Following many years of success through parish and school programs as well as larger events such as World Youth Days, national youth conferences, diocesan youth conventions and other signs of the Church’s ministry by, with, for, and to youth and young adults, it is exciting that the Universal Church is taking this moment to focus on ministry to young people through a Synod and the accompanying consultation process.
In the Diocese of Youngstown surveys, it was encouraging to see the number and variety of responses representing ages from thirteen through adults, from all areas of the diocese, and representing all facets of the Church: priests, seminarians, staff and volunteers in addition to the direct input from high school youth and young adults. The surveys also seem to represent the broad spectrum of Catholic beliefs and practices.
The surveys clearly show that teens and young adults want “more” from the Church – more opportunities for leadership, service and relationship building. However, it is surprising that the surveys did not reflect the view of many in the diocese who have expressed in other forums the importance of increasing the financial dedication of our diocese, parishes and schools for both youth ministries and young adult ministries. Increased funding would allow for more full-time paid staff, more resources, more dedicated physical space, and more support for activities and faith experiences. The Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry has received many requests for financial assistance for young people to participate in local, regional, national, and international service, formation, spiritual and programs.
Aside from the funding issues, the surveys did clearly indicate an important focus for youth ministry and young adult ministry: community. The surveys of young people indicated they wanted a place where they belong and are listened to, as well as more welcoming communities in general. What seems to be working is where committed adults – priests, youth ministers, staff, and other caring adults – are present to teens and young adults. In these situations, the young people are more connected to the Church through these relationships.
It was interesting to note that the polarization in the American Church community was evident in our diocesan surveys, from a desire to greater access to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass and an emphasis on traditional teachings to a more engaging Mass and changing Church teachings in areas such as priestly celibacy and LGBTQ community tolerance. Our diocese reflects the challenge of being a community rich in both unity and diversity.
The challenges that young people face in the culture present both an area of a concern and an opportunity for youth ministry and young adult ministry. Knowing the concerns of youth and young adults - especially peer-pressure, drugs (in particular heroin and alcohol), bullying, and anxiety – require a response of our faith communities to present an authentic witness of God’s love. Discernment is a skill that we must both teach to our young people and practice as a community to empower missionary disciples of all ages.
+ Did anything you read here surprise you?
+ Did anything affirm efforts you are already making for/with young people and their families?
+ In what ways might your faith community do more to help young people in regards to their faith and vocational discernment?
Cindee Case, MPS
Director of the Diocese of Youngstown Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry.