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Update: Listening, mentoring key to keeping young adults, say church workers

IMAGE: CNS photo/Terry Wyatt, courtesy FOCUS

By Elizabeth Bachmann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Professors, youth ministers and lay theologians across the country give different reasons for why young people are leaving the church, but they all agree that listening and mentoring are key to developing and maintaining faith.

Curtis Martin, president and founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, identified two groups of young people within the church: those who call themselves Catholics, but are slowly drifting away from the church, and those who are actively moving toward the heart of Catholicism.

Martin told Catholic News Service the reason so many young people are drifting away is because the church has "lost its voice." The church is not talking enough about its first love, Jesus, he explained, but it is focusing on secondary and tertiary things.

Natalia Imperatori-Lee, professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, agrees that young people want to focus on Jesus and the missionary work they can do in his name.

"What excites them is hearing the message of Jesus, seeing (Pope) Francis' concern for the poor, seeing different groups in the church reach out to people on the margins," Imperatori-Lee said. "Generally they are excited to be part of communities that are acting out the Gospels. I just don't know that they connect the institutional church with those that are acting out the Gospels."

She also said the church's moral and social stances are opposed to many millennial stances. For example, she said the church should stop focusing on "pelvic issues" and help students reconcile their LGBTQ identities with their Catholic identity.

Gregory Hillis, a professor of theology at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, countered Imperatori-Lee's theory, suggesting that the sociological discrepancies between millennial morals and the church really stem from a deficiency in spiritual, theological and, especially, mystagogical education.

He explained that, without enlightening young people to the beauty, faith and theological reasoning behind Catholic moral teaching, dogma can feel oppressive and legalistic.

"When I ask my students to tell me, 'When I say Catholic Church, what do you think of,' they say 'law and sex,'" Hillis told CNS. "That is their impression of the Catholic Church, that it is dogmatic and not beautiful."

Hillis said he combats this phenomenon by teaching students about the church's contemplative tradition, immersing them in Trappist Father Thomas Merton, St. Gregory the Great, St. Therese of Lisieux and other writers.

Most of Hillis' students attended Catholic schools, growing up with daily or weekly religious education classes. Yet, he said, they have no idea that the church possesses this wealth of writing and thought, and often they ask him why they were never taught this in high school.

On a fundamental level, Hillis said young Catholics are overwhelmingly disconnected from mystagogical tradition. He said he takes his three sons to the nearby Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani "to hang out with the monks." This kind of spiritual immersion is more effective than the typical catechesis young people receive today, Hillis said.

Jonathan Lewis, assistant secretary for pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Washington, shared Hillis' concerns, but added that young people leaving the church are simply mirroring their parents' gradual disaffiliation.

Lewis referenced "Sticky Faith," a book by Kara Powell and Chap Clark, which says young people need at least five mentors who support them in their faith and life journeys in order for their faith to stick. Typically, this should include a priest, parish staff, small groups and parents.

However, Lewis said the church often fails to provide lifelong accompaniment to its members. In a survey of young Catholics in the District of Columbia area, less than half said they had either a mentor or a friend at their church.

"Young people are looking for the church to be home," Lewis said. "You should belong there, people should know your name, you should feel welcome, you have the key, you have some authority, there is a table, you are provided for. The church should have all these elements of a home."

Martin suggested a more aggressive approach that does not rely on waiting for the church to change. Instead, he said lay groups such as FOCUS must raise up spiritual young people who know how to survive when ripped from the comfortable spiritual luxury of college ministry, where they are surrounded by friends and mentors on fire for Christ, and dropped into spiritual wildernesses.

He said young people who find themselves in inhospitable faith environments first need to seek the "water and shelter of faith," like daily prayer and frequenting the sacraments. However, once they have secured their own spiritual campground, they must gather a group of people and start a fire.

"Jesus changed the world with 12," he said. "You don't need a lot of people, but they need to be radically faithful and committed to being fruitful."

Martin said although social media, videos, synods and councils are helpful, he believes the greatest hope and the greatest weapons for the Catholic Church are personal relationships.

"This is how Jesus Christ did it. His social media was the Ten Commandments, which people started breaking before they even left the mountain," Martin said. "So Jesus became man and led a scandalously relational life. The amount of intentionality of relation that he demonstrated is our example."

Martin said if each person who believes reached out to five other people, and each of them reached out to another five people, there would be real hope for the future of the church.

"It is very hard, must be the hardest thing they have done, but it is possible and it is occurring across the U.S.," Martin said. "We are battling an exponential battle; either we are going to lose and it's going to be terrible, or we are going to win and it is going to be magnificent."

However, Hillis said he worries that if the church continues to make decisions without consulting young people, it will never connect with them.

Lewis, who audited the 2018 Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment, said it was a positive example of church leaders truly listening to and engaging with young people.

