Letting the youth have their say

Photo by Mike Walsh
Youth share their hopes and concerns with Bishop Dennis Sullivan and each other last week at Church of the Incarnation, Mantua. The dialogue between the young church and Camden’s bishop came while the global Catholic Church gathers in Rome for the Synod of Bishops on “Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment.”

MANTUA — Authentic relationships. Belonging. Mentorship.

With Bishop Dennis Sullivan listening attentively, the youth of the Diocese of Camden shared their desires here at the Church of the Incarnation last week.

As Pope Francis, church leaders, and youth are gathering in Rome this month for the Synod of Bishops on “Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment,” the Bishop of Camden’s dialogue with parish youth ministry members was the first of two listening sessions; he was scheduled to meet with high school youth earlier this past week, in the same vein as the Mantua meeting, to hear of the young church’s hopes and concerns.

Starting off the evening, Bishop Sullivan thanked the youth for joining him, and told them the gathering was “an opportunity for me to listen to you, hear what you are saying, and respond to your needs.”

“I’m here right now, and I have a voice,” declared Jessica Rapposselli, from Christ Our Light in Cherry Hill.

“Youth desire a safe space, to be known and loved,” said Saint Katharine Drexel, Egg Harbor Township’s Alyson Vetter.

From Northfield’s Saint Gianna Beretta Molla Parish in Northfield, Patrick Newman said that “not enough is being done to make youth believe that the church is something big in their life,” and called for “more opportunities for youth to participate in parish life.”

Bishop meets with youth group representatives

Photo by Mike Walsh
Bishop Dennis Sullivan hosts a meeting with representatives of parish youth groups at Incarnation Parish, Mantua, on Oct. 10.

Other youths singled out the need for strong Catholic mentors, and mentioned their own parish priests as holy role models for their lives.

Each youth in the room received a personal invitation to express their thoughts, said Greg Coogan, director of Youth Ministry for the Diocese of Camden.

“The youth reflected the diversity of the church, and its cultures,” he said.

At the end of the dialogue, Coogan left with “great hope that the faith is definitely alive, in love with Jesus Christ and his church, and want to make a difference.” The key, he said, is for church leaders, such as Bishop Sullivan, and parish communities to hear them and respond. “We need a preferential option for the youth in everything we do,” Coogan urged. “The entire church is responsible for the ministering of young people.”