Thursday, June 8, 2017

Young Life Staffer and Ecumenical Group Meets with the Pope

Today history will be made. Pope Francis will welcome a staff person from Young Life at the Vatican. But first a little backstory.

In 1968, Young Life’s founder, Jim Rayburn, visited Rome where he met with five Catholic seminarians studying for the priesthood. Rayburn loved it. He loved them. He reveled in the meeting, calling it “the highlight of my European tour.” Whether he knew it or not, that meeting ushered a rising tide of unity and shared mission has been growing for half a century. And it is about to reach a true watermark for the kingdom.

In 1969, one year after Rayburn’s powerful visit to Rome, a young man named Marty Caldwell met Jesus Christ through a group of Young Life leaders in Phoenix and it changed his life forever. Nearly 50 years later Marty is now the Executive Vice President of Young Life International Ministries, overseeing the explosive growth of YL ministries in over 100 countries around the world.

Marty has always embraced the ecumenical vision of Young Life and has built abiding friendships with Protestants and Catholics across the country, and in his current role, around the globe. For years Marty has been working with a group of ministry leaders from Phoenix who pray the John 17 prayer of unity for the sake of the city.

Today Marty and this group of John 17 leaders, both Protestant and Catholic, will retrace the steps of Jim Rayburn in Rome but will take it a step further. They will be received by Pope Francis himself. This is truly a day to celebrate as it exemplifies the prayer of Jesus, that we may be one, that we may reach across the dividing lines and walk hand in hand into the world of kids and share with them the abounding love of God in Jesus Christ.

Pope Francis understands the valuable work youth ministers do every day. “You are the ones who accompany young people on their path,” he says, “helping them find the way that leads to Christ.” He furthermore understands the incarnational approach of Young Life that is necessary to reach kids today. “Much more than promoting a series of activities for young people, you walk with them, accompanying them personally in these complex and difficult times.” It is this ministry of accompaniment, meeting kids where they’re at, and walking with them through all of life’s challenges, that creates real and enduring connections. “It’s in this connection,” Pope Francis says, “where a true dialogue can be engaged in by one who lives a personal relation with the Lord Jesus.”

Marty notes, “This is a wonderful opportunity. Our group is small enough to have a good discussion with Pope Francis – about Jesus, about evangelization, about the Church. We’re trusting God is up to some big things among the diverse churches who yearn to see Jesus lifted up.” In a special moment, the group will pray the prayer of John 17 together with the Holy Father. I can only imagine the celebration in heaven, including the likes of Jim Rayburn whose insistence on "majoring in the majors" set the course so many years ago for such a momentous occasion today.

Pray with me, with the mission of Young Life and with the entire Church universal, that our unity today will help the world to know the love of God in Jesus Christ and embrace the life that can only come through him. All glory be to God!