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The Rise of a New Generation of Disciples

Author: Kristina Cooper

The Rise of a New Generation of Disciples

Kristina Cooper reflects on the new generation of  children and teens who are picking up the baton  and who want to go out and preach the gospel.

This year the children’s ministry at the New Dawn conference at Walsingham was led by a priest and two seventeen year old girls. The two girls had already been helping out with the ministry so it was not such a huge step for them but I was struck by how confident and capable they looked as they led the children out. The youngsters coming up today are a different breed I thought. They are workers who see themselves as part of the team.

We can sometimes forget that in the beginning the Charismatic Renewal was largely spread in the Catholic Church by young people. The famous Duquesne weekend was a retreat for university students. They didn’t see the message that they were carrying, however, as just something for young people but a message for the entire Church. Their age and their youth in a sense were immaterial and before long the grace had spread all over the world transforming lives and bringing a new understanding of the power and grace of God alive today.

Such was the power of that original experience and message that 40 + years later many of that original generation are still high profile leaders with a passion for the Lord. Passing on the baton to a new generation is always difficult. Pioneers and founders have such charism and authority, that it is difficult to find anyone to match up to them. Just as children of famous or successful parents often struggle, so the same can happen spiritually. It can be difficult for the following generations to develop their own leadership gifts and role because they can feel that they are overshadowed by what has gone before and not really needed.

No longer can Catholic children just drift along

But time passes and the teenagers growing up today are living in a very different world to that of their parents and grandparents. Rising secularism in Britain means that even in Catholic schools, fewer and fewer teachers are Catholic and hardly any pupils would now regularly go to Mass on Sundays. No longer can Catholic children drift along. From a very young age they have to make decisions about their faith. Are they going to admit that they believe, that they go to Mass or are they going to follow the “cool” kids and just drop their faith or hide it.

At the Goodnews office recently we had a 15 year old called Anna who did a week’s work placement with us. She came from a strong supportive Catholic family and obviously loved her faith. When she got to secondary school, however, she said she realized to say that she went to Altar Servers’ camp was decidedly uncool. So she untagged herself from photos on Facebook which showed her enjoying herself there. After a while, however, she realized trying to fit in with the crowd was not making her happy, so she made the decision instead to go her own way and be herself – faith and all! Meeting her you can sense she is a strong individual because she has had to be.

Twelve year olds leading ministry in parish

Sr Maria Natella OP, has worked with young people all her life and 17 years ago set up Fanning the Flame to evangelise and catechize young people. At the annual camp in 2012 she said she challenged the teenagers to pray 20 minutes before or after school every day, and to go to confession once a month. Last summer she found that they had not only been doing this but some of them had actually got their parents and siblings involved too.

After this year’s camp, she said, several of them came to her and asked her if she could help them change their church youth club. This was mainly a social activity with table tennis etc but they wanted equipping and teaching on the Catholic Faith – the Mass, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Confession. Many of them are now praying the Divine Office, which they access on their mobile phones. She comments, “These children wouldn’t talk about Catholic Charismatic Renewal as such.

For them praying in tongues and praying for healing are just a normal part of being Catholic, as they have been exposed to it since they were small.” Last autumn some of the youngsters aged 11-12 years old, from the group, led prayer for healing at the end of a fundraiser at the local parish of Holy Family and St Boniface in Shirley. “People were resting in the spirit when they were prayed over,” remembers Sr Maria.

Bullied for standing up for the faith

A core of a dozen 13-17 year olds come regularly on Fridays for training in their faith. Sr Maria comments, “There is one boy in the group. He is the only one in his class who believes and he gets bullied for standing up for his faith and is ridiculed. But he and the others are prepared to do this. They have no illusions about the spiritual life. They know it is the cross. But they also know there will be resurrection and because they are prepared to stand up like this God equips them more. They say they are willing to be martyrs for their faith. It is amazing to see. Because of them, their whole families are changing too. One parent commented to me. “They are getting something I never had.”

And I think it is true we have had generations who have never been catechized or evangelized. This is now, however, changing and is something the CCR can be proud of with the development of discipleship programmes for young leaders such as Release, sponsored and organised by the Celebrate conference and the Sion Community’s three year course for teens called “Ascent” as well as the training teens get from Fanning the Flame and other ministries. Many of the participants on these courses are the children and grandchildren of leaders in charismatic renewal. Their babies have grown up and are now getting trained for the fight.

I found this same sense of seriousness in the call to be disciples with the youngsters from Sehion UK, one of the new communities of people from Kerala, which has emerged in the UK over the last couple years. Many teenagers attend “Second Saturday” every month, organized by Fr Soji, the chaplain to the Syro-Malabar Catholics in the UK.

Prophetic word that God intends to evangelise the UK through children

Ainish, who has an MBA from the US and is a software professional felt called to give up her well paid job so she could help Fr Soji in his ministry to children. She explains, “He told me he had received a prophetic word that God intended to evangelise this country through children and that I should minister to them and give them the word of God, not just babysit them.” At that point she said many of the people from Kerala had lost their children to the consumerist, secularist culture in Britain and they no longer wanted to go to church on Sundays. She recalls, “Fr Soji took it upon himself to do something and win the children back. We started with 15 children and today we have 800-1000 children coming every month.”

Fr Soji also organizes week long schools of evangelization for the 12-16 age group and about 300 or so young people have attended these schools over the past 18 month. The young people are encouraged to fast and pray for their class mates and start prayer groups in their schools, which they are doing. The children also keep in touch with each other and have prayer meetings on Skype on Monday evenings, where they pray the rosary and share their experiences of the word of God. The headmaster in one Catholic school in Worcester was so impressed by the witness of some of these girls, who aged as young as 12 had started a weekly prayer group, which gathers 30 or so pupils and teachers every week, that he invited Sehion to take part in a week long school mission last September.

Ainish comments. “The prayer group is run by the children. The adults who go are just there to monitor things but they don’t play a role during the prayer meeting. We want to give the teenagers the opportunity to develop as leaders. I believe if we don’t give them responsibility they fall away due to peer pressure.”

Once they are changed by the Holy Spirit we need to give them mission fields

She adds, “Once they are changed by the Holy Spirit we need to give them mission fields so they can go and work for the Kingdom. If we are looking at making these teenagers evangelists and priests and sisters, we should start training them right now.” This summer about 50 teens and young people from the Sehion community together with their parents will take part in a week long mission to the tribal areas of Northern India. Ainish comments, “Most of our young people were born in the UK and don’t know about India. They just go back for a summer vacation and spend their time in the shopping malls, like in Britain. They haven’t seen the villages or rural life or what poverty is. We want to instill love of the poor and the virtue of service in them. My son, who is nine, came with me last summer and he loved it. Before he was just interested in McDonalds and KFC but now he has seen how the poor live and this has affected him.” Another group it is planned will go to Ethiopia on mission too.

Perhaps we should not be surprised that as the challenges to the gospel grow, the Lord should already be having it in hand, forming, discipling and equipping a generation to meet this new challenge. Frances Weaver now in her 80s, has been involved in CCR since the 1970s. Her youngest son Stephen was part of the Burning Bush community in Southampton and later joined the Upper Room Community where he met his wife Anne. Their 4 children have literally grown up in the Charismatic Renewal network and last autumn Frances was delighted to see her 16 year old grandson Joseph going off to do Sion’s Ascent programme. Perhaps it is no wonder that this new generation is so strong – they are 2ndand 3rdgeneration followers of the Lord with deep roots and being equipped for the big challenge ahead. So let’s pray for them and all our young people that they would be disciples of Jesus

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