Cultivating a new generation

Frank Mercadante, Executive Director of Cultivation Ministries, teaches clergy, youth ministers, and catechists how to engage the new generation on Oct. 25 at Saint Katharine Drexel Parish in Absecon.
Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

ABSECON — Prepare. Sow. Grow. Reap.

Four words well-known and understood to farmers; less so, for Catholic youth ministry workers.

But it was the latter group that heard these words here at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish recently during a two-day symposium on, what else, cultivating best practices for youth ministry, led by national author and speaker Frank Mercadante.

As the Catholic Church at home, national, and abroad prepares for next year’s 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment,” the Diocese of Camden brought together almost 200 priests, deacons, and parish catechists on October 25 and 26 to hear and learn from Mercadante, Executive Director of Illinois-based Cultivation Ministries and author of “Engaging a New Generation: A Vision For Reaching Catholic Teens.”

The guest shared the cultivation strategies when describing how best to “draw young people to responsible participation in the life, mission, and work of the Catholic faith community,” he said.

“We prepare through adult and parish leadership; sow through initial youth evangelization efforts, in helping youth encounter Jesus; grow through youth formation; and reap, bear fruit, through equipping youth to mobilize, to engage in discipleship and bring the faith” to their peers, he continued.

Mercadante believes that with laser-focused programs, activities, and events, “youth can move from spiritual consumers, to world transformers.”

The two days were intermingled with Mercadante’s presentation, and brainstorming among those gathered on how to take the speaker’s tools and engage the youth in their communities. Everything was on the table(s): Christmas caroling at senior residences, service-oriented programming, praise and worship nights.

“Young adults have a voice, and they want to serve,” knows Camille Cuentas, Program Coordinator for Asset Development at Catholic Charities.

“We’re coming up with ways to integrate young adults into the work of Catholic Charities,” she added. Sure enough, she helped to organize a young adult night at Catholic Charities last week, for an encounter with refugees, to hear their stories and learn about her organization’s work.

Bonnie McGrory, a 7th grade catechist at Cherry Hill’s Christ Our Light parish, agreed with Mercadante’s idea of creating a unified, connected parish community of missionary disciples.

“We want to integrate youth into the entire parish, and welcome them in all our ministries,” she said.

Absecon’s event was just the next step in “preparing the soil of the diocese, to create missionary disciples, and help parish leaders engage a new generation” ahead of next year’s synod, said Greg Coogan, diocesan Director of Youth Ministry. In January, a webinar with Mercadante will take place to keep the conversation going, along with the annual Youth Congress next April.

Farming today, for a successful harvest tomorrow.

“The work never ends,” he said.