Makati City, the Philippines, 2 August 2020 -- Some 74 Salesians, lay animators, and youth leaders participated in the “SYM Huddle,” an online forum on youth group animation amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Are youth groups possible in this time of distance learning and physical distancing? What can be done to accompany those responsible for youth groups? Shouldn’t we ask why there are youth groups? These concerns impelled the Salesian Youth Movement (SYM) Animators School, led by the Salesian Delegate of the FIN Province Fr. Juvelan Paul Samia, SDB, to create the SYM Huddle, which seeks to revisit the unique significance of youth groups in the education and evangelization of youth. The Animators’ School is a formation component of the SYM of the SDB-FIN.
The first in a possible series, held last July 25 via the online meeting platform Zoom, was entitled “G2YG” (“Go To Youth Groups”). Target participants were key people for youth group animation in the SYM--animators, spiritual moderators, youth leaders--in its various settings: schools, youth centers, parishes, and alumni groups. The forum also welcomed participants from the SDB-Philippine South Province and FMA-Philippines, as well as from non-Salesian settings: there were registrants from the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in the Diocese of Imus and CFC-Youth for Christ.
As the registered participants entered the virtual meeting room, videos of past SYM events were played. Following the recognition of settings represented, opening prayer, welcome message, and orientation, the main session was held. A team of three resource persons delivered the key points in an interactive way: joining Fr. Samia were Mr. Andre Launio and Ms. Lesley Rosal of the SYM Volunteers.
Mr. Launio, from the Bosconian Thomasian Youth Movement, was one of the youth representatives at the 28th SDB General Chapter, while Ms. Rosal, aside from serving as Provincial Animator of the SYM Volunteers, is also a theology professor at the Don Bosco School of Theology, among others.
Their discussion and presentation covered the foundations for youth groups: from Salesian anthropology and contemporary psychology, and on to Scriptural and ecclesial bases. Affirming the Church as a community of missionary disciples, the session also recognized the roots of youth groups from the life and mission of St. John Bosco himself: with his experience in forming and animating youth groups. Also touched was the unusual time of the pandemic, with many young people in anxiety or distress--making for an urgent reason for community support, which youth groups provide.
Insights from the participants were gathered after a moment of personal reflection which followed the input. This gathering was done via the app Padlet, which is designed for an online sharing of ideas.
One participant wrote: “The youth of today needs to feel belonged and loved. In order to fulfill that need, we should make our fellow youths feel that they are being loved most especially in this time of the pandemic.”
Among the proposals about what can be done as youth groups even amidst the pandemic affirmed that this is a “good time for animators to follow up individually their members, to know how they are doing,” and recommending “a structure in the virtual caring system; like regularity in small prayer groups; discipleship.”
The forum also served as a venue for networking. Some participants quipped: “animators can collaborate on best practices and needs for improvement” and “to expand our reach in certain activities and create a more impactful difference.”
As there were many answers and proposals which involved online means, part of the synthesis recognized young people and settings where internet connection is poor or absent--this inadequacy should not be a reason for their exclusion in the animation of youth groups, and could be a departure point for the sequel of this 1st Huddle.
Based on these answers, this Huddle succeeded in helping participants appreciate the unique importance of youth groups in Salesian pedagogy and ministry by revisiting its foundations and generating ideas on how to apply the principles of youth group animation in the coming school year.
After the thank yous, closing prayer and group picture taking (via taking screenshots of participants’ screens), everyone was waving goodbye at their screens, affirming the human need for connection, pandemic time, or not.