Teaching Our Faith — Setting a course for youth and young adult ministry

This series of teaching editorials focuses on “Christ is Alive,” the 2019 apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis and our youth and young adult ministry efforts in the Archdiocese of Louisville.

Throughout April, many significant elements of Pope Francis’ letter to young people, “Christus Vivit,” have been presented in this space.

These editorials challenged each of us to evangelize young people and to share with them the transforming message that Christ is alive.

The editorials also considered our call to accompany young people by “showing up with our hearts open,” pondered Pope Francis’ message of vocation and discernment to young people and all that they bring to the Church and encouraged each of us to listen to the hearts of our younger brothers and sisters in whatever context we encounter them. There is much insight for us to gain from the Holy Father’s wisdom.

Pope Francis tells us ministry with young people “involves two main courses of action,” one of outreach and one of growth. He defines outreach as “the way we attract new young people to an experience of the Lord,” and growth as “the way we help those who have already had that experience to mature in it.”

As Pope Francis reflects upon how Jesus reached out to new followers by calling people into friendship and his invitation to “Come and see” (John 1:39), our Holy Father describes this outreach as “… an invitation that did not pressure them, but gently appealed to their freedom.” Pope Francis challenges us that too often we offer young people “prepackaged answers and ready-made solutions,” knowing that “young people frequently fail to find in our usual programs a response to their concerns, their needs, their problems and issues.” Our Holy Father urges us to meet young people where they are and lead them to an encounter with the Risen Lord who loves them and wants them to live in relationship with him. When Jesus is presented in friendship, in an “attractive and effective way,” young people are responsive and drawn to him and his Church.

Once young people have encountered Jesus personally, growing them as disciples is essential. Pope Francis emphasizes that the community surrounding young people “should feel collectively responsible for accepting, motivating, encouraging and challenging them.” In order for this to happen, the community as a whole and the individual members of it must first be following Christ as living witnesses in their daily life, intentionally creating “an attractive and fraternal environment where [young people] can live with a sense of purpose.” If young people are to grow as disciples, they need to be immersed in a community of faithful disciples willing to grow and mature together in their faith, able to tackle the deeper realities of life.

In response to “Christus Vivit,” our Archdiocese has taken up Pope Francis’ encouragement to “examine, respectfully and seriously, the situation of [our] young people, in order to find the most fitting ways of providing them with pastoral care,” and we challenge families, parishes and schools to do the same. The fruit of this reflection is a strategic plan for youth and young adult ministry in the Archdiocese developed by a task force of pastors, youth and young adult ministers, high school and college campus ministers and archdiocesan staff. The plan is in the final stage of publication. Twelve archdiocesan agencies are tasked with action steps.

The Holy Father’s call for outreach has a significant place in this new plan, such as “promoting an archdiocesan-wide vision of the importance and value of youth and young adult ministry in our Catholic faith communities” and “devising ways to help parishes promote opportunities for young adult engagement.” It names, among others, expanded retreat and mission opportunities, assisting young people during transition periods and training young people to reach out to disconnected peers.

The plan also identifies steps to spur the Pope’s other key aspect of ministry: growth. Among these are establishing opportunities for mentoring, fostering parish membership among young adults and creating leadership positions for young people on archdiocesan boards and advisory committees. Also included are initiatives to promote youth involvement in liturgical ministries, providing resources for young parents and further development of youth catechetical resources.

This is a strategic plan that identifies priorities, so it does not aim to be all inclusive. The plan sets a solid course to follow as the Office of Youth and Young Adults continues its mission to equip youth, young adult and campus ministers with the tools needed to minister effectively to the young people in their care. We echo Jesus’ and Pope Francis’ invitation to young people and all who love them “to be fearless missionaries.” I invite all in the Archdiocese to help us make our families, parishes and schools adequate training grounds for our younger brothers and sisters to be prepared to fulfill this call!

Karl Dolson is the Director of the Office of Youth and Young Adults for the Archdiocese of Louisville.

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