While we’re wringing our hands wondering how to bring young adults back to the church, 800-plus teenagers and adults from our diocese fueled their faith at the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC 17). They returned home last week from Indianapolis, charged up and raring to share their passion for Christ with all who will listen.
A sampling of their impressions of NCYC and their hopeful responses about how to move forward appear in this week’s edition of The Catholic Messenger as well as last week’s. You can also read them online on our website at www.catholicmessenger.net. The response from Luke Aschenbrenner of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City serves as an encouraging example. “I learned how to listen and appreciate God’s calling for me … If I can keep the fire burning in my heart through attending youth group to strengthen my faith and go out and preach and help … I am listening to the call.”
NCYC is a biennial, three-day experience of prayer, community, evangelization, catechesis and service for Catholic teenagers of high school age. The National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry sponsors NCYC as one of the ways of accompanying young people as they encounter and follow Jesus Christ. Bishop Thomas Zinkula, who participated in NCYC 17, observed that the organizers “know what works” to tap into the youths’ longing in their faith lives. In addition to liturgy, prayer and catechism, NCYC 17 served up plenty of fun with music, games and an interactive exhibition hall that kept the teens entertained and engaged.
Realistically, how many of these hundreds of Catholic youths from our diocese will sustain that passion for Christ and remain active participants in their parishes and their universal church as they move into adulthood? Can one weekend of evangelization keep the “fire of faith” burning?
“You’ve got to keep feeding them,” says Michelle Montgomery, youth minster of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville. “Try to come up with what they want to do. Listen to what they want, what their needs are. Ask, ‘What can I do to help you keep the fire burning? What service do you want to give to the church?’”
Montgomery provides her NCYC participants a list of ministries to choose from and shares their contact information with the leader in that ministry: Eucharistic minister, lector, teen leaders, catechist assistants and more. Let’s take it a step further by making room for the youths in those ministries.
We should ask ourselves: Am I willing to step aside and make room so others younger than I can step up? Am I willing to mentor someone younger into this role, share my wisdom, help them develop their skills and work side by side with them while I slowly step aside?
Leaders or not, all of us play an important role in encouraging youths to return to church and remain part of the faith community. Begin by getting to know young people by name. Remember to greet them by name.
We’ve got to reach young people’s hearts. We need to help them to know Jesus, not just about him, Bishop Zinkula points out. When a young adult attends Mass, “What do they experience there? Are we full, active, conscious participants? If we are, do we welcome them?”
At a Twin Cities parish, grandparents gather weekly to learn about their important role in bringing their children and grandchildren back to the church. These grandparents belong to a generation of which church has always been an integral part of their lives. Let’s tap into their steadfast faith, shared in community, in drawing younger generations to the church. The grandparents’ program is an idea worth exploring in our diocese.
No matter their age, people need to feel invited, welcomed to the church. They need our time, patience and acceptance. They need our willingness to embrace change — not in the Mass, but in the way it is celebrated. It is everyone’s task to welcome and make room for youths to assume their rightful place within the community of faith. That will keep the “fire of faith” burning.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor