Youth: the great challenge for the Church in the US
An eye-opening report from the National Dialogue
April 17, 2021
Bishops in the US together with the Catholic Pastoral Ministry, composed of numerous institutions of lay leaders who interact with bishops, priests and nuns, both as members and as leaders and advisors, have worked for years trying to discern priorities for the national youth ministry. There have been several meetings and surveys in which approximately 10,000 youth and young adults have participated.
On March 2, a webinar conference was held in English on the conclusions reached by the National Dialogue “on the Catholic ministry with youth and young adults”, titled “Final Report“. A similar conference was held in Spanish on March 16 for the Hispanic community. Renowned leaders exposed the main guidelines used for the process by which the above-mentioned document was redacted and a summarized version of the content and pastoral reach of this document was explained.
10,000 young voices in 10 ideas
Ten recommendations presented by the document were given after a thorough process of discernment by the National Dialogue. We could call these “The 10 commandments of the Youth Ministry in the US”.
- Connect more intentionally the life of faith with the lived experiences of young people
- We all need to do more synodal listening to one another
- Address the “authenticity gap”
- Increase investment in accompaniment
- Expand ministry with young adults
- Re-imagine faith formation
- Reconsider a new approach to the preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation
- Partner with parents and enhance family ministry
- Transform the ministry leadership
- Embrace complexities
For every millennial who joins the Church, there are six who leave
The bishops are aware of the lack of values crisis and the loss of the faithful in the temples, especially among youth and young adults. According to a June 2019 report by Bishop Robert Barron (then chairman of the USCCB’s Commission on Evangelization and Catechesis) presented at the Bishops’ General Assembly, 50% of millennials left the Church. For every millennial who joins the Church, there are six who abandon it. Eighty percent of them do it before turning 23. The median age at which they leave the Church is thirteen. Bishop Barron also presented a report from the Pew Research Center which found that 69% of Catholics in the US believe that the holy host is merely a symbol of the Body of Christ, not his real presence.
Confronted with these facts, it is not uncommon to see that the recurrent answer and eventual solution is to go deeper in the catechetical formation, to motivate the intellectual knowledge of the fundamental truths of the Catholic faith, and to motivate the participation in liturgical events, especially in Mass.
Bishop Barron’s answer to these problems given at the next Bishops’ Assembly, in November 2019 is explained in “Five keys to reach the religiously unaffiliated”. These are: “Get young people involved in works of social justice; use the via pulchritudinis -the way of beauty-; stop dumbing down the faith; turn every parish into a missionary society; and creatively use the new media”.
Experiencing a great love
Motivated by Bishop Barron’s presentation on June 2019 at the Bishops’ Assembly, MovCom US, “Catholic Ecclesial Movements and New Communities in the US” wrote a letter to Bishop Barron, in October 2019 as chairman of the Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, and to Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chairman-elect of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, in which the following ideas were expressed:
“We would like to share with you an excerpt of Pope Francis’ Christus Vivit in which he emphasizes the importance of a personal love to be able to fully participate in the life of the Church:
‘Rather than being too concerned with communicating a great deal of doctrine, let us first try to awaken and consolidate the great experiences that sustain the Christian life. In the words of Romano Guardini, “when we experience a great love…everything else becomes part of it’. (Christus Vivit #212)”
Isn’t this the most important issue faced by the Church?
Every enterprise often reviews its strategies and results. What company could survive if it loses six clients while only acquiring one? Can we afford not to involve the whole Church, all the Bishops, all the laymen, to jointly analyze what is causing the youth to abandon the Church and suggest concrete solutions?
Combined with family and marriage, isn’t this the most important issue faced by the Church worldwide? As soon as hearts are conquered for the Lord, every social and apostolic activity will make profound sense, not the other way around.
