By Antonio Carlos Ribeiro for ALC.
The Ecumenical Youth Network (REJU) joins together youth of different spiritual expressions around the theme of their rights, beginning with a discussion of the various faith experiences, in the broadest sense, and from that basis moving toward their political incidence.
That is the perspective of the network’s national facilitator, Daniel Souza. He is a member of the Communications Commission and participates on REJU’s directing board. Souza was interviewed by ALC following a youth service in the Martin Luther Parish Church in Rio de Janeiro, organized by REJU during the Peoples’ Summit on the occasion of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD – Rio +20),
“REJU is made up of people that embrace the youth cause, not by churches or organizations. It is an eclectic group, with persons of different ages, places and formations," explained Souza. They take part in the National Youth Council (CONJUVE) and they seek to build projects and guidelines that will in some way have incidence in the considering of the processes in the country for setting public policies having to do with youth. There are Catholics, Evangelicals, autonomous Pentecostals, Buddhists, Hare Krishna and members of the Candomblé, who decided to form the group in 2007, and which today has some 300 participants.
REJU’s objectives are structured along four axes: youth and socio-environmental justice; the overcoming of religious and sexual intolerance; the bringing together of art, culture and youth - through murals, ballet, and theater of the oppressed, and; the strengthening of the network, for which they link-up with other groups. For that they make use of resources such as the internet social networks, electronic mail and REJU’s web site http://redeecumenicadajuventude.org.br.
Souza explained that starting from that structure, the youth struggle for the reality of a lay state, foster religious freedom, defend the democratization of environmental justice, make an effort for empowering ecumenical youth in regard to public policies, and produce material on those themes and their incidence, from the perspectives of the youth themselves.
Like all human groups, they also have ambiguities, there being conservative youth, persons that live on the borders, and people of traditional Evangelical denominations, such as the Assembly of God. When asked what it is that gathers together so much diversity among the youth, Souza promptly replied: “The axis that joins all together is the struggle for justice.” For him, that makes theory problematic.
Souza further points out that in REJU there is no hierarchy, and that facilitates discussion. That also propitiates returns for the faith community. There are youth that take activities of the group to their churches, even though without using the word “ecumenical.” That means contact with religious groups and access to youth groups that are beginning to awaken to the problems of youth. Yet, the great gathering point is the monthly meeting in REJU.
With regard to the issues of the Brazilian reality that are given priority, Souza mentioned dramatic situations like the extermination of youth, including members of the Assembly of God and of the Candomblé, residents of Brasilândia, a 21 km² district area located in the north zone of São Paulo. Situations occur there that are rarely covered in the news media and still less considered as being a problem.
Of primary importance for REJU is the book “The Spirit blows where it wants … Biblical Studies for An Ecumenical Coexistence,” published in 2011 and produced by Methodist, Lutheran, Anglican, and Baptist youth. They compiled an excellent contribution to the Campaign Against Religious Intolerance, offering discussions on that theme and the deconstruction of conservative readings.
While being considered at the Ecumenical Forum-Brazil, the idea arose of broadening the proposal. A greater number of problem raising texts were included, covering approaches by churches and religions; biblical studies and intergenerational dialogues by theologians Leonardo Boff, Ivone Gebara, and philosopher Jorge Atílio Lulianelli. The project was supported by the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), the Lutheran Foundation for Diakonia (FLD), and the Ecumenical Center for Biblical Studies (CEBI).
Concerning more direct actions, Souza told ALC that presence has been achieved in municipal councils and the National Youth Council (CONJUVE). This has allowed a wider perspective in dealing with issues that are raised and facilitates the perception on the part of the youth that “ecumenism is a value.” He said that anthropologist Regina Novaes affirms that “77% of young people express religious beliefs.”
The medium term objectives of REJU are the systematizing of the importance of youth in public policies, the strengthening of the ecumenical journey, and dealing with intolerance, toward which the shared experiences among its members are already a step forward.
Photo: Daniel Souza