Question sparks a simple conversion over lunch

The Catholic Millennial Ministry at Divine Mercy Parish, Vineland.

A simple conversation over lunch sparked a ministry idea for a group of young adults from a Vineland parish.

Jose Rodriguez, 24, of Divine Mercy Parish, and another young adult were sharing an afternoon meal with their pastor last year when he asked them what was on their minds, Rodriguez said.

“We were actually concerned with the retention of young adults in the parish, because one of my friends had decided to go to another church, so that was fresh on our minds,” Rodriguez said. “The pastor basically said, you know, ‘What are you gonna do about it?’ And it kind of took us back because we really didn’t have an answer. He said, ‘Well, you gotta do something about it, and I need you to do something about it.’”

Then they realized — the parish needed a young adult group. And the idea for the Catholic Millennial Ministry, for ages 18 to 30, was born, Rodriguez said.

“There is a child’s group, there is a youth group and then there’s ministries for older adults, middle age and senior citizens, but there’s really nothing in between,” he said. “So it was a concern, [it] put up a red flag, so I thought, let’s try something crazy. Let’s start putting a young adult group together, and they were all for it.”

Rodriguez organized an initial group meeting at the John Paul II Retreat Center, based on the theme “A Date Night with Christ.”

“Basically, the catchphrase behind that is you can’t fall in love with someone unless you take them out on a date,” he said.

Nearly 40 young adults showed up that evening. The group shared a meal, held a Bible study, spent some time in Eucharistic adoration — and had an open discussion on what they are looking for from the church, Rodriguez said. Attendees were very open in their answers, he recalled.

“They want the church to offer opportunity,” Rodriguez said. “The church is on top of you to finish your catechism, you gotta get your CCD in and finish your sacraments. And after you finish confirmation, you kind of become like a whisper in the wind; they’re not so much on you anymore. When they’re on [us]… it’s kind of annoying because they’re on top of us all the time, [but] now that they’re not there, we feel like all alone. There’s this lack of communication between the church and its young adults, and it’s funny, because this age group, this generation, my generation, we’re not afraid of responsibility.”

The Catholic Millennial ministry is a place for young adults to find that level of involvement and responsibility, Rodriguez said. About 20 to 30 young people, from all different levels of experience with the faith, meet every other Friday evening at 8 p.m.

The group’s activities are different each time, he said. Sometimes, they go to the movies, bowling or out to eat together, and hold a Bible study afterwards. On other occasions, they pray the Rosary together.

During Lent, the group prays the Stations of the Cross, but from different perspectives each time — the regular way, through Mary’s eyes or through the Apostles’ eyes, Rodriguez said. The group also held a Stations of the Cross procession through nearby streets on Good Friday — the moment that Rodriguez says he was proudest of the group.

“I think that was when I felt closest to them,” he said. “I felt so proud because we achieved what they wanted to — which is to be given a responsibility and be able to knock it out of the park, and they did that.”

Word about the Catholic Millennial group has gotten out far beyond the parish boundaries. Visitors have come from Atlantic County, Galloway and Stockton University, he said. One of the members even brought his cousin from North Carolina to a meeting — and during a group activity, he sketched a picture of Our Lady of Fatima that is still hanging on the wall, he said.

“I thought it was cool that instead of, you know, taking his cousin out for a night at Atlantic City or something to show him around, he brought him to the youth group,” he said.

Rodriguez has a hopeful vision for the future of the ministry. Almost all the group members are training to be Eucharistic ministers, he said. And he hopes to see the group “get our hands as dirty as possible,” serving the homeless, the sick and senior citizens.

“They want to be included more, they want to do things, and they want to be told, ‘Hey, this is your project, make it happen.’ And they do, and they have been, and they love it,” Rodriguez said. “And that’s what we try to offer is that environment, that door, that ability to get a deeper connection through understanding, and really using all the senses to get closer to the church.”

Amanda Wood is a writer from Saint Andrew the Apostle Parish is Brooklawn, New York.