On the heels of Sr. Katherine and my trip to Chicago for the “Catholics On Call” Partner Conference entitled, “Engaging Young Adults in Church Vocations” I started mentoring two young adults in their journey as Visitation Companions. It’s no small coincidence in my mind that God would have these ventures line up. The former, a powerful opportunity to glean information about the millennial generation of Catholics, hold looming questions about engagement in the church and posit best practices, all the while connecting on a national scale with others in outreach ministry; the latter, a real-life opportunity to live the complexity and gift of relational ministry and apply what feels to be some best practices in formation: sharing stories, unpacking structured prayer practices and Salesian teaching, and living in the mystery of our Catholic faith.
I think of these experiences as both a call and response to deeply live my Catholic faith. I share a bit of my reflections here.
“The Millenial generation is living in a Web 2.0 culture.” said Paul Jarzembowski, Executive Director of the National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association (NCYAMA). This CAC panelist, a young adult himself, characterized his generation as one that’s plugged in, and living a “pressure cooker” reality. The response by outreach ministers both lay and religious is to “provide sanctuary to these young adults.” A place of “silence, certainty and security” is what young adults are craving.
Fellow CAC panelist, timone davis, from the archdiocese of Chicago and coordinator of ReCil, (Reclaiming Christ in Life, Young Adult Ministry for the Archdiocese of Chicago) invited all ministers to share their stories and to create spaces for young adults to likewise tell theirs. “We need to share our faith experiences,” she said,”[unpacking how we find God in our midst] and find our story within the Christian story.”
“Every baptized person has a role and we need to awaken a sense of call among all the baptized.” —Fr. Robyn Ryan, C.P., Founding Director of Catholics on Call
With the daunting statistics that 75 – 85% of young adult Catholics are non-practicing and not-engaged, founding director of Catholics on Call, Fr. Robyn Ryan, C.P. invited all conference participants to focus on ecclesial vocations – both lay and religious — and creating a culture of service in the church. Underscoring the invitation to all members of the church, he said, “every baptized person has a role and we need to awaken a sense of call among all the baptized.”
Two questions that Fr. Ryan posed during his talk really struck home with me in a prayerful way:
1) “Should we focus our energies on the minority group of more active young adults?” and
2) “Are the young adults who are open to vocational discernment those of a more traditional mindset? And if so, how do we respond?”
These inspired scholarly presentations, coupled with the vocational narratives of three featured young adults, (a sister, monk and lay campus minister) shaped my “take-away” points from the conference:
- To engage all young (and old) adults within and without the Catholic church, the opportunity to be quiet, engaged in structured prayer so that the stories of God in our midst might surface and be shared, would be helpful.
- Extending invitations to participate in service opportunities is essential for the dis-engaged to find ways back into authentic ministry and faith-filled expression. (The Visitation Internship Program is one larger example of this.)
- Creating spaces for story-telling as well as direct instruction on the tenants of our faith are important for all participants, as the need for sanctuary and certainty are honored, and the presence of God as security is known.
- Cultivating a safe community of critically-thinking, non-judgemental participants who can celebrate the tenants of their faith and church — as well as share their frustrations within the church, and work to heal, while serving — is a strategy or by-product of story-telling and service groups.
- The compassionate embrace of the religious habit as both a literal and figurative marker for security and structure desired by young adult discerners is also helpful. (Read: As a young adult in the church, I grew up without a lot of structure, ritual or form. I need a habit to hold me together. I want this external sign of my faith, as well as the internal order of the day, to anchor me.)
At the invitation of Sr. Mary Frances, I discerned a call to this awesome role as Visitation Companion mentor, and after much prayer, a few tears, and a bit of assuaged fear, I said, “Yes.” I feel hugely blessed to be able to participate in the formation of Sonja and Fabio as two inspired people who long to live their faith more intentionally within a Christian community. Serving as a mentor is a humbling experience as I run smack into my own limitations and am lifted through the grace of God and the Spirit present with these two mentees to a new place of relational understanding and love of God. It’s a call I have in the church, as well as a response to love and practice my faith. It seems to be a mutually beneficial experience that invigorates our Salesian presence in this world.