"Pope Francis as pastor and teacher was trying to model for the universal church and bishops worldwide the right kind of process to engage young people in," he said.

This included listening, friendship and leadership opportunities for young people at local levels. Lewis said he has not seen any widespread examples of implementation yet, but he is optimistic that communities will begin to change in the next year "because Christ is alive. He is always new, ever young, ever attractive, and ever alive."


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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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Young adult leaders gather for post-synod discussion

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy Rich Kalonick, Catholic Extension, and Catholic Apostolate Center

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholic young adults felt the hierarchy started listening to them in preparation for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on young people, and they will do whatever they can to make sure their voices continue to be heard, said a youth minister from New Zealand.

"May we be bold," was the wish expressed by Isabella McCafferty from the Archdiocese of Wellington at a Vatican news conference June 18.

McCafferty was one of more than 280 young people from 109 countries set to take part in a post-synod Youth Forum June 19-22.

The Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life asked bishops' conferences around the world to identify two young adult leaders to participate in the forum, being held at a retreat center just south of Rome.

Schonstatt Father Alexandre Awi Mello, secretary of the dicastery, told reporters, "There is always a risk that after a big event people lose enthusiasm, move on to the next thing," but Pope Francis and the dicastery are serious about not letting that happen.

"The synod on young people is in its realization phase," he said. "There is still much to be done," and the forum was designed to continue that conversation with young adults who are experienced in reaching out to their peers.

McCafferty told Catholic News Service: "Young people want the church to give them room to be involved. So, yes, they want their voice heard, but they also want to be part of the things that happen after that," actually implementing changes.

Involving young people in sharing the Gospel message in ways that are relevant and makes sense to them and to their peers, for example, through the use of social media, is especially important, she said.

Young people also are deeply committed to protecting the environment, she said, and they want to be involved in the efforts of the church to reduce its impact on the environment and to promote respect for God's creation.

Most of all, she said, young people are looking for "an authentic church."

"Authenticity is about transparency, it's about vulnerability at times, but it's also about ground level, about being community," McCafferty said. "Rather than always thinking of the church as this thing that happens in Rome, it's about what it means to be church in our local area," and it always involves "person-to-person contact."

When a young adult goes to a parish church regularly for months and only one person talks to him or her -- it happens, she said -- it tells that young adult that an authentic, caring community does not exist there.

"Young people don't feel particularly welcome" in many church communities, she said. "Young people are looking for an encounter with each other, with the church and with the sacraments, but it needs to happen in relevant ways for them," which involves a willingness to "interlink with each other more and holding each other up."

The U.S. bishops chose as their delegates to the meeting Brian Rhude, project coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center in Washington, D.C., and Brenda Noriega, coordinator of young adult ministry for the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, and member of the U.S. bishops' National Advisory Team on Young Adult Ministry.

Paul Jarzembowski, assistant director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries and Lay Ecclesial Ministry for the U.S. bishops, was one of 15 national youth ministry staff members invited to attend the forum and make a presentation on how "Christus Vivit," the pope's document on young people, is impacting parishes, dioceses and national organizations in the United States.


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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

International Youth Forum meets to continue work of Synod

Vatican City, Jun 18, 2019 / 07:45 am (CNA).- Nearly 250 young adults will meet in Rome this week for the International Youth Forum to discuss how best to implement ideas from the 2018 Synod of Bishops in their home dioceses.

Citing Pope Francis’ urging in Christus Vivit that “young people themselves are agents of youth ministry,” the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life invited young adults from 109 countries to participate in the forum June 19-22.

Isabella McCafferty was selected by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference to participate in the International Youth Forum this week. She called Christus Vivit “a constant source of encouragement in my own faith journey and inspired me in my ministry.”

“The challenge of course now is how to enable its richness to reach those who need to hear the heart of the document,” McCafferty said June 18.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, said he was “grateful” that Pope Francis was continuing the conversations begun at the synod last year and that the forum in Rome was part of an “important dialogue.”

Brian Rhude and Brenda Noriega are two of the young adult leaders who have been asked to represent the United State at the forum.  

Rhude, a student of Theology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., studied at the Catholic University campus in Rome during the Fall 2018 semester, which coincided with the Synod on Young People. He attended the synod as a media correspondent for the Catholic Apostolate Center.

Noriega is the current coordinator of young adult ministry in the Diocese of San Bernardino, Ca, and also serves on the USCCB’s National Advisory Team on Young Adult Ministry.

Last year, Noriega was co-leader of the bishop and young adult encounter at the V Encuentro national event held in Texas.

All the “youth delegates,” who are between the ages of 18 to 29, will listen to talks and panels on synodality, pastoral ministry, and vocational discernment. They will also meet in groups to consider how to apply the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit to their local youth ministries.

Pope Francis published Christus Vivit, a 50-page letter to “all Christian young people,” April 2 following the Synod of Bishops on young people, faith, and vocational discernment which took place Oct. 3-28.

