Notes on the Pastoral Care of Youth in Response to the September 11th Tragedy
May the peace of Christ be with us all.
While the tragedy of this day is still unfolding, we are already called to respond to the fears and pain of our young people and their families. The Division of Youth and Young Adult Ministry offers these notes to assist you in providing pastoral care to those whom you serve in Jesus’ name.
What to Remember
Young people or their families may know someone who was directly connected to the incidents as victim or as part of the emergency response.
There are young people who have parents who work in government or military jobs. They are likely to have a high level of connection with the events.
This public act of violence may be particularly difficult for anyone who has been the victim of violence.
The very public loss and death of so many may be very difficult for young people or families who have recently experienced the death of a family member or friend.
Individuals have different responses to crisis: some are emotional, some gather information, some disengage from the situation and some may respond with nervous laughter.
Parents, siblings, loved ones or neighbors of young people may be called up as reserve units with the military or emergency services.
Parents have fears too. They may exercise greater caution and restrict their children from attending events outside the home.
An outcome of terrorist activity is fear. The nature of this violence erodes our personal sense of safety and ability to trust our environment.
What to do
Do whatever you do in the context of prayer.
Be informed on what is actually happening. Track accurate information. Young people may not take the time to distinguish between accurate information and rumor. This can be a source of increased stress. It is important that those who communicate with young people be clear and accurate.
Be aware of the levels of connections between your young people and this event. See notes above.
Give young people places to talk it out or ways to do so. Be intentional about keeping information accurate, and listening to their feelings.
In the past, terrorist attacks have been linked to an increase in racial and ethnic slurs. Address these stereotypes.
Remember that we are here to respond to crisis, and not to create them. Undisciplined, over-emotional situations will tend to create difficulty. Be cautious of large assemblies where the potential for hysteria exists.
It is helpful to provide information to parents on how to discuss these issues in their homes.
Reacquaint yourself with Catholic Social Teaching on terrorism and on just war theory. See Catechism of the Catholic Church #2307-2317.
People want something to DO in a crisis. Watch for proactive contributions that could be of assistance to victims and families as well as helpful to those making the contribution. Check with national organizations such as The American Red Cross and Catholic Charities for ways for the public to help. The links below will also provide information on how to be of service:
- Multiple opportunities to help
- Catholic Charities USA - Money donations
- United Way of New York - Money donations earmarked for Sept. 11th fund
These events are news partially because this type of terrorism is not something with which we are familiar on our national soil. There are many peoples in our world for whom that is not true. Drawing a connection to solidarity with young people from other countries who experience this reality could be helpful.
Share this information with those who have direct contact with youth: catechists, teachers, school nurse, choir directors, scout leaders, coaches, retreat leaders and all youth ministry volunteers. You might share this with your entire school or parish staff as well.
Hot Button Issues
Acts of revenge are inappropriate. Feelings of anger are expected. How do we help young people negotiate these difficult issues?
Racism or nationalism is a danger. We need to help young people avoid the tendency to blame an entire race or group for the actions of extremists.
Young people may question how could God let this happen or what kind of God could let this happen. Help them understand that God suffers with us. Put them in touch with our God who is the source of all healing.
This crisis touches the lives of young people, who will come to you for help. When they come to you, they are coming to the church. Offer them the comfort, support and wisdom of the church. Let them see Christ in you. But realize that while this is a crisis that touches the lives of young people, it is a crisis that touches your life as well. Who are you seeking out…where do you see Christ…what are you seeing, feeling, experiencing? Please know that while the Division is here to help you minister to young people, we are also here to minister to you.
Each generation has a defining event. For some, it is the Kennedy assassination. For others, it is the Challenger disaster. For those even younger, it is the death of a princess. In this place and time, you have been called to minister to a generation who is going through a defining event, a crisis, an unspeakable tragedy. We offer these suggestions to youth ministers, who will be asked questions that can only be answered through faith.