The spring of a new Church and a new society

Nathalie Marytsch is a Lay Missionary originally from Chile but based in Birmingham, Britain. By first drawing on comparisons between new and previous Chilean governments, she reflects on how decision making can be affected when younger generations are allowed to take over and encourages us, as people of faith, to welcome the spring of a new church and a new society in which the energy of the young finds welcome.

In mid-January, the newly elected Chilean president, a 35 year-old former leader of the students movement, announced who would be accompanying him to govern the country in the next four years. Swiftly after that in social media appeared two images comparing presidents and their respective cabinets. The first image dated back to 1990, featuring President Patricio Aylwin and his ministers. Aylwin was the first democratically elected president after the horrific 16 years of dictatorship in the country. The second picture captures Gabriel Boric and his recently nominated cabinet. Boric, who last December defeated his opponent, right-wing Kast, with the greatest majority ever of 56 percent, is the youngest elected president in Chilean history. He is also among the young ones in the current global picture like Macron, who at the age of 39 became the youngest president in the history of France.

Social media commentators highlighted the stark differences between the photographs alluding to the predominant dress-code, age and gender. The cabinet of the 1990s with president Aylwin and his men in dark suits contrasts with Gabriel Boric’s cabinet with a more relaxed colourful dress-code. It was emphasized that for the first time in Chilean history there is a majority-female cabinet. The newly elected cabinet features some of the working women accompanied by their children, while there is a complete absence of female or any child figure in Aylwin’s first cabinet in 1990. Other remarks mentioned the age of the ministers, with the new cabinet including men and women in their thirties, contrasting the picture of the 1990s, when most of the men would have been in their 50’s and above.

These comparative exercises made me think and reflect on how decision making can be affected when younger generations are allowed to take over.

Pope Francis in The Joy of the Gospel speaks about the young people of today. He reminds us that, without neglecting and side-lining the wisdom and the experience of the elderly, ‘young people call us to renewed and expansive hope, for they represent new directions for humanity and open us to the future, lest we cling to a nostalgia for structures and customs which are no longer life-giving in today’s world’. It is in this context that I’d like to see and understand the new government of Chile, a new cabinet which hopefully will bring a definitive end to Pinochet’s neoliberal legacy which has caused so much poverty, division and exclusion to so many in Chile for the past decades.

My hope is that this new generation will serve all Chileans rather than the few powerful elites and with that in mind and the current reflections on synodality in the church, it makes me wonder about the little or absent participation of young people in the decision making in the church. 

Working with young ‘faith in action volunteers’ here in Britain, I have felt blessed and humbled by their contributions to mission. Their faith, energy, new ideas, new ways of doing things -which at times are alien to me- bring that renewed and expansive hope that the Pope talks about. In today’s world I feel there is a need to let go of conventional ways and be open to where the Spirit leads. We are invited to trust in the younger generations, trust that what’s been sown and nurtured will ripen and bear fruit, trusting that their ideas can also be good ideas. It is important to be willing to accompany them, walk with them and learn their codes. Young people are bound to make mistakes – like anyone and it is at that moment that it is crucial to offer support rather than a default position of blame and accusation.

May we, as missionaries, as people of faith listen up and welcome the spring of a new church and a new society in which the energy of the young finds welcome and is nurtured and encouraged.

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