Being heavily involved in youth ministry as well as pro-life work, it is often a challenge to keep those two worlds from colliding. “How can that be?” you might ask. Well, let me tell you.
Everyone who strives to be active in the pro-life movement has a role to play in building a culture of life. But I have experienced situations where the youth are looked to as tools to solve a problem rather than as, well, people. Having said that, however, it’s commendable that many pro-life people and organizations have begun the process of encouraging and developing positive and healthy relationships with the young people of their communities.
A case in point is Prince Edward Island Right to Life Association president Vince McIntyre, and his organization’s commitment to providing a youth forum during the 1997 National Pro-Life Conference in Charlottetown.
McIntyre says that young people were “inquiring for something for youth, (and) the question begged an answer. We provided the opportunity to rub shoulders with adults while still providing their own opportunities to explore.”
Pro-life communities have for the most part only begun to grasp now what parishes and churches have known for years when working with youth: you must create an invitational approach, and provide meaningful and responsible roles within your community for youth participation.
Each year a committee is struck by the pro-life groups of the Fraser Valley in B.C., to put on a pro-life youth conference.
“Youth are represented from various pro-life groups that are involved,” says Malcolm Roddis, who sits on the committee. “It comes down to what message young people want to hear today, and how can we best provide that.”
The intriguing thing is to see how these examples and others represent the slowly changing landscape surrounding young people’s involvement in pro-life work. Adults are becoming more aware of the need to support the existing pro-life initiatives created by student groups.
Teachers playing greater role
“More work is being done by professors on campus and individual teachers in various high schools who are pro-life,” adds Peter Ryan, director of the Respect for Life Office of Vancouver’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese.
The most vital thing we can do as adults in pro-life youth ministry today is to challenge the young people we relate with to create their own ideas and solutions to affirm the sanctity of life. The second most vital thing is to support them to the ends of the earth in putting those ideas into action. These two roles can also be the most frustrating for active pro-life adults.
To meet these challenges means knowing when to hold up on saying things like “You’re too young to understand” or “We’ve tried that before” or “We need you to (fill in the blank).” Look around and see what messages young people are being given today by organizations that do not support the preciousness of life – “You need this, you can’t wait until you’re married” or “You should have the right to sexual reproductive freedom.”
Today’s young people do not need more adults telling them what they are or are not capable of. As adults – as Christians – we need to provide youth with the opportunity to enter into meaningful, responsible, respectable and holistic relationships. The question is, will we as pro-life communities be the ones to extend these opportunities to our young people before they leave us behind?