In Christus Vivit Pope Francis addressed the obstacles to faith and personal fulfulment faced by young people today, such as isolation, over-consumption of media, and addiction to drugs and pornography. Do not let the world “rob you of hope and joy, or drug you into becoming a slave to their interests,” Francis said.

“You need to realize one basic truth: being young is not only about pursuing fleeting pleasures and superficial achievements. If the years of your youth are to serve their purpose in life, they must be a time of generous commitment, whole-hearted dedication, and sacrifices that are difficult but ultimately fruitful.”

On the final day of the International Youth Forum, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life will celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica with the young participants, after which they will meet Pope Francis.

“I think Pope Francis offers a very personal invitation to young people to return to what is most essential: an encounter daily with the love of God and the living person of Christ," McCafferty said.

What's in a name: Vatican questions use of term 'viri probati'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Paulo Santos, Reuters

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Amazon aims to highlight the damage wrought by climate change and exploitation, the possibility of ordaining married men to minister in remote areas of the rainforest continues to garner more attention.

Among the suggestions proposed in the 45-page working document for the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, published by the Vatican June 17, was the request "to study the possibility of priestly ordination for elders -- preferably indigenous, respected and accepted by the community -- even if they have an established and stable family."

However, when asked why the document did not use the standard church term "viri probati" ("men of proven virtue") to describe married candidates for the priesthood, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, told journalists June 17 that he was perplexed at the media's continued use of the phrase.

"It's a different thing," the cardinal said regarding the document's proposal. "For me, I think (the term 'viri probati') is a bit abused."

In drafting the working document, he said, the secretariat of the Synod of Bishops wanted to emphasize that while the subject of ordaining married men would be studied, the church continues to affirm the importance of celibacy for priests.

Responding to a journalist's question about ordaining married men, Bishop Fabio Fabene, undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, said the call for a study on the matter was a direct response "to the suffering of the people, above all those in the most remote areas, due to the lack of the Eucharist."

"The working document responds to this suffering by recalling, first of all, the principle that the Eucharist makes the church and the church makes the Eucharist," Bishop Fabene said.

He also reminded journalists of what Pope Francis said about ordaining married men of proven virtue during his news conference in January with journalists flying back to Rome from Panama with him.

Pope Francis told reporters that celibacy "is a gift to the church" and that he did not agree with allowing "optional celibacy."

"My personal opinion" is that optional celibacy is not the way forward, the pope told reporters Jan. 27. "Am I someone who is closed? Maybe, but I don't feel like I could stand before God with this decision."

However, on the flight as well as in a previous interview, Pope Francis also said he was open to studying the possibility of ordaining married men for very remote locations, such as the Amazon and the Pacific islands where Catholic communities seldom have Mass because there are no priests.

Pope Francis made headlines in 2017 when he raised the possibility of studying the ordination of married "viri probati," even though his response fell clearly in line with the thinking of his predecessors.

In an interview with German newspaper Die Zeit, published in early March 2017, the pope was asked if allowing candidates for the priesthood to fall in love and marry could be "an incentive" for combatting the shortage of priestly vocations.

"We have to study whether 'viri probati' are a possibility. We then also need to determine which tasks they could take on, such as in remote communities, for example," the pope told Die Zeit.

Expressing a willingness to discuss the possibility of allowing married men to become priests was hardly groundbreaking; the topic has come up repeatedly at meetings of the Synod of Bishops -- especially those held in 1971 and 2005 -- and has been discussed by both Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II.

In addition, the Catholic Church already has married priests -- thousands of them.

Most of the Eastern Catholic churches always have ordained married men in their traditional homelands and, in 2014, the Vatican granted permission for such ordinations to be celebrated anywhere the Eastern Catholic communities were present.

In the Latin-rite Catholic Church in 1981, St. John Paul issued a "pastoral provision" allowing former Anglican priests who were married to be ordained as Catholic priests. Pope Benedict expanded that provision with his 2009 apostolic constitution, "Anglicanorum coetibus," establishing personal ordinariates for former Anglicans, including married priests.

While married Eastern-rite priests are part of the church's tradition, when the popes allowed for the ordination of married former Anglican ministers, they did so affirming that the general rule for priestly celibacy in the Latin rite continues.

In the same way, Vatican officials said studying the possibility of ordaining married elders in the Amazon does not call into question the importance of celibacy, but is a call for the church to take a closer look at a possible solution for a specific need.

Bishop Fabene said the call for a study was a direct response to the suffering of indigenous Catholics living in remote areas of the Amazon and, along with promoting indigenous vocations to the priesthood and religious life, is meant "to bring an encounter of the sacramental presence in those communities."

"It seems pretty clear that this is what the working document intends: to present to the synod fathers this emergency that came from the consultation with the people of God in the Amazon," he said.

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Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

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