By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Young people want trusted guides as they explore their faith and their vocation, said five young adults from the United States attending the Vatican’s pre-synod meeting.
The U.S. delegates to the Vatican meeting March 19-25 also said the 305 young adults from around the world want to see young people consulted more often in their parishes and dioceses. And, one said, in conversations with other delegates, he discovered that Catholics in other countries are not experiencing the sharp divisions that U.S. Catholics are.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sent three delegates to the meeting: De La Salle Christian Brother Javier Hansen, who teaches at Cathedral High School in El Paso, Texas; Nick Lopez, director of campus ministry for the University of Dallas; and Katie Prejean-McGrady, a wife, new mother, youth minister and a popular speaker from the Diocese of Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Chris Russo, a 23-year-old working in Boston, represented the Ruthenian Catholic Church. And Nicole Perone, director of adult faith formation for the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, represented Voices of Faith, an international group that highlights the contributions of women in the church.
A topic that came up consistently at the meeting, Prejean-McGrady said, was young people’s desire “to find companions on the journey, to look for people to walk with them.”
“When you have personal relationships with people who are vibrantly living their faith, then you yourself are inspired to live your faith,” she said. And the relationship also provides a trusted source for dealing with concerns about topics such as sexuality or church teachings that may be difficult to understand, she said.
“‘Here’s a book; believe it’ – that doesn’t work with young people anymore, and we know that because they are consuming far too much media to where they are not going to read that book,” Prejean-McGrady said. “You have to talk with them, you have to walk with them, you have to love them and really spend time with them.”
Lopez noted that Pope Francis opened the meeting March 19 by telling the delegates that the church wanted to hear their opinions and their questions, even those they thought might make church leaders uncomfortable.
In ministry to young people, they need to know they can ask those questions and that “we are going to discuss them. Nothing is too radical. Nothing is out of left field,” he said. If a young person is struggling with something, that is all the reason needed to discuss it.
“Young people seem to live in this age of anxiety, meaning that in a world of seemingly endless possibilities, they are almost paralyzed because they have all of these different options and they want to go forth, but they want to make the right decision, and they want to do so without the fear of failure,” Russo said.
The accompaniment discussion was key for Perone, who counts herself blessed to have had the guidance and friendship of “a number of people, but especially women, really bright, faithful women who love the church and have dedicated their lives in service to the church.”
The preparatory document for the synod, which will be held in October, talks about “role models, guides and mentors,” she said, but a lot of young people do not know how to ask for such accompaniment, and many people do not realize they can offer that to young people.
In formulating suggestions for the bishops, Lopez said, “one of the main ones was having things like this pre-synod gathering more common in the parishes,” for example, by including young adults on the parish or diocesan council or creating parish or diocesan advisory committees of youth and young adults “and having those councils meet often.”
By Cindy Wooden