Young People Hold the Future: Steps to Pave Their Way
Feb 4, 2020
The National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) is the celebration of Catholic youth in the United States. It was held over a 3 day period, November 21-23, 2019 in Indianapolis. The Conference included an amazing variety of opportunities for young people to experience an encounter with Christ and His Church, or the Young Church as it was called that weekend. There were sessions with nationally known Catholic speakers, music, and of course, Mass. During one of the sessions, Pope Francis sent a message via Skype addressing the youth directly. The response was amazing!!! “We need to go out and meet each person,” he said. “Young people are the ones who hold the future, through you the future enters the world.”
What an enlightened way for our youth to be inspired to carry on the message of Christ. I think every youth minister in the Lucas Oil Stadium wanted to bottle up their energy and take it back with them!
Youth ministers work tirelessly to accomplish this type of excitement. In a world full of so much stuff that families need to compete with, it is an enormous challenge to create an atmosphere in which teens continually see the importance of Church life and the importance it should play in their lives. What is the answer? How can we work to make them realize how much God’s love can work for good in their lives?
These are some successful components that can help in building up our young church:
Evangelization and Catechesis have to work together in order to reach young families today. A majority of families are not together, and young people find themselves living between two homes. There are also many more requirements and demands on today's youth compared to years passed. Everyone is always in a hurry, rushing to the next thing, searching for what will make him or her feel fulfilled and happy: the best dance class, baseball team, academic awards, attending the best colleges to get the greatest advantage in order to land the perfect job, in order to have the perfect life that you will then post all over social media to live up to the standard of what the perfect life is thought to be. Society puts all this pressure on our youth, the youth put all this pressure on their parents, and the circle continues. There is no longer stability anywhere in anything. If people are not instantly gratified, they move on.
At the NCYC Conference, the Holy Father said, “We need to go out and meet each person.” Meeting people where they are at is a huge component of today’s youth ministry and evangelization. Knowing each person as an individual and being able to share the joys and sorrows of their lives is a key element. This takes an enormous commitment on the part of the youth minister, but with the right team it can be done.
Youth Ministry is fun and games, but there must be an element of catechesis in order for it to work: making Christ relatable to the youth of today; exemplifying the teachings of Christ, including prayer, along with an exercise built for a possible encounter with Christ. We must catechize in a way that reaches their soul to transform it!
A big component of youth ministry is simply presence. Being present in the lives of these teens outside of Church: at basketball games, football or baseball, dance recitals, school concerts or plays, or making planned appearances at their homes when they are studying for finals and offering a quick prayer, or perhaps there is a family member in the hospital that could use a visit. Presence.
Being able to relate to the teens and what they go through on a daily basis is one of the most important elements. Knowing the world they live in, the technology they use, what goes on in and around school so that you can talk with them about the different things and how they deal with them, coming up with ways to get them to open up and talk about their lives, offering a safe place at weekly youth meetings where they can freely express their questions, doubts, or feelings so they feel loved and accepted. Some say that one needs to be young to minister effectively to youth. In today’s world, relatability along with life experience make for a strong youth minister. Life experiences from a parent’s perspective can give teens a sounding board that is unlike what some may experience at home.
Trusting the youth minister is essential for teens. They have to feel as though you have their back no matter what. Most of them feel their parents don’t understand what they are feeling ever, (note the sarcasm), and teens need to know they can share their cares, concerns, and frustrations in a non-threatening environment.
And finally, God’s love is perfect. Love is ultimately the thing we should always be representing as we work to evangelize others. The Lord expects us to love, as love is truth and the truth leads us to Jesus. There is no greater action we possess than to share love with others to help them grow in their faith. Within that love they will find the “heart of the catechist,” and we find Christ together.
Amy Wojcikowski has been the Faith Formation Coordinator for Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, in Liverpool, NY, for the past 12 years. She earned her Master’s degree in Pastoral Studies from St. Bernard’s and is the Pastoral Associate for Education for the Catholic Communities of the Epiphany. She and her husband have two boys.