Friday, July 20, 2018
President of International Coordination of Young Christian Workers (ICYCW) Pays Visit to JPIC Offices
The YCW (Young Christian Workers) is a movement of young people, young men, and women, at work, in study-work situations, unemployed, in insecure or casual work. It was founded by Cardinal Joseph Cardijn in 1925.
The aim of the YCW is to help young workers reflect and take action themselves in order to gain freedom from what prevents them living with dignity and to bear witness to the presence of God and his plan in Jesus Christ within the world of working youth. For this purpose, it helps young people develop as Christian leaders who will take an active role in society and in the church. The combination of the three characteristics of “young,” “Christian,” “worker” outlined here gives the YCW Movement its specific character and originality within the Church and society.
The International Coordination of Young Christian workers (ICYCW) is an nternational association of the faithful with private juridical personality, according to the code of Canon Law in the Catholic Church. ICYCW was created in 1986. It is a non-profit organization which coordinates 54 national movements of young Christian workers (YCW) around the world and working in eight regions: East Africa, Central Africa, West Africa, Indian Ocean Islands, Asia, Middle East, Latin America & Caribbean, and Europe. The ICYCW supports the YCW national movements in the implementation of the project of the YCW. It supports their development or their foundation in countries where it does not yet exist. As a national and International movement YCW advocates for the rights of young workers by organizing campaigns and actions in response to the needs of young adults, including on issues of social justice.
The International Coordination supports the training of persons in charge of the national movements; it supports the exchanges, the communication and solidarity between the various countries and continents. It has a role of representation of the YCW national movements and the situation of young people, their aspirations and their actions with other organizations and international institutions.
In 2016, for the first time, an African was tapped to head ICYWC. Mr. Berhanu Sinamo is a former preparatory high school history teacher from Ethiopia. He was elected during a Congress held in Seoul, South Korea from August 19 to September 1,2016. He has spent his time so far managing the organization, traveling to different regions of the world to visit national movements and giving YCW Training, attending international meetings, representing ICYWC at international gatherings, and liaising with partners and sponsors.
Berhanu recently visited the U.S. to attend a conference at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, OH, which was held from July 6-8, 2018, on the theme “Lay Movements as Structures of Grace: The Legacy of Cardijn, the See-Judge-Act Method, and Catholic Action in the Americas.” The conference was organized with strong sponsorship from Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, the National Center for the Laity, the Christian Family Movement, the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, and Cardijn Community International. YCW was a vibrant movement in the USA in the late 1950s and 1960s.
While in the U.S. Berhanu was also interested in meeting with groups to discuss the re-establishment and strengthening of the Young Christian Worker movement in the U.S. and get them back participating at the international level. He met with staff at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth and Office of Justice, Peace & Human Development to engage in these discussions.
On Wednesday, July 11 Berhanu dropped by the JPIC office to get to know staff and share information about his work. He began by clarifying that although he is the first African to hold the position as ICYWC international president, for many years Africans have served the organization in senior roles. His dream is to see this trend of African leadership in ICYWC continue and further expand. He is also hopeful that an African country will soon play host to the ICYWC International Congress in July 2020, which takes place every four years.
Prior to becoming president, Berhanu volunteered for many years with Ethiopia’s Young Catholic Worker movement, later becoming vice president and East African and Indian Ocean Islands Commission members. His first contact in the YCW movement traces back to when he was 20 years old growing up in his local parish where he was called by the parish priest/YCW Chaplain for formation in the YCW movement in 2008. He shared that his inspiration for the work comes from being regarded as a role model to young people, something he tries to uphold in all of his places of work, including while teaching at St. Joseph High School in Addis Ababa. The young people, in turn, impart to him their energy. He said the key purpose of ICYWC is to evangelize and educate young people to understand their gifts and to look inside themselves and understand and develop their spirituality. He pointed out that they as young people have gifts that must be used properly, while also fighting for dignity in their workplaces. ICYCW is managed mostly by International secretariat young people and a chaplain in collaboration with Training, Finance, Chaplaincy and Communication commissions, as well as regional commissions.
To bring the voice of young Christian workers from the grass roots into certain forums ICYWC also engages with international organizations like the International Labor Organization (ILO) and other UN agencies, Caritas Internationalis, the European Youth Forum and of course the Vatican. They are also finding ways to collaborate with the African Union (AU) and other similar governmental bodies.
Berhanu is the youngest of seven children, born in the town of Wenji in central Ethiopia, known for its sugar plantation area. He grew up in Hosanna in the southern part of Ethiopia and later traveled to Ethiopia’s capital city Addis Ababa to further his studies, completing a master’s degree in history. He taught at St. Joseph Catholic School for one year before beginning his current role as ICYWC president. His parents are deceased but he has his siblings and an extended family back in Ethiopia.
He described his time in Washington, DC as enriching and a wonderful experience. He said he was very happy and grateful to be hosted by the Missionary Oblates at their DC residence.