Catalonia: Teaching Your Youth How to Be Activists

October 29th, 2017

A few months ago, when my wife and I were planning our Autumn holiday we were not expecting to end up at the center of a revolution. Our trip to Barcelona and Sitges was supposed to be a fun holiday full of warm weather and delicious food, and on the surface, that is exactly what it was. What we didn’t realize is that we had also booked front row seats to Catalonia’s referendum for independence. I would like to share with you what we observed and how I think it sets up a great model for teaching our youth how to be activists.

A brief history of Catalonia.

Catalan existed as its own unique culture all the way back in the 8th century and by 1137 it existed as part of the Kingdom of Aragon (No not the guy from Lord of the Rings). By the mid 1600’s Catalan was under the rule of various French and Spanish governments who subjected them and stripped them of their language and culture. This carried on as recently as the 1970’s under the Francoist regime.

With so many attempts to wipe out and oppress Catalan culture you might assume that the people of Catalan are depressed or dejected. You may think that they are finally just assimilated into being part of Spain after so many centuries. The truth however, is that the people of Catalan are kind-hearted, full of spirit, and rapidly re-surging with zeal to establish their traditions, language and culture. In my opinion that is a good thing. They are a beautiful people who are so excited to share their heritage with anyone who is up for the experience.

This past week as I strolled the streets of Sitges, Tarragona, and Barcelona my wife and I sat around tables sipping vermut, eating pintxos, wandering through monasteries and cathedrals, and enjoying great conversations with the people of Catalan. While they were more than eager to share with us why they were “voting si” they mostly just were excited that someone wanted to experience and appreciate their culture. We walked past and through multiple demonstrations and gatherings about the referendum during our stay and for the most part you wouldn’t have been able to distinguish them from a party, celebration or holiday. There was singing, dancing, chanting, and prayer and everyone had smiles on their face.

Our flight was schedule for 7:00am on Sunday, the day of the vote. As we sat in the airport we watched as the mood of the Catalan people changed from joyous to somber when reports of State Police smashing ballot boxes and firing riot control bullets into crowds came flooding in. By the time, we had reached the safety of our flat back in London hundreds had been injured and images of students, firefighters, farmers and elderly people being dragged away bloodied filled our news feeds. What amazed me though was that on the multiple reports coming in very few of them said anything about the people of Catalan being violent or angry. Instead they were holding sit ins, singing the Catalan national anthem or even playing a football match to an empty stadium.

I am not sure where you fall on this issue or if you even care about a little autonomous region in Europe. There are those who argue that the referendum was all about money. That Catalonia just didn’t want to share its wealth with the rest of Spain. That there leaving would greatly cripple Spain and the EU. But in truth, that is not what I saw on the ground. For the people, I encountered it was about identity.

We live in an age where our youth are all about identity. They want to belong to something, they want to be part of a movement, and as a result they are becoming more and more engaged in the meetings, protests and activities of our time. Navigating how to do this with youth can be tricky as you may be encouraging them to get involved when you yourself are trying to make sense of things. Or you may find them wanting to stand up against things that bring them into confrontation with views held by their parents, their church, or even your beliefs. So how do you do this well?

First, remember this is about identity.

For the Catalonians, the referendum was a step towards cementing their identity. For us as Christians we first and foremost must teach our youth where their ultimate identity is. Start by teaching your youth about their identity in Christ and what it means to follow him. This should be what feeds their actions and activism. Remember we preach Christ to inform our politics not the other way around.

It is not our place to tell our youth which candidate to vote for or which march to join. It is our job to inform them who Christ is and what he did. Ask your youth if the Jesus presented in the gospels would be standing with them in an action or a march. Ask them to find accounts where Jesus did something similar. Odds are, if what they are standing for lines up with something Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount they are on good ground. If, however they can’t find any ties to Jesus in what they are fighting for it is worth asking them if it is what God really wants? We live in an age where it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate Christianity from patriotism, nationalism, racism, moralism, fundamentalism, or even religion itself. If a student of yours is going to stand for something make sure they stand as the image of Christ first.

A second lesson we can take from the people of Catalan is that if we are going to resist and fight for something we can do it peacefully and joyfully.

As I read the rebuttals from the Spanish government about the referendum is seemed hard to buy their side of the story. While the government was calling the Catalonians rebels, lawbreakers, and rioters, the Catalonians responded with songs, chants, and human shields of people arm in arm. When the videos and pictures started to emerge showing this it created a stark contrast to what the Spanish government was accusing them of. We live in an age of instant evidence and that evidence started to change people’s opinions.

Teach your youth to become peaceful resisters and activists. We are in a world that so desperately needs followers of Christ to stand up for what is right. We are called to defend the orphan and widow, we worship a Lord who came for the sick not the healthy. We are commissioned to spread good news and an eternal kingdom that isn’t someday but right here and right now.

Tell your youth that when they peacefully resist and fight for equality, mercy, and justice they stand alongside the saints and apostles of old.

They join the hall of heroes that spans from Abraham who trusted God to the martyrs like Stephen and MLK who faced death with an unwavering faith.

Finally, show them that they can be a Christian and be involved with the mission of God today.

There are so many great leaders like Shane Claiborne, Bob Goff, and Zach Hunter leading movements all over the world. There are great organizations like Love Does, Tearfund, and Compassion Intl doing great work all around the world. If these organizations aren’t their interest then help them get involved locally. Remember that just like the people of Catalan we are here to bring freedom.

Denny Burda is the Senior Youth Minister at St. Paul’s Howell Hill in the United Kingdom. After over a decade in youth ministry in the States, Denny, his wife Merina and their cat Elliott followed God on their big adventure of a new life in a new culture.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.