Accompany young people – invigorate the church

By Maureen Smith
MADISON – Both keynote speakers at Fall Faith Formation Day had a message for catechists and pastoral leaders: the key to keeping the church in Mississippi vibrant is in empowering young people. Hosffman Ospino, a professor and expert in Hispanic ministry and Robert Feduccia, a national leader in youth ministry bookended a day of information, fellowship and encouragement for more than 200 catechists from across the diocese on Saturday, Aug. 25. The overarching theme for the event, organized by the Office of Faith Formation and hosted at Madison St. Joseph School, was ‘One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.’
Ospino spoke in the morning, offering a history lesson about the church and immigration. He showed how the Church in America was once concentrated in the Northeast thanks to European immigrant families who came and built their cultural churches and schools to serve their communities. Today, the numbers are shifting. The church in the South and West is growing thanks to a different immigrant community, Latinos from Central and South America. Another key statistic: the age difference between these populations. Non-Hispanic, white church members have an average age of 55. Hispanics make up 43 percent of the population with an average age of 28. Youth and young adult ministry are needed to keep these young Catholics in the church.
He said the Diocese of Jackson is in a unique position because existing communities can welcome their new neighbors. “In a sense being small and having been exposed to racial diversity and more recently linguistic diversity with the arrival of Latinos and Catholics who speak other languages, is an opportunity to test ideas. Being a mission diocese as well gives you all the flexibility in the world to imagine ‘what does it mean to be an evangelizing community,’” said Ospino.
He encouraged catechists and pastors to learn some Spanish or identify a member of the Hispanic community who can interpret for them so both communities can better communicate. “It is not two Churches that are merging, it is one and the same church. It is one and the same people of God called from many places and we are called to build the church here, period. We have different journeys different ways of doing things, different languages, cultural traditions, but we are in this together,” he said.
The day closed with a talk from Robert Feduccia. The Brookhaven native has fond memories of Catholic School and parish faith formation in his hometown. He has founded a program for evangelizing teens and has dedicated his life to helping people connect to a younger population. He also spoke about the immigrant population, but warned that they should not be taken for granted.
First generation immigrants, he explained, do practice their faith with their families “… yet the longer they are here their patterns being to resemble what we are already experiencing (with teens who leave the church) so if we are not proactive then even though there is this great invigoration that’s happening from the immigrant church, they will not bring long-lasting vigor any more than the Irish or Italians or anybody else brought long-lasting vigor. There has to be some real intentionality on formation- as Pope Francis says on the ‘encounter and accompaniment’ of us with our young people regardless of ethnic background,” he said.
Between these two speakers, attendees could select from a number of breakout sessions dealing with catechetical issues such as RCIA, adult faith formation, self-care for ministers and how to use the new VIRTUS curriculum for safe environment training. Terri Collins from Jackson Holy Family attended the VIRTUS session. She said she is thrilled with the new lessons and resources. She wants to find ways to share this important information with the whole parish, not just the students and their families. “The biggest question mark for me was what can we do to educate the entire parish so everyone is looking at it (safe environment) now only when we are in the church but also when we leave and are at the mall or when our kids are going to practice and all these other things,” she said. A group of more than a dozen young adults came from Pontotoc St. Christopher to attend the day. Jorge Gonzàles said he was glad to meet other Catholics from around the state and felt challenged to do more for his parish. “I like the Surprise and Joy session (by Feduccia) because it mainly applied to the youth. I learned that the youth start to lose faith around the age of 10; this is why we need to help the youth with their faith,” he said.

(Photos by Maureen Smith)