By Crietel Eviany
PENANG — The Malaysian Catholic Youth Ministers Committee (MCYMC) held their first virtual Annual General Meeting and Retreat from 5–7 October in the year of 2020. As per tradition, Catholic youth ministers from all the nine archdioceses/dioceses in Malaysia meet up for their yearly General Meeting and Retreat which was presumed to take place in Miri, Sarawak. This year, however, the awaited gathering was done virtually via ZOOM, following the strict measures imposed by the government such as travel curbs and restricted movements to contain the spread of COVID-19. Together with Archbishop Simon Poh, the bishop in-charge of youth, there were 30 delegates who marked their presence during this three-day virtual event.
One day, on 6 October, was reserved for retreat and 5 and 7 October were spent for organisational meetings. Among many updates and plans presented during the meetings, the topic concerning the reality of our young people, in the midst of the new normal and current pandemic, was highlighted the most. Related to the topic, Archbishop Simon stated, “We had a lot of events planned for our youth this year, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of these have no longer become possible. The pandemic has given us and our youth ministry a ‘reboot’. We also find it very challenging to do ministry to this present and new generation of youth. It is more difficult for us to engage with them now. Many of them are so exposed, even addicted, to the ‘internet’, to social media, to the cyber-world and the likes. It seems that their social skills in the real world, including the virtual world, are deteriorating. And our skills as youth ministers to effectively engage and relate with them needs ‘rebooting’ too.”
In line with Archbishop’s statement, the retreat which took place on the second day touched on the need of ‘rebooting’ themselves as youth ministers. Especially in this time where virtual communication is becoming more pertinent as compared to physical meetups. Through prayer, reflection and sharing of the Word of God, the youth ministers felt that becoming both ‘Mary’ and ‘Martha’ is a real necessity in their ministry. Recollecting on their experiences and reflections based on Luke 10: 38–42, they felt that youth ministers are all not only called to an active life of service to others but also to place the same emphasis on times of silence and solitude. Choosing to be like Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said, helps a lot in rebooting the youth ministry with the necessary skills and approaches to shepherd our young people today to embrace their faith more deeply and dearly.
During the retreat, Anthony Sebastian, a member of the Forest Stewardship Council of Malaysia shared with the youth ministers on “ways to deal with issues and with ourselves in the context of the new normal”. From his perspective as an ecologist, it is necessary to analyse the issue before approaching it directly. Analysing helps us to connect with the roots of the issue, revealing information that may be useful to effectively deal with said issue. Sebastian’s sharing affirmed the message of ‘being both Mary and Martha’ by emphasising that we have to ‘make space’ in this new normal, to contemplate on the best way to deal with issues both from within and from outside of us. He also highlighted the need for a commitment from our young people to heed Pope Francis’ strong and pressing invitation in his encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ which calls for the healing of our Mother Earth.
Aside from topics related to ministering the young in the context of the new normal, MCYMC also raised further discussion about having a Malaysian Youth Day (MYD), the first in our country, and about the preparation and celebration of the upcoming World Youth Day (WYD) in Lisbon, Portugal, come 2023. As conclusion, it was decided that the Diocese of Miri would be the host for the next MCYMC Annual General Meeting and Retreat in October 2021… not just virtual but in person hopefully.