Posted on: 2017-01-18

“The biggest man you ever did see was once a baby” crooned the late reggae star Bob Marley in his song "Coming in from the Cold". Marley always laced his songs with petals of native wisdom and inspirational scripture. True enough, there is a child in every man. Too often, I hear that youth are the leaders of tomorrow. Many people, including youths themselves say it without thinking. A more realistic reflection will show that youths are leaders even of today as we live. Many youth are precociously accomplishing life-changing feats which many adults are benefitting from. The skills and talents of youth, bringing success in sports, arts, music and technology have brought immense pride and entertainment to many a nation and adults are not excluded from the fruits of their work. In 1982, Pope John Paul the Great visited Nigeria and held a meeting with the youth of the country. He told them to be strong and focused and reminded them that their special gifts of exuberance, solidarity and generosity will be needed to help Nigeria on the path of development how true that prophecy has become for most of what Nigeria flaunts as pride today is the achievement of her youth. Today Pope Francis and even Pope Benedict before him engage Facebook platforms and Facebook at inception was the brainchild of a 19 year old youth. 

The last Nigerian World Youth Day celebration in Benin City Archdiocese brought together over 7000 youths to reflect on themes pertinent to current needs in Nigeria. The themes focused on youths as agents of positive change. The youths, amidst singing and dancing, learnt that positive change does not simply occur. It evolves in relation to a standard which we do not arbitrarily set for ourselves. Evolving as agents of change needs inspiration and formation. Those who desire to be such agents then must learn the importance of establishing and imbibing virtues in their lives. Without that orientation and disposition it is impossible to transform the world. I totally agree.  It is my opinion that one the best ways to inspire today's youth is to remind them of the heroes of the past who, in their youth, and in spite of all odds of their time, gave their talent, skills and sometimes their lives, to transform their environment and world. Catholic Tradition constantly looks into the Scriptures and proposes the lives of heroes who have made all the difference in the history of salvation. These heroes are called saints and martyrs and their impact reverberates till date in their society and in the world. Who could doubt the enduring legacy and inspiration of the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, just to mention one of the great saints with all time relevance!

Even in the suffocating bleakness of today’s Nigerian society youths can still find inspiration for laudable conduct. The second Sunday in Ordinary Time of this New Year illumined one of such moments of inspiration - the annual Army Remembrance Day in Nigeria. On that day, as usual, people are galvanized to remember and appreciate the sacrifice of the soldiers who have fought various wars for the integrity and peace of their compatriots in the service of the nation and elsewhere. They are rightly considered patriots, all over the world. Prayers were offered for the souls of the dead and gratitude shown to those still alive and the families of all concerned. Youths must find inspiration in such altruism. It is true however that unless and until the sacrifice of all such heroes is truly and appropriately appreciated it could be impossible for younger Nigerians to emulate them.

Reinforcing the point were the readings of that Sunday’s liturgy, speaking of service, sainthood and witnessing to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who sacrificed all for the salvation of God’s children. All three address the youths and their natural capacity to make a difference. Not even God considered that to be an easy engagement. The first reading from the prophet of Isaiah read in part: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant. To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth”. (Is. 49: 6). Those words were spoken in a nation of crises requiring people who would make any sacrifice to salvage it. That is the stuff saints are made of, people who would swim against the current to bring about a different life. Saint Paul, in the second reading called the people of God “…those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Cor 1: 2). Living a heroic life is therefore finally about witnessing to Jesus Christ in that manner. In the gospel, John the Baptist, as he saw Jesus coming towards him, said: “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” And he bore witness. “… this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (Jn. 1: 31-34). It is in these three modes that today’s youth must rise up and change their families, societies and world for God has already called them to it by the very life he has given.