By Jules Nugu, OSA
In at least two African countries where I have lived, namely in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the one thing that I have realized while attending Small Christian Communities (or CEVB as they are called in DRC) is that the majority of members are women. In most cases men represent a percentage that rarely goes beyond 10%. Worse still, there are no youth at all, except may be some kids who are not up to 10 years old. This essay intends to offer a comprehensive analysis of the possible reasons why youth do not take active participation in the life of Small Christian Communities (SCCs) in the neighborhood. Once these reasons are highlighted, we shall provide some pastoral elements as a way forward in order to encourage youth take active participation in SCC gatherings.
1. Causes of the lack of youth participation in SCCs
From the outset, pertinent questions arise: Where do the youth go when it is time for Small Christian community gatherings? Who are responsible for their lack of participation in the affairs that pertain to the life of the Catholic Church in the neighborhood? Could it be that the parents do not remind their children about such important gatherings in their faith? Is it that various animators, including the priests, have failed to convince the youth to show up in larger number for these gatherings? All these questions suggest that, except in some few parishes where pastoral agents have managed to get a Small Christian Community properly reserved for the youth, Small Christian Communities are erroneously considered as some activity peculiar to women, an activity in which youth are not supposed to participate. It is important to know that our analysis here dwells on the youth belonging to the age bracket of 13-30 years old. Various reasons may be singled out for such attitudes, but the most remarkable ones are as follows:
1.1. Age differences and physical development
It is generally agreed upon that the age bracket of 13-30 years old, especially 15-19 years old is period when the individual experiences many physical changes. Biology provides more details on what takes place among men (boys) as well as women (girls). These physiological changes turn the person to be rebellious, adventurous minded and discovery oriented, etc. Independence is one of the characteristics of this age. The individual feels that he/she is autonomous and nobody else should show him/her the way. This reality is even worse in the present society characterized by technological advancements, a society where the youth think that both parents have nothing to offer them. They are driven by the winds of modernity and urban life. In a place like Mbeere in Kenya where I was for a pastoral experience over a period of two months, it was customary to see youth only playing football or watching video and listening to music when it was time for SCC gatherings. One of the youth even dared to tell me that SCCs is reserved for old people who have enjoyed life and now feel the need to repent and restore a good relationship with God. In order to repair the mistakes done when they were youth, the youth continued, the older people have the utmost obligation of attending SCCs as scheduled. Such a declaration reveals how rebellious that youth was, but also the misunderstanding that he has as regards the benefit of SCC in the neighborhood. Because they are discovery oriented and want to explore the world more, the youth find it difficult to be in the same group as their parents who, they think, would limit their freedom. In most cases, they identify with their age-mates and peers and feel at home when in their company. As a result, they can freely share their experience or what they think on a given topic without restriction. But when they attend the SCC meeting together with parents, the youth feel obliged to be in world that is not theirs and speak a language that is for old people. This age difference is the major cause why youth do not attend SCC together with their parents or the Wazee of the neighborhood.
The second factor that we can think of as leading to this reticence and withdrawal of youth in SCC activities is unemployment. Especially in urban areas, many youth spend time running up and down, looking for jobs. They are uncertain about their future since the government does not offer them opportunities to lessen their suffering and miseries. And because this hassling makes them tired, they find it difficult to attend SCC gatherings that in many places take place in the afternoons.
While other youth may have finished studies and now look for job, others are still preoccupied with their studies. They go to school up to 5 p.m. Coming back home is not easy because of jam in the city. Thereafter they need to do their assignments and normally do not find time to attend SCCs.
1.4. Peer pressure
For those students who live within the vicinity of their institution of learning, experience shows that they are mostly driven by peer pressure. The youth want to do what they see others do. And this includes things like: gossiping, chatting, drinking alcohol, swimming, dressing indecently, going for entertainment, making jokes, dancing, befriending one another and so on.
1.5. Failed pastoral
In as much as we blame the youth for being rebellious, justice should be done by acknowledging that most of our pastoral agents have failed in their ministry to the youth. All the youth that refuse to attend mass or even participate in SCC were good and faithful when they were still below the age of seven. Some were even altar boys, others flower girls, Pontifical Missionary Childhood (PMC) members or to use an expression common in DRC, they were members of Group KA. The pastoral agent has the noble responsibility of making sure that these youth grow in faith and in enthusiasm for church activities just as when they were very young.
2. Way forward
Having analyzed the possible causes that prevent youth from attending SCC, the following section offers some suggestions to help young people or the youth to engage in SCC without feeling threatened by their parents and those who are older than them. The intention is to create an accommodative environment, that is, an environment where youth will be free to share their faith in a youthful way, without feeling that they are being assessed or scrutinized by the parents.
2.1. Creating Youth SCCs
Perhaps the simplest way to answer the issue of age that separated youth from adult and thus prevent the first group from attending SCC together with the second group is the creation of Youth SCCs within the parish. In other words, the pastoral agent should ensure that youth meet together and share the Word of God as it is done in every SCC. However, care should be taken not to confuse the SCC with other youth gatherings in the parish. In other words, there should be a clear demarcation between Youth SCC meetings and other youth activities that normally take place at the higher level of the parish. Otherwise, youth may come from different corners of the parish and such a gathering may lose its meaning of being the church in the neighborhood.
2.2. Creating a Youth SCC within the Main SCC
An example is important in clarifying this suggestion. If the SCC is called for instance St Joseph SCC in the parish, there should be, within that same SCC, a youthful SCC called St Joseph Youth SCC composed of young people only. This is much better in order to keep with the nature of SCC that is the church in the neighborhood (a specific geographical area). The youth will agree on the appropriate time (on Sunday afternoon for instance) to have their gathering. If this suggestion is adopted, the priest or the pastoral agent should make sure that the activities are shared between the two branches and they are equally represented at the parish level. More so, there should be collaboration among the steering committee members from these two branches so that they walk parallel to one another while engaging in the life of their SCC. Since both branches belong to the same truck, there should be ”twinning” when it comes to taking responsibilities in church for readings, dusting and cleaning the church, bringing offerings and formulating the Prayer of the Faithful.
2.3. Conscientization of Youth
Another way to help the youth participate in SCCs even with their parents is through conscientization. Here the pastoral agent’s starting point will be that just as everybody (young, youth, parents, elderly, women and men) takes part in the Eucharistic celebration on Sundays and other days, so also everybody is invited to the SCC gatherings as a structure that brings home the Eucharistic celebration. It is very important to attend the SCC meeting because it is a platform that allows people share their experience (both negative and positive) and also take decisions for the betterment or development of the community.
By way of conclusion, we re-state that, in this paper, we have tried to highlight the reasons why youth take the backseat in the SCC affairs. We have singled out five main reasons, namely age difference with the parents, unemployment, education, peer pressure and failed pastoral. In order to ensure that youth are not left confused in their faith, three elements have been pinpointed as the way forward. It is upon the priest or the pastoral agent to carefully decide, sometimes together with the youth within the parish, on the best way that will really help youth come together and be able to live their faith in an active and meaningful way.
Deacon Jules Nugu Konza, O.S.A
Order of Saint Augustine
P.O. Box 777-0052
Skype name: Jules Kristeva
Facebook Name: Jules N. Kristeva
 CEVB is an acronym for Communaute Ecclesiale Vivante de Base.
 The Group KA is very famous in DRC. K stands for Kizito, the youngest and one of the Ugandan martyrs and A refers to Anuarite, one of the Sainte Famille Sisters who was killed in 1960 by the Simba rebels. Both Kizito and Anuarite are taken as models of faith for young people in DRC.