Young people need life, community, accompaniment
It is noteworthy that the surveys emphasized insistently on the importance given to life, to personal testimony, to experiences tied to the faith, to accompaniment, and walking together. They also stressed the need to venture into new forms of evangelization, to include parents in the ministry processes, to abandon the comfort zones and be open to what is different, to leave the known and safe structures so that the youth ministry may become more experiential, more relatable, stemming from young people’s reality, and listening to their concerns.
Maybe we should frame the “Ten commandments for the Youth Ministry in the US” and hang it on every ministry and parish office in the country.
What is the Church doing?
As mentioned above, some bishops, priests, laymen and nuns are working on the youth ministry through direct contact with the young people. Exaudi spoke about this with Paul Jarzembowski, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries and with Mar Muñoz-Visoso, executive director of the Secretariat for Cultural Diversity of the Church, both of USCCB, to find out how the Episcopate is dealing with the youth ministries.
Jarzembowski said that “the Church is responding to the challenges presented at the National Dialogue through various initiatives by the Conference of Catholic Bishops in the US, including:
- Forming a special working committee of bishops to deal with issues related to youth and young adults,
- The commitment of the bishops, the ministry’s leaders, and the young adults to hold an intercultural conversation for three years,
- A mobilization process called “Journeying Together”,
- Follow Pope Francis’ initiative to establish Christ the King Sunday as the new world day of recognition and celebration of youth in our parishes and local communities”.
He continued stressing the need for openness to young people’s reality saying that “all these efforts show that the path to follow with respect to the youth and young adults must be one of genuine solidarity and it is important to build trust among the generations and cultures in our communities. Young people need to know that the Church sees them and truly cares for them, no matter their past circumstances or their level of commitment to practice their faith. All these efforts involve processes, and this is something we have learned through the National Dialogue and from Christus Vivit: that is, to know that our journey with the youth, while we all walk towards Christ, each one in his own way, will take time, investment, and perseverance…but, at the end, we are hopeful of what is to come”.
The young want a community and to be heard
Muñoz-Visoso mentioned that “the final report from the National Dialogue confirms the Synod’s as well as Pope Francis’ intuition in Christus Vivit. Young people want to be heard and for us to walk with them along the way, allowing them to be the protagonists of their own history without outside intervention dictating solutions to problems we do not understand and that do not address their reality. They want us to become involved, to be authentic, but above all, they want to create community, personal as well as virtual communities, places where their concerns and worries are addressed, where they feel they can contribute with their ideas, skills and talents, and where their sense of belonging is reinforced as well as the growth of their faith; a place that speaks to their everyday reality, challenging them and challenging us”.
Journeying Together, an initiative that confronts reality
The director of Diversity in the Episcopate expressed that “through the Journeying Together initiative, our Secretariat, in collaboration with the departments of Youth, Education, Evangelization and, more recently, Vocations, is bringing together young people and leaders of the youth ministries, as well as the campus ministries, with several bishops who are interested in a process of inter-cultural dialogues. The objective is to have the message of the Gospel and the vision of Christus Vivit reach youth and young adults from every cultural and socioeconomic group and to promote a conversion in the adults in charge that may lead to a more authentic and effective ministry”.
She concludes: “At a moment in which the country is divided by ideologies, acrimony, hate, violence and racism, the youth, together with their bishops, are giving us an example of what is possible through dialogue and mutual accompaniment so that we may be able to dream and plan for a better future. The synodal way works!”
Bishops, priests, ministry leaders, have we received the message?
Will the bishops, priests, ministry leaders, catechists and communicators acknowledge what the youth and young adults are consistently and recurrently asking for?
Will we react and take the 10 suggestions as basic ones to be implemented in our dioceses, parishes, institutions, and movements? Will we understand the main idea of the human communal and testimonial connection as a way to a personal conversion in Jesus and a growth in faith?
The National Dialogue Report leaves no doubt. That is what the young people have been waiting for.
The Church’s future is at stake. It is up to all of us to become a Church of authentic men and women, welcoming, embracing, brotherly, communal; a Church that is attractive to every young person and their families.
Everything else the Church has to offer will become part of that great love.