THE role of young people in the spiritual journey from a lakeside in East Clare to the mission fields of Africa and back to a lake in County Wicklow was recounted at the recent Céifin conference in Ennis.
Young people also featured prominently in the conference contributions of other speakers at the West County Hotel.
“A garden of Eden, where I experienced life as a blessing,” was how Fr Michael Rodgers described his childhood in Killanena. “My mother was religious but my father was a spiritual man,” he recalled.
His earliest spiritual experiences were with his father when they were cutting turf in the bog. “At lunchtime he would lie back in the heather with his hat over his face and I would be watching the skylarks, tracking them from the sky overhead to their nests, where I would find their eggs and nestlings,” he said.
Yet he found he took to institutional life when he was sent to St Flannan’s College and it was the same when he entered the missionary order at Kiltegan “where I got the education that I could never have got,” he acknowledged.
He spent 20 years as a missionary in Kenya, where he witnessed “shocking poverty” and he also saw power corrupting people as well as the state. In 1983 he was diagnosed with skin cancer, “and while I was flown back home for the finest and most professional care, a local [Kenyan] in the same situation would have been given a couple of aspirins”.
He returned to Ireland to participate in a leadership programme and when it came to time to return to his African mission “disillusion had turned my soul sour. I had a fear that my heart would not be in it back in Africa”.
But in Africa he had been instructed in listening skills. “I did not know how to listen. I believe that a lot of priests who are around still do not know how to listen.” In learning the new technique “we discovered that the first thing is to provide what people want”.
In his new role back in Ireland he visited secondary schools where, he said, young people opened his eyes. “My heart and soul were hungry for a return to spiritual life,” Fr Rodgers said.
He set up a retreat centre converted from the former An Óige hostel at Glendalough in County Wicklow, where transition year students from second-level schools are among the visitors.
“Spirituality that does not include social justice is a poor spirituality,” Fr Rodgers continued.
Reflecting his work with schools and school principals as the chairperson of the recently established Catholic Schools Partnership, Fr Michael Drumm also had a message for young people. “The most liberating message that we can bring is that they do not have to solve all the problems that are brought to them. Instead, it is a matter of facing the realities that they encounter every day,” he said.
Award-winning journalist Dearbhail McDonald, who devotes time to the Jesuit Spirituality Centre in Dublin in developing an alternative leadership programme for young and emerging leaders, also had a message to pass on to the conference about young people. “We do not listen to our young people. We do not honour and respect them,” she stated.
“Young people with talent direct their gifts to sport, entertainment and the arts.” Yet even though “there is a talent deficit in our political system, we do not see politics as a place to nurture them. So they are left vulnerable, confused and afraid,” she said.
€480 million – weekly borrowings by the State to run the country.
280% – the rise in unemployment in Ireland since September 2005.
190,000 – the number of private sector jobs lost in the past 12 months.
43% – the increase in suicides, especially among young men, in the first three months of 2009 in Ireland.
The incidence of sexually transmitted infections in Ireland doubled between 1999 and 2005, and doubled again in 2006.
The global picture:
97% of money in use is debt.
20% of the people use up n 82.7% of the world’s wealth.
25% of all living things could be lost by 2050.