possible these last 30 years. The rich young man who came to Jesus in search of fulfillment and happiness was not satisfied with the standard answer given by the religious leaders of the day. But when Jesus offered him a much higher vision, inviting him to deny himself and to renounce the values of the world, and then challenged him with the startling mission to then follow him - even unto the cross, - his face fell. He turned his back on Jesus and went his way, disappointed and saddened (Mt 19:16-30; Lk 18:18-34).

But if he had asked like Mary how could the humanly impossible become possible, if he had asked like Nicodemus how could Jesus the carpenter say and do the things no one had said or done before, if he had asked like the Apostles how and when would this vision be realized and this mission accomplished, - then Jesus would have given the answer, "Wait and receive the Holy Spirit - and only then will you be my witness to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:4-8). For that was what happened with Jesus too, "God was with Jesus because he had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and that was why he went all around doing good - healing all those who were under the power of Satan" (Acts 10:38).

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