Connectedness, service among challenges, opportunities youth identify in conversation with bishop
In preparation for the 2018 Synod on Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment, Pope Francis has been calling for the voices of young people to be heard.
He encouraged dioceses to ask their young people, defined in the preparatory document as ages 16-29, for their input on what they think are the needs of youth and what youth think they can offer the church in today’s world.
About 30 high school students gathered Sept. 6 at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud, including students from St. John’s Prep School in Collegeville, to give Bishop Donald Kettler their feedback.
He started by saying that he doesn’t stand before them looking at them as the “future of the church,” rather, as “the church alive and active and doing something today.”
“You are part of who we are as a church right now, not just part of something that we are planning for the next generation,” he said.
After explaining a little about what a synod is and about how the bishops will use the information he is gathering, he spent about 45 minutes asking questions and listening to responses.
Among the responses, students identified the need for more outreach to people their age, for “progression of thought” — that the church needs to change as the world changes — and more opportunities to learn about their faith and to be engaged in activities that support learning, specifically activities around service.
By a show of hands, nearly all the students present had encountered some type of service or mission-related activities.
“The way I see God the most is seeing God through other people,” one student said. “It’s true that you can get lost in the service of others. I think we need more opportunities to reintroduce people to their faith through service work.”
One way to do that, one student added, is to invite those who aren’t involved in their faith or their church.
“They can learn through us, but we need to make sure we understand our faith ourselves and can show what we believe,” she said.
They also acknowledged challenges with Mass — asking for homilies to be more relatable and easier to understand. Many students agreed that their school liturgies are geared toward them and engage them in a way that Mass in their parish does not. Some suggested a monthly Mass geared toward youth as a way to “check-in” with the youth and encourage them to attend.
Additionally, they expressed a desire for connections outside of Mass, such as stable youth groups, opportunities for service and chances to build relationships with people outside their families, including Catholic professionals.
Some students proposed providing leadership opportunities within their parishes. One student remarked that, once confirmed, they are told they are adults in the church, but the church isn’t providing adult opportunities for them.
The students also noted challenges of today’s society. For example, one student said the voice of the church is often drowned out by worldly influences.
“We are always balancing what the media and the world are teaching us and what the church teaches. We want to do what’s right, but there are a lot of things that influence us,” he said.
“I think that unity is a problem in the Catholic faith right now,” another student shared. “As Jesus taught us, we are supposed to be loving toward one another, and I think that more often than not we are pushing people away instead of accepting them.”
Last, students shared that developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is critical.
“I think we need help learning how to pray,” one student said. “A lot of people don’t know how to pray. They don’t know that God is listening to them or how they can hear God. It’s just something we do. [I think] it would deepen their relationship with the church if they knew how to pray and it might encourage them to read the Bible and go to church.”
Theresa Jancik, a senior at Cathedral and one of the participants, told The Visitor after the gathering that she became a campus minister so she could become more involved in her faith. The conversation with the bishop was one way to take an active role in her school.
One of the main issues she identified was the feeling that youth are “kind of ignored overall by the whole Catholic Church and in some parishes.”
“It’s not that they are purposely doing it. It’s that there is a lot going on that it’s hard to focus on everything,” she said.
Jancik feels hopeful that, by talking with the bishop and naming some of their concerns, “a lot more youth involvement in the Catholic Church and specifically in the St. Cloud Diocese will happen,” she said.
Carlos Borgert, a sophomore at St. John’s Prep, also felt some good could come from the dialogue.
“I realized that there is more that the church can do,” he said. “I also see a lot of hope just from the people in this room.“
Also attending the session were Cathedral’s director of campus ministry, Deb Schnettler; Cathedral chaplain, Father Ben Kociemba; St. John’s Prep campus ministry director, David Fremo; diocesan director of Catholic Education Ministries, Linda Kaiser; and Brenda Kresky, diocesan consultant for faith formation.
The responses collected will be part of the feedback Bishop Kettler will bring to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington this fall.