Franciscan Formation – Inspirations (Part 17) 

I counsel, admonish and exhort my brothers in the Lord Jesus Christ not to quarrel or argue or judge others when they go about in the world; but let them be meek, peaceful, modest, gentle, and humble, speaking courteously to everyone, as is becoming [1].

For some time now, I have been thinking about the ways our Conventual Franciscan spirituality can help today’s youth―how our spirituality might benefit their lives. In addition to benefitting youth, our spirituality could be of benefit in other pastoral settings as well. Pastoral care workers find that different age groups share much in common. Youth groups, however, stand apart somewhat. Why? Because young people begin to mature during adolescence. It is when their identity is formed, when they discover the meaning and purpose of their existence and what they want to do with their lives. They undergo physical and sexual growth. Their parents become less influential while the external influence of peers and fashion increases. Young people feel a keen need to be accepted and have a particular fear of rejection. Acceptance by others is greatly important to them. They try hard to carry out roles they identify with. Moreover, they want to be considered adults, that is, persons capable of making their own decisions. At the same time, they have difficulty gaining complete independence from their parents or guardians. In terms of lifestyle, values and ideals, young people seek independence and autonomy. However, they often over-rely on social media, sometimes unconsciously, causing them to uncritically adopt popular opinions and models. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that they tend to reject the customs, traditions and religiosity they received from their parents or society. When they have problems, they tend to seek support from their peers, perhaps online. They are less likely to turn to a parent, teacher or priest for help. As a rule, adolescence is when many important life choices are made regarding work, family, vocation, and choosing a major.

I think we need special sensitivity when dealing with young people because the current generation is very different from the one we may have grown up with. In terms of general beliefs, today’s youth are known as “Generation Z” [2]. They are characterized as the New Silent Generation. They are open to new contacts and ideas. They are curious about the world. They prefer using the Internet and being active on social media. Sometimes they lack social skills [due to excessive time spent in the digital world] and therefore have difficulty establishing real relationships in the physical world.

My own contact with young people is limited, so I asked a friend about what today’s young people need and how to reach them. In response, he told me about a recipe he recently developed that combined sauerkraut, green peppers, red carrots and pumpkin. He got a surprisingly tasty dish, one that came from an imaginative combination of popular ingredients. He shared this experience with the friary cook and the cook told him about molecular gastronomy. This cooking technique uses ordinary ingredients, but the way they are cooked and combined produces original new flavors. I think we have been using the same ordinary pastoral ingredients for centuries, but we are sometimes faced with the problem of how to combine and serve them in a way that creates something delightful and attractive[3].

Thus, questions arise: What tastes good to young people? What ingredients should we use and how do we combine them? In the third chapter of the Later Rule, St. Francis tells us which ingredients to use. They are a key point of the chapter, namely, that as Franciscans, we are called to stay close to the Church and to pray and fast. This helps our natural ability to bring peace everywhere: without arguments, without judgments, with humility, kindness and courtesy[4]. These are the ingredients we need to enliven the various types of pastoral care we do, and to reinvigorate our lives and our relationships in community. This is especially important for young friars because these ingredients define the role they should play as pastors in relationship with youth. In other words, by practicing closeness to the Church and fasting we will more easily remember that our role is to be Conventual Franciscans with these young people, not their colleagues, or parents, or their life partners. Neither are we  to be narcissistic leaders who attract crowds to ourselves. We are friars who are friends of God. I am convinced that is what young people will find most important about us—as do other social groups. How, then do we share faith with young people? What particular ingredients do we combine to serve them a beautifully prepared meal? The friars who work closely with young people will be the first to discover this.

General Delegate for Formation

[1] Later Rule 3, 10-11 FF 85.
[2] Cf. Wikipedia, Generation Z,, August 19, 2023.
[3] Complete text in: Piotr STANISŁAWCZYK, OFM Conv., Wy dajcie im jeść!, “Pastores”, 2023, no. 2 (99), pp. 49-57.
[4] Cf. Zdzisław KIJAS, OFM Conv., Reguła i życie. Czego dziś uczy św. Franciszek, Cracow 2022, pp. 94-95.