As children go back to school this week, we will often hear the word ‘pedagogy’. Pedagogy is commonly understood as a method or practice in teaching. However, the roots of the word are found in the Greek word paideia. By this word, the Greeks understood more than education as merely instruction but rather the formation of the ideal person. The emphasis was on the formation of the character through the building of a personal relationship with the child.

The pedagogue was the slave in rich Greek households who used to accompany the child to the teacher. His role was not to instruct the child but, through his accompaniment, to be attentive and supervise the child’s behaviour and habits, thus forming his character. Recovering this original meaning in our educational system is vital. However, the concept has been recently proposed for youth ministry.

The element of accompaniment was a strong element that emerged in a research report commissioned and published last week by the Pastoral Formation Institute and the Malta Catholic Youth Network. The report, entitled ‘Of Lamps and Clay Vessels’, studied the journey of youth leaders from their initial stages to their more accomplished phases. It studied the development that took place not only through formal instruction but also through their informal experience as leaders – a development that brought about a change in the whole person. The research also studied the various skills, attitudes and knowledge that youth leaders acquire, as well as those that are lacking and areas in which they need formation.

The authorities need to set clear priorities to see what they will invest in: whether in stones or living stones

The importance of accompaniment and presence with young people in their daily life was very strong in all the narratives gathered in the report. This shows that Maltese youth leaders are indeed adopting an incarnational perspective, of being with young people, and thus, like pedagogues, accompanying them on the journey of discipleship in following Christ.

Another strong aspect of accompaniment was that of being in a community and how beautiful it is for young people to be companions on the journey of faith together.

The report, however, pointed to another aspect of accompaniment that is also necessary but which, at times, is lacking. This is the accompaniment of youth leaders themselves. In fact, the report proposes a clear strategy that the Church can adopt to form mentors who accompany youth leaders working in Church groups.

Accompaniment bears within it the pastoral attitude of being known by name. Pastoral workers who are accompanied are encouraged to continue to live the call and to live the mission of being sent. Many youth leaders spoke of the solitude of having to face their mission alone and in a vacuum. Thus, accompaniment can also prevent burnout and many other potential casualties, not only among the youth leaders but also among young people. Through accompaniment, youth leaders come to evaluate all they are carrying out, as well as how they are to grow to be more apostolic in their service.

The invitation has now been made both to youth leaders and to authorities alike. The first need is to acknowledge, in humility, the need to be accompanied, and to seek people who can mentor them and, more importantly, to accompany them spiritually. The authorities need to set clear priorities to see what they will invest in: whether in stones or living stones. By offering accompaniment, the Church will be appreciating the work youth leaders are doing.

Once the Church recognises the treasures within its own fold it can gain a stronger spirit of hope to carry on in its pastoral mission among young people.