“Can you share a cigarette with me, dear friends?” These were the first few words that Saint George Preca used to break the ice with a group of youths playing football in a field in front of Saint Cajetan Church, Hamrun. Probably, saying these words today Saint George Preca would be regarded as “health unconscious” by some and even “irresponsible” by others!
But that cigarette enabled Saint George Preca to set the ball rolling with that handful of youths and eventually found the Society of Christian Doctrine – MUSEUM, more than 100 years ago. Ironically, one of the first rules he set down for them was to abstain from smoking!
In those youths, Saint George Preca saw the future Christians, the disciples of Christ. He helped them make the first steps with something they all enjoyed doing, and later on introduced through them a Christian lifestyle which no one dared dream of at the time, let alone implement.
Contrary to what many members of the Church did at the time, Saint George Preca stepped out of his comfort zone, refused to stick to what was a priest’s common practice, and started giving shape to this group of youths.
What did Saint George Preca see in those youths which other members of the Church didn’t? Surely he saw energy, youthful energy being “wasted” in mundane talks. He also saw the need for youths to be given some space, some importance in this “old” Church of his time. So what did he come up with? He gave the Bible to these youths, to study it, know it, live it and preach it to others. Saint George Preca believed in young people and used their energy, imagination and creativity to share the Word of God.
Can the same be said of today’s Church? What kind of priest does our Church seek to imitate today: Saint George Preca, a priest who entrusted the Holy Scriptures to the bifolchi (as lay people were labelled by a member of the clergy at the time) because he believed in them? Or the many other priests who were just happy to be ordained, say mass and pray the holy office without venturing to try something new? Is the Church today aware of the potential it possesses in its young members? Are young people being listened to or are they being left on the outskirts as the numbers of the faithful dwindle?
Saint George Preca didn’t go for what was popular but rather for what he felt was necessary for the good of the Church. As a young priest, he realised that the Church was badly in need of new blood and he came up with the idea of a different Christian spirituality. That same spirit can be fostered in young people today.
Through their energy and creativity, the Church can welcome change and avoid getting stagnant. Could it be that Saint George Preca is reminding us that what really touches young people is not the drapes and flags of celebrations (we have more than enough of that) but a deeper knowledge of God and themselves?