NJPN Blog: Young and old in dialogue for peace
Father Rob Esdaile’s reflection is based on Pope Francis’ 2022 World Day of Peace Message.
It is perhaps not surprising to know that the Gospel most frequently chosen for baptisms in my parish (I ask the parents to choose the readings) is the one in which Jesus says: “Let the little children come to me ; do not prevent them; for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:13-16)
I suspect most parents don’t read much beyond those comforting words. They probably don’t even notice Jesus’ embarrassing rebuke of his disciples (who view children as a nuisance) in the introduction, though many young parents will unfortunately have had experiences of being unwelcome at the church or just the feeling that they don’t fit. ‘ among the congregations of mostly non-young and apparently doubtless.
I like to reverse the roles on the families gathered at the baptismal font by emphasizing the end of the reading; asking them: Who is the teacher and who is the learner here? Jesus warns us: “He who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. Our baptismal catechesis has typically focused on the transformation of the child, unsurprisingly given the nature of the Rite: washing, purifying, anointing garments, lighting a flame of faith. Yet it is the adult mind that needs to be remade, the adult heart that needs to be renewed, the adult faith that needs to be revived, says Jesus; by becoming capable of smallness again, of trusting in vulnerability and of rediscovering the wonder of the world.
The Pope’s message for the 55th World Day of Peace (celebrated in England and Wales on Sunday January 16) was entitled: “Dialogue between generations, education and work: tools to build lasting peace”. He also invited us to reimagine the interaction of young and old, seeing it as an essential tool for building lasting peace. In the past, the Church and our educational system operated on the assumption that it was the job of the old to teach the young. A good student sucked up the knowledge delivered by the teacher, bringing to the conversation only the will to learn. Fortunately, the school has changed: “explore”, “discover” and “challenge” are key terms in contemporary pedagogy. Good teachers talk less, rather than more. They offer open-ended questions in class discussion – but without losing sight of their task of imparting to their students both certain content of knowledge and specific techniques for exploring their subject.
The church community still has much to learn from these broader developments in education. But Pope Francis offers us a step forward both in the project of the “synodal journey” (which values listening to the Spirit more than speaking “our” truth) and in this last message of the World Day of the peace.
In this, he calls for an honest dialogue between generations (“listening to each other, sharing different points of view, agreeing and walking together”) as a necessary step on the path to peace. This means going beyond the oppositional and opinionated discourse so dominant on social networks. Yes, of course, the elders (including the Pope!) are “the guardians of memory”. But it is the young people “who move history forward”. And it is in their healthy and patient encounter that we can address both the painful aspects of history and the need to find hopeful ways to build the future.
This is not just an invitation to indulge in gentle “kindness”, nor simply the idealization of young climate activists (whose “agitation, enthusiasm and above all sense of responsibility” he salutes). We face tough decisions if we are to create a hopeful future. Pope Francis brings the question of intergenerational justice to the fore; the fact that we borrow the world from the next generation rather than just passively receiving it from our ancestors.
This becomes clearer when we talk about climate change. But it is also true with regard to international relations. If we really want to build a hopeful future, we need radical political change. Pope Francis puts it bluntly: “It is high time for governments to develop economic policies aimed at reversing the proportion of public funds devoted to education and armaments… freeing up financial resources better used for health care. , schools, infrastructure, care of the land and so on.”
If we don’t become like little children, we won’t enter the Kingdom of God. But unless we are willing to learn from the moral outrage and ideas of young people, the human race can either destroy itself in a nuclear conflagration or slowly bleed to death in a litany of failed states, regional conflicts and flow of refugees. “In every era, peace is both a gift from above and the fruit of a shared commitment,” says Pope Francis. Let’s get to work together.
Fr Rob Esdaile is parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes, Thames Ditton, Surrey
Keywords: NJPN Blog, Rob Esdalie, Father Rob Esdaile, Children, Baptism, World Day of Peace
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