About ten years ago, I was involved in the planning for the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry. It was to be held in 2004 in Pittsburgh and the theme was to be Love Builds Bridges. We were recruiting and negotiating with our keynote speakers and high on the wish list was Pittsburgh native, Fred Rogers, then-retired host of the children’s public television show, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.
Sadly, Mr. Rogers passed away before the conference and even before we came to contract (because there is a rare signature that I would have valued.) Even a decade later, I still imagine what his address might have been like.
- Introductory Praise for Youth Ministers: “When I was very young, most of my childhood heroes wore capes, flew through the air, or picked up buildiIntroductory Praise for Youth Ministers:ngs with one arm. They were spectacular and got a lot of attention. But as I grew, my heroes changed, so that now I can honestly say that anyone who does anything to help a child is a hero to me.” source
- Just look young people in the eye and speak truthfully and softly. There are enough others who will work towards dazzling them with lots of sound and fast-changing graphics but the Lord used simple stories. If it was good enough to change the world for two millennia, why not still use it?
- “Parents don’t come full bloom at the birth of the first baby. In fact parenting is about growing. It’s about our own growing as much as it is about our children’s growing and that kind of growing happens little by little.” source
- “When I was a boy and would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, that’s where I focus my attention — to the many caring people in this world.” source Make sure to provide young people with plenty of helpers in their lives.
- At some point, we would have sang… we would have wanted to sing with Mr. Rogers… the theme song of his show… It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine? referenceAnd, immediately afterwards, this Presbyterian minister would have reminded us of Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable response to the question of “Who is my Neighbor?” Mr. Rogers would have pointed out all the opportunities to involve young people in service that would be available in the exhibit hall.
- He would have closed by addressing the conference theme. “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” source
At the end of the keynote, we would have stood and applauded long and hard. At the meal following that, we would have marveled how easy, how clear his message was. (and how much this Presbyterian minister might remind us of a future Pope Francis.) We would have come to understand that “Deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.” source