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Tourists or Pilgrims? The Youth Dilemma

Living in a “liquid society” where definite beliefs and permanent choices are seen as unattractive, young people enjoy seeing themselves as pilgrims. Life, then, is a pilgrimage made up of an adventurous itinerary and the focus on the final destination of the journey.

During a meeting with some university students, I proposed to meditate on some words of Pope Francis: “The fact that we are not in this world by our own choice makes us sense that there is an initiative that precedes us and makes us exist. Every man and woman is a mission; that is the reason for our life on this earth.” 

To illustrate the point, I cited the examples of two ladies of this generation. The first is the recently nominated Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad, 25 years old, an Iraqi Yazidi forced into slavery by ISIS. After escaping, she used her voice to promote the end of the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. The other is the more known Malala Yousafzai, born in 1997 in Pakistan, the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize at 17 for her efforts to promote the education of women, before and after surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban. 

My students obviously admired the courage and the dedication to a single cause of these two young ladies. But when I asked, “Do YOU feel you are a mission on this earth?” One of them answered: “I want to be a traveler who enjoys different experiences and multiple destinations, more than a single-purpose person.”  

The others agreed. This answer reflects well the cultural shift of our generation. We are now living in a so called “liquid society,” where definite beliefs and permanent choices are seen as unattractive. The problem is that, without a clear route to follow, it is easy to live carried by different winds, currents and waves, and then, be lost at sea.

We all feel the difficulty of ministering to the youth: on one hand, we educate them insisting on security and on “fitting into the system.” On the other hand, young people, while externally seem to abide to these values, inside their hearts they dream instead of a multi-destination travelling, made of different segments, where no permanent commitment is needed, a dream which will be acted out, sooner or later. 

To solve the impasse, one student had an idea: what about living as pilgrims? Life as a pilgrimage maintains both the dynamism of an adventurous itinerary and the clarity of the final destination, making the journey itself the focus of all the life-experiences. Then, all agreed that this was how Jesus and all his disciples lived! This is a good inspiration on how to begin the incoming new year. 

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