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Diocesan council discusses how to accompany youth on faith journey

 021321pastoral council youth

Bishop Robert J. McClory (center), celebrant, is flanked by Father Kevin Huber (left), Diocese of Gary chancellor, and Deacon Dan Lowery as he concludes the opening Mass of the Diocesan Pastoral Council on Feb. 6 at Holy Spirit in Winfield. The topic was Young Catholics, and the bishop stressed that, "Young people need to know the love of Jesus." (Marlene A. Zloza photo)



Northwest Indiana Catholic


       WINFIELD – “Accompaniment” was the word of the day as members of the Diocesan Pastoral Council met to discuss young Catholics and how to increase their participation in the Catholic Church.

       Led by the Young Catholics Ecclesial Commission that was established following the Diocese of Gary’s 2017 synod, about 60 diocesan leaders and parish representatives met at Holy Spirit for an early-morning Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert J. McClory, followed by some serious discussion.

       Bishop McClory, recalling a conversation with a young man who dismissed all religion as “just a bunch of rules,” admitted that the Catholic Church does promulgate laws, “But our faith is about a relationship with a God who loves us and wants us to live in that love.

       For some young people, the bishop added, their only contact with Catholicism is a list of do’s and don’ts. “They don’t get to the relationship (part). But young people need to know the love of Jesus, how to respond to the love of Jesus and how to live their lives in the love of Jesus,” he said. “Young people have a way of sniffing out authenticity.”

       The bishop explained that there are three categories of young people – those who are in our pews now, attending church; those who were raised in the Catholic faith, but are no longer practicing it; and unchurched, those who have no meaningful contact with Jesus or with this Church.

       For the first group, he said, the question is, “How do we engage and help them to become the disciples God calls us to be? It is easier to retain…than to recruit. We need ongoing formation to involve them in (church) activities.

       In relation to the second category, the bishop said, “There is something of a structure that was there, something they had and let go, and we have to give them, invite them to the kerygma – the core of the Gospel message.”

       The bishop admitted that it is “incredibly difficult” to make contact with the third category of young people, called “the nones,” adding that “accompaniment becomes key. I can say, ‘Here I am, come to me,’ or I can go to where you are as you unpack these truths.”

       Vicky Hathaway, consultant for the diocesan Office of Youth and Young Adults, echoed the bishop, noting that during his first press conference after being appointed bishop of the Diocese of Gary in November, 2019, when asked how to reach young people, responded, “You have to go where they are and walk with them, accompany them.”

       Survey results, Hathaway continued, show that a majority of young people are lonely, stressed out and overwhelmed. “I feel like I have no one to talk to,” said 36 percent, and “I feel like no one understands me,” responded 43 percent. Just less than half trust in religious institutions, she noted.

       “Why (should we) care?,” Hathaway posed to the council members. “Because we are living members of the one Ecclesial Body and (young people) help enrich what the Church is. We need to care because young people need to feel like they belong.”

       As to how to engage young people, Hathaway spoke of accompaniment as with the travelers on the road to Emmaus who walked a stretch of road together with Jesus, “establishing a significant relationship. I love a relationship built between young people and their faith mentors, the Church community and Christ.”

       Peggy Furman, parish representative to the council from St. Thomas Aquinas in Knox, said she was surprised to learn from surveys that “young people don’t seem very positive about their situation. I think we need to pray for our youth. We don’t have many youth in our parish, but everyone has young people in their family, and I do what I can to encourage my grandchildren in their faith. We must walk with them, be with them.”

       New parish representative Erick Wozniak from Queen of All Saints in Michigan City was pleased to attend his first council meeting. “This is a nice feeling of community,” he said. “I don’t have any answers, but I have a lot of questions.”

       Wozniak agreed that it is important “to interact with youth and find out how they feel,” and pledged to engage young parishioners who attend religious education classes.

       A recent survey of parish youth ministers from the Diocese of Gary found that about half are “adapting/doing the best we can, while eight reported “surviving,” four admitted to being “tagged out” and three said they are “thriving” despite pandemic restrictions on activities.

       Asked how their parishes accompany teens and young adults, some council members admitted they could do better.

       “Maybe we need to focus on fourth and fifth graders, between First Comm and Confirmation,” suggested Carol Perosky of St. Stephen the Martyr in Merrillville, while Jim Oaks of St. Ann of the Dunes in Beverly Shores said the problem lies with families who do not practice their religion. “To address the youth, we need to address the parents,” he said.

       Mike Wick, diocesan chief of staff, urged parishes to support the summer Totus Tuus program for youth and teens. “Our diocese offers a lot of opportunities (for youth engagement), but you have to take advantage of them,” he said. “We have the resources, utilize them. You aren’t bound to engage young people only through your parish.”

       Hathaway asked for suggestions on how to better “walk with young people,” and the answers ranged from offering family-based faith formation and developing mentors to something as simple as offering a smile to welcome a young person to Mass.

       “I’m so glad I came today to hear all of those who spoke,” said Furman. “The ‘new normal’ needs to be faith-based. As Matt (Kresich, Young Catholics Ecclesial Commission chair) said, ‘It works both ways.’”

       In terms of youth engagement, Bishop McClory concluded, “My confidence comes in the Lord and that we have so many people who want to engage our youth. Let’s seek the Lord together and let young people know that we see a beautiful hope on the horizon.”

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