We all agree the English language is somehow peculiar both in the written as well as the spoken word. I canstill remember one of my English friends who’s mother is from the US telling me: tomatoes and tomaytoes, potatos and potatoes (you know what I mean!) as a classic example of English as a non-phonetic language.
How about using different words for the same thing? Fingers and thumbs (a thumb is a finger), jam and marmalade (marmalade is a particular flavour of jam). What about different names for the same things in different quantities: tooth and teeth… But keys can’t be keyses! Or the same word for different things! Such as polish and Polish or turkey and Turkey.
After 16 years living in this country, I’ve just learnt the hard way that Youth does not mean ‘Juventud‘. When I spoke to my parish priest and said I wanted to go to World Youth Day, various members of my parish took the time to tell me: are you going to World Youth Day?… but you are not a youth? (but I am not old either! – I wanted to say)
This terminology in the English language was kind of stuck in my head since last year until I actually went to WYD two weeks ago (I needed to see the evidence you see…) and finally I have the courage to come out of the closet and say: Are we British “lost in translation” with this language?
Jornada Mundial de la ‘Juventud’ or World Youth Day as it is better known in English, refers to the term ‘Juventud‘. This in the vast majority of countries outside the UK, is the age group starting at 18. Under 18′s are officially considered to be children. The big change comes at 18 when people leave school and start university, driving, voting and legal drinking. When you can do all these, that’s when you start being young or ‘joven‘.
And so it seems to me that in England, this is a problematic terminology at many levels, not only becuase it makes our children grow far too fast, but because in Church terms, the congregation have, as a result of the language, a huge mental barrier. This is what I personally experienced in my parish whilst trying to invite people to come to WYD last year after the papal visit: many young people already considered themselves too old to attend even when their age fell into the 18-35 bracket!
Surely, this is not good for the Church. If anybody over 18 is not considered ‘juventud‘ instantly we have an ageing Church population. Furthermore, there is always talk about the hope that the youth or ‘juventud‘ will take on the Church and bring new breath, but being truthful and honest, is it fair to put the future of the Church in the hands of under 18′s who are really still children?
After the Papal Visit and WYD Madrid, many of us have experienced a more youthful church – una iglesia mas joven – maybe the Church we would like it to be and the Church where many of us feel we belong. We have come and gone to Madrid but at least in my parish, there was missing exactly that age bracket between 18-35 and therefore as a consequence, we will miss out on the opportunity of having young people fresh out from WYD. This age bracket is tremendously important for the church because in my experience these are more willing to commit to parish life, as their faith is usually just a little bit more mature than those who are under 18.
Therefore, I plead! The run up to Rio de Janeiro should be taken seriously across all English Parishes and the point made that such an event is not confined only for the ‘youth’ but to all those who are willing to contribute, especially the 18-35 years old. Also, please remember, those pre-WYD events bring so much life to parishes whatever they are: from youth Masses to fundraising events, the important thing is that young people feel and become part of the parish.
So as the English Church is getting ready to change the whole translation of the Mass, maybe the opportunity should also be taken to change this ‘youth’ term in order to represent us all. I thoroughly refuse to be called ‘Young adult’ (it sounds ambiguous as ‘little adult’) but on the other hand I am not old yet… I am who I am! Young! Youth! Joven! …but I am not 15….