More than 1,000 delegates from the world YMCA are meeting in Hong Kong where the alliance has chosen a Norwegian who was once a teacher and an army chaplain to lead it.

The World Alliance of YMCAs on July 18 chose Rev. Johan Vilhelm Elvik who was ordained in 1981 to be its new Geneva-based general secretary.

At the meeting the world’s YMCAs have said the grouping aims to strive for global citizenship at a time when many challenge the negative influences of globalization.

Speaking to ENInews on July 19, Elvik said he was aware the YMCAs are “not the church itself. It is possible for us to go further out and be at the frontline to meet people who are suffering, sharing the resources we have and the word of the Lord.”

He said that YMCAs “are putting youth as the focus of all the things we are doing. And we would like to be an important organization for young people all around the world.”

The World Alliance of YMCAs is holding its world council here from July 19-24. Delegates from 12,000 local units around the world will discuss how to tackle hunger, poverty, unemployment, human rights and the challenges of globalization.

Recalling the biblical motto of the World Alliance of YMCAs from the Gospel of John (17:21), “That we all may be one,” the president of the grouping, Martin Meissner, in his opening message on July 19 noted its striving for global citizenship.

“Each of us is here with our experiences, different backgrounds and cultures. Global citizenship means sharing all of this,” he said.  “We are here to meet others to share ideas, to look forward into the future of our movement, and to celebrate.

“Let us appreciate the richness of diversity within the unity of the task which has been given to us — to extend the Savior Jesus Christ amongst young men and women,” Meissner said.

Prior to the opening ceremony held at the Hong Kong Cultural Center, the alliance held a press conference in which the Christian identity of the movement was emphasized.

“YMCAs are part of the ecumenical movement and have nurtured a number of Christian leaders in their history,” the outgoing general secretary of the global grouping, Bartholomew Shaha from Bangladesh, told journalists.

He said, however, the fact that the movement’s roots are Christian by no means contradicts its openness to all — irrespective of their religion, race or gender.

Shaha said that YMCAs would continue their work through programs for body, mind and spirit, and by preparing young people and their communities to respond to the intensive process of globalization.

The YMCA will seek to empower young people to face the multiple crises facing humanity today, and the movement will prepare them to strengthen their commitment to global justice.

Maria Cristian Miranda, the chairperson of the World Alliance of YMCAs youth committee, told the media that it was important to have a youth forum before the world council in order to hear the voices of young members. 

She noted that it was also critical to continue to utilize some structural mechanisms to maintain the participation and leadership of young people in the World Alliance of YMCAs.

Samarpan Acharya, a 23-year-old university student from the YMCA in Nepal, told ENInews at the opening of the meeting that the world council is an occasion for youth leaders to learn from each other.

As Nepal is now becoming a secular country, Samarpan said that YMCA would be a good platform for the sharing of Christian values through different kinds of social services.

The World Alliance of YMCAs is a federation of YMCAs in 125 countries, with a membership of more than 45 million. Formed in Britain in 1844, the YMCA is an ecumenical and volunteer-led movement.