Over half a century ago in West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim offered a ballad for star-crossed lovers seeking their place in a complicated world. This song, now sung in local high school productions, still reflects the mood of a younger generation. Yet, it no longer seems as harmonic and lovely as it once did.
This February, the cover of Time Magazine profiled “The Generation Changing the World.” Reporting on what we have come to know as the Arab Spring, they profiled the young men and women who were leading Days of Rage. Many of them were novices at political activism and used social-networking and texting to organize and communicate about their protests.
In August, days of rioting broke out in London following the shooting of a black twenty-nine-year-old and the initial protest that followed. Some blamed the riots on a “sense of entitlement” which has been seen among Britain’s youth.
Meanwhile, back here in the United States, our own young adults find much about which they can be frustrated.
In recent census data, 20- and 30-somethings in the United States were shown to suffer with their highest unemployment rate since World War II. They are being disenfranchised from the American Dream. Young Adults in America have a higher risk of living in poverty — nearly one in five – than any other age group. They are delaying marriage and more young adults are living at home than before the recession. The recent Occupy Wall Street protests as well the offshoot protests in Baltimore bring home the discontent of a generation.
The song goes on, plaintively claiming “There’s a time for us, some day a time for us. Time together with time to spare, time to look, time to care. Someday! Somewhere.”
Generations of young people find themselves segregated from adult society in their schooling and in their activities. They are rightly anticipating their place and time. They find themselves, no longer satisfied with the kids’ table, wondering when they will be invited to the adult table in life.
Pope Benedict XVI recently told the young people of his homeland that “We do not live alone in this world. And it is for the important things of life that we have to rely on other people.” A co-worker has been making hospital visits to be with a young adult who has lost his legs in a car accident. She has been praying and singing at his bedside. She has been a source of faith and hope for him in his time of need.
If our young people are to live not alone in faith in the future, we must recognize the value in placing intentional efforts with our youth and young adults now. The work of evangelization is not the sole work of professional church people, nor is it solely the responsibility of parents. They can not go it alone. If we lived Christ’s commission to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” including the younger generations, might we experience a springtime of new faith leading young people to mobilize their peers within their relationships as well as via social-networking awaiting us in the future?
In 1 Peter 3, we are reminded to “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” We as Church must very much have a supportive role in a generation that has had the metaphorical legs cut out from underneath them. We must assure them of our confidence in their ability to change the world in the manner to which they are entitled as they “find a new way of living,… (to) find a way of forgiving. Somewhere.”
It continues to grow more and more challenging as well to be hopeful for the young of today’s world. We as Church must find ourselves to be the path towards the Somehow, Someday, Somewhere that they seek. (This article was featured in the Catholic Review on October 20, 2011.)