VINELAND — More than 60 parish catechists and youth and young adult ministry leaders gathered here at the Sacred Heart Center last week over two days to discuss the young church’s desires, and respond to their needs in their local communities.
Last spring, Pope Francis called for a wide consultation of the young church in preparation for the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops later this year, “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.”
In response, the Diocese of Camden’s Office of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministries has spent the past year conducting online surveys and in-person listening sessions of youth and young adults. Greg Coogan, director of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministries, presented these findings Feb. 21-22.
Among the data emerging from the day was the estimation that over a quarter of the Catholic population in the Diocese of Camden are young adults, being between the ages of 18 and 39. When asked about the importance of “attending church with my family,” 43 percent of teens aged 14-18 said it was a “must have,” while 36 percent said it was “very important.”
In answering what was their preferred way to communicate, youth and young adults differed, as more youth affirmed that texting was the best way to reach out, while young adults prefer e-mail.
In general, the main takeaways from the survey, Coogan said, were that personal training in prayer and discernment was needed for respondents; the importance of parish communities to invest time in youth and young adults; parishes should address family’s sacramental needs throughout their lives, whether preparing for events such as a funeral, baptism, confirmation or marriage; the need to think of a parish as not just a territory, but outside the four walls, so to speak, and into the larger community; and the fact that humanly and financially, ministry with young people can be costly.
“Our young church is gifted. We have the obligation to pave the way,” Coogan stressed.
He also discussed the need for parishes to minister outside their own walls, and “cast out into the deep” of the neighborhoods and city streets.
“Until we recognize that our mission field is off the parish grounds, we are lost,” he implored.
Although he spoke strongly of what parishes should do for youth and young adults, Coogan stated that “the parents are the most influential for them — the more we are able to partner with them, and make the connection between faith and life, the better.”
Returning to their own communities after the morning and afternoon event in Vineland, attendees were eager and excited to put Coogan’s PowerPoint and words into solid, tangible action.
“The day really invigorated me,” noted Katie Waldow, director of Youth Ministry at Ocean City’s Saint Damien Parish.
After the survey found that almost 37 percent of young adults in her county (Cape May) are Catholic, Waldow is ready to “better serve my ministry, and figure out different avenues” to connect with the young church.
Saint Joachim Parish, Bellmawr’s coordinator of religious education, Sue Fronczek, admits that she works at “an older parish,” but says “there are a lot of young families with children here.” She expressed optimism in her parish’s ability to bring the faith, and minister effectively, to youth and young adults.
“Saint Joachim is finally on the road to seeing a possibility for more involvement with parish ministers” to young Catholics, she said.