Page last updated at 11:18 UTC, Friday, 10 May 2019 PH
How do parents, educators and mentors help children and the youth navigate the very stormy and perilous seas of the digital era? The answer given by the Document from the Synod of Bishop on the Youth is found in one word: accompaniment. “Accompaniment for the sake of valid, stable and well-founded choices, is therefore a service that is widely needed. Being present, supporting and accompanying the journey towards authentic choices is one way for the Church to exercise her maternal function giving birth to the freedom of the children of God. Service of this kind is simply the continuation of the way in which the God of Jesus Christ acts towards his people: through constant and heartfelt presence, dedicated and loving closeness and tenderness without limits.”
Here the model is none other than Christ Himself. Reference is made to the Gospel scene in which Christ walks to Emmaus with two disheartened disciples after the death and resurrection of Christ. What Our Lord did was the perfect example of “accompaniment.” “As the account of the Emmaus disciples shows us, accompanying requires availability to walk a stretch of road together, establishing a significant relationship. The origin of the term ‘accompany’ points to bread broken and shared (cum pane), with all the symbolic human and sacramental richness of the reference. It is therefore the community as a whole that is the prime subject of accompaniment, precisely because in its heart it develops that drama of relationships that can support the person on his journey and furnish him with points of reference and orientation.
Mentoring children and the young requires a great deal of accompaniment from the significant persons in the various spheres of young people’s lives, such as teachers, animators, trainers, and other figures of reference, including professional ones. Many of us who have grown up in predominantly Christian communities (parishes, schools, apostolic movements and associations) can attest to the fact that we have known very many holy priests, nuns and lay people who have generously and unselfishly given of themselves to guide us and help us as we matured into responsible adults. This truth has to be repeated again and again as we are exposed to the sensationalism surrounding the abominable sins of a small minority of the clergy and religious guilty of the sexual abuse of children and the youth. It is a pity that the virtues and the good deeds of the majority are completely eclipsed by the crimes of a minority. As an example, I am sure that those who grew up in the school environment of the University of the Philippines in the 1950s and 1960s remember such very holy mentors as Fr. John Delaney and other Jesuit priests who were the indefatigable spiritual directors of so many Catholic young men and women of that generation.
As the Document from the Synod of Bishops on the Youth points out, accompaniment cannot limit itself to the path of spiritual growth and to the practices of Christian life. The young also have to be accompanied along the path of gradual assumption of responsibilities within society, for example in the professional sphere or in socio-political engagement. Special mention is made of the very rich source of criteria for judgment and guidelines for action that can be found in the social teachings of the Church, so necessary today in helping the young to be active in building a just, humane, sustainable and inclusive society. They must be able to appreciate what Pope Francis is saying about the evils of unbridled capitalism, consumerism. Atheistic communism and other ideologies that are competing with one another to shape contemporary economic society. They must understand why the free market cannot be idolized and why the State has an irreplaceable role in exercising the preferential option for the poor. Parents, educators, mentors, and others who purport to be guides of the youth must be steep in their knowledge of the social doctrine of the Church.
In addition to personal accompaniment, there is also need for community accompaniment and group accompaniment. Here again we have the example given by Jesus Christ Himself who accompanied His group of disciples, sharing His daily life with them. Community experience highlights the qualities and the limits of every person and helps us to recognize humbly that unless we share the gifts we have received for the common good, we cannot be true disciples of Christ. This community accompaniment is seen in the decision of the many young people to join groups, movements and associations of various kinds, where they experience a warm and welcoming environment and the intensity of relationships they desire. Joining organizations is very helpful to the young once the journey of Christian initiation has been completed, because it enables them to bring their Christian vocation to maturity. In these groups, the formators and animators represent a point of reference in terms of accompaniment, while the friendships that develop within them prepare the ground for peer accompaniment. In these peer relationships, the most effective means of accompaniment is what St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei, called the “personal apostolate of friendship and trust.” Authentic friendship, not the superficial “Facebook” type, is the deepest form of accompaniment. For comments, my email address is email@example.com.