My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Last October, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, brought together a Synod on Young People in the Church. In the recently published Post-Synodal Exhortation entitled “Christus Vivit,” or Christ is Alive, the Holy Father brings together his own thoughts and that of the Synod Fathers regarding two questions: What can the Church teach the young? And, What can the Church learn from the young? The answer to both questions is hope. How important it is that we see that the Church, first of all, is ever young. Young because the Church continually adds new members who are the hope of natural growth and who also are the hope of eternal life. How important it is that we keep this perspective on the Church, especially in these days when it seems like all that we know about the growth of the Church might appear to be diminishing. Our recent Easter baptisms in Brooklyn and Queens of over 500 people and full admission to the Church and completion of the sacraments of initiation brings the number to well over 1,000 people, most of whom were young and made a step forward in faith this Easter.
In his exhortation, Pope Francis wants us to learn about the culture in which our young people live. It is a culture that has many difficulties, but at the same time has many opportunities for young people to become the new evangelizers in a world that desperately needs witnesses to Christ. The Holy Father speaks about Christ who was young, who died at the age of 33 and who throughout all of His life attended to the normal responsibilities of young people. Our young people today also must take up the responsibilities as members of the family, as members of the Church, and as members of the societies in which they live.
In our own diocese in Brooklyn and Queens, we have taken up the call to youth ministry which the Holy Father describes as an exhortation and not as guidelines for youth ministry. With an initial anonymous grant of $1 million, the Catholic Youth Ministry Initiative began in 2011 assisting parishes in developing young ministries. To date, we have 87 parishes that have identified youth ministers, either part-time or full-time or shared between parishes. This is a great accomplishment as when we began this new ministry, there were probably less than ten parishes in Brooklyn and Queens who had a youth minister. As you will remember, part of our Capitol Campaign – Generations of Faith – had $10 million allocated to recruitment, training and sustaining youth ministers in our parishes. To date, the Capital Campaign has not yet been completed, however, we have already allocated $5 Million to parishes needing youth ministers. It is our hope that after the three-year grant expires, the parishes will have developed the resources to continue this important ministry on their own.
Our Holy Father goes on to say something very significant, “I want to state clearly that young people themselves are the agents of youth ministries. Certainly they need to be helped and guided, but at the same time they are free to develop new approaches with creativity and with a certain audacity.” The Holy Father does not give a kind of a manual for youth ministry, however, he provides us with many good suggestions, helping us to understand how the Synod, with input from youth and from the Synod Fathers, was able to develop an approach the Church can have consisting of outreach to the young, and also by going out to the new environments, especially the digital world where the young people spend much of their time.
In the Diocese of Brooklyn, we will be studying this document with our youth ministers at a special convocation that we are planning. It is my hope that we all may gain insight from the document of the Holy Father, with some practical approach to what we have been doing given the impetus that the Church now gives to organized youth ministry.
Pope Francis goes on to say, “Young people need to have their freedom respected, yet they need to be accompanied. The family should be the first place of accompaniment.” Also, other adults should be of assistance to our youth in growing to a maturity of faith which is so critical to young people accepting their vocation in the world to marriage, priesthood, religious life or the single life. This is what youth ministry is all about.
One interesting section of the Post-Synodal Exhortation speaks about a call to holiness which is certainly universal. In a special way, this is a challenge for the youth of our day. Pope Francis gives the example of many young people who have been important in the history of the Church. Initially, we see this with Mary, herself, a young girl who was able to accept God’s will for her by saying, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.” It is Mary who was the instrument in our redemption by her willingness to bring to birth Jesus, the Son of God. Pope Francis goes on to mention many young saints who can inspire young people today to recognize that, “Through the holiness of the young, the Church can renew her spiritual ardour and her apostolic vigour. The balm of holiness generated by the good lives of so many young people can heal the wounds of the Church and of the world, bringing us back to that fullness of love to which we have always been called; young saints inspire us to return to our first love.” (Rev. 2:4)
Some of the young saints Pope Francis mentions are well known to us; saints of the early Church: Lucy, Agatha, Sebastian are all young people who suffered martyrdom in the first campaigns against the Church. Francis of Assisi accepted his vocation very young in life, as did Joan of Arc who understood and suffered death by burning at the stake after she had led the forces of France to victory. Kateri Tekakwitha was a young native Mohawk Indian girl who consecrated herself to God and died saying, “Jesus I love you,” as she was martyred for the faith. St. Dominic Savio, mentored by St. John Bosco, lived his young life faithfully and has become a model of chastity. Saint Thèrèsa of the Child Jesus insisted on entering the Carmelite monastery at 15 years of age. Saint Pier Giorgio Frassati, a young sportsman, was a real model of young people, as well as others. How important to recognize that young persons are called to sanctity and can achieve that sanctity as has been replicated time and time again throughout the history of the Church.
There is another young saint, perhaps much unknown to us, Nunzio Sulprizio, who has a special tie to our Diocese. Young Nunzio was an orphan, who lived with various family members at different times of his young life. It was while with an uncle that he became his apprentice as a blacksmith. The uncle treated him harshly, often without proper nourishment and running errands regardless of the distance which put a great strain upon Nunzio. He was also beaten or cursed if his uncle did not like how he did his errands. An untreated wound became gangrenous causing hospitalization and eventual amputation. During his illness, he was introduced to Father Gaetano Errico, who also
became a saint. Young Nunzio suffered all of this willingly and had an intense love for God and the Blessed Sacrament. He endured his suffering with extraordinary courage. The miracles performed through his intercession put him on the road to canonization. He died at 19 years of age.
On Sunday, May 5, I will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Bernard of Clairvaux Church in Mill Basin. The relatives of St. Nunzio, the Evangelista Family, are members of this parish and very much involved in the life of this Church.
Young people put out into the deep journey of their lives and need guidance as they do so. The call to youth ministry in our own diocese in Brooklyn and Queens hopefully can be that accompaniment so necessary to allow our youth to achieve the holiness to which God calls them, especially in vocations to marriage, priesthood, religious life or the single life.