My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Each year, for the past several years, the Diocese of Brooklyn has hosted a major youth program sponsored by the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.
Over 3,000 young people from the East Coast convened last weekend at St. John’s University in Queens for a three-day event, which challenges the youth to take their faith seriously. Cardinal Dolan celebrated Mass on Saturday, and Bishop John Barres, Bishop of Rockville Centre, and I, concelebrated the concluding Mass on Sunday. Indeed, this event is a major effort on the part of the Diocese of Brooklyn in cooperation with Steubenville University and LifeTeen which is an organization promoting contemporary worship for young Catholics. It is always amazing to participate in this wonderful youth event.
The Synod on Youth recently concluded and the Holy Father, Pope Francis, himself wrote the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation entitled Christus Vivit, meaning Christ is Alive. How important it is that we remind our young people that Christ is alive for them and that Christ is the object of our longing and the center of our faith. The document is over 70 pages and is available online on the Vatican Website (www.vatican.va).
I wish to give you the salient points that truly, after the Synod, help us to understand the direction that should be taken with our youth ministry.
The document begins by asserting that the Word of God has a lot to say to young people. Firstly, because Jesus Himself passed through youth to his public ministry, and died very young at 33 years of age. We need to impress upon our young people that the Church is ever young, although sometimes our form and practices seem very old to our young people.
Clearly, the Holy Father reminds us that we must meet the young people where they are. We cannot hope to bring them into our space if we are not willing to enter the time and place where they live out their youth in societies throughout the world.
The message for young people clearly reminds us that God is the God who loves us, and that Christ saved us, and that Christ is still alive, as the title of the document says, and that the Holy Spirit gives us life. This basic Trinitarian understanding of our faith is primary to how we can reach our youth with the very basics of our faith.
Several chapters of the document speak about the paths of youth in their life journey, about the dreams and difficulties they have in making life decisions. Also, the chapters encourage the youth to recognize that they must take risks in order to achieve anything in life. How important it is that our youth have good relationships with their parents and all those who are ever willing to help them.
Youth Ministry, itself, is clearly the object of this Exhortation. This pastoral care must be done in a Synodal manner, meaning that we must learn from the youth what they want and need, and try to meet their spiritual needs in ministry. Youth ministry is not just about activities. Rather, it is about accompanying the youth on their journey in life.
In our Diocese, we accompany nearly 36,000 young men and women in grades 6 through 12 who are actively involved in some aspect of Church life: parish youth group, small faith sharing group, Scouting, CYO (Catholic Youth Organization), and altar service, to name a few areas of involvement.
The two main courses of action outlined by our Holy Father are: first, outreach — reaching out to youth who are not practicing their faith or are alienated — and second, growth — growth of the understanding of their faith. This is particularly the case in those who have made their Confirmation, but then seem to drift away.
Several years ago at a Confirmation he held in Sardinia, Pope Francis addressed the young people and said that he was going to change the name of the Sacrament of Confirmation. All wondered what he was going to change it to, and he announced that it would now be called the “Sacrament of Farewell.”
The Holy Father’s experience in Argentina and our own experience here in the United States is no different from what he found in Sardinia. It seems that for many young Catholics, Confirmation marks the end of their faith life, which only a few seem to rediscover as they get older.
It is clear that youth ministry must be approached as growth in faith, according to the needs of our young people. Accompanying by adults is truly important. This guidance, especially by members of their own family, is very important. And so, within our own efforts, we need to involve the families of our youth.
We cannot work with our young adults separate from their families. Joint efforts with family are the way we truly can assist our youth on their journey in life and their growth in faith.
In our own Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens, the Generations of Faith Capital Campaign funded our youth ministry initiative; first with an anonymous donation of $1 million, and now with the campaign goal of $10 million, of which $7 million has already been collected, we have been able to hire and train almost 80 youth ministers covering almost 90 parishes, with some shared between two parishes. Our goal is to have in every parish in the Diocese of Brooklyn, where a significant number of youths live, some type of youth ministry, which will accompany our youth, especially in the post-Confirmation programs, right up to young adulthood.
Our work in the Diocese has been proceeding according to schedule. In September, we will hold a meeting with all of the present youth ministers. At this meeting, we hope to gain a better understanding of general goals that have been set in our diocesan document “So, be BOLD! A Pastoral Plan for Outreach to the Youth and Young Adults of the Diocese of Brooklyn.”
In addition, we will make available for the next nine months a series of reflections based on the nine chapters of Christus Vivit to assist in understanding the major areas discussed by Pope Francis. This information will be available on our website www.dioceseofbrooklyn.org. I wish to compliment the work of Theodore Musco, Secretary for Evangelization and Catechesis; Paul Morisi, Director, Youth and Young Adult Faith Formation; and Lucia Morales, Catholic Youth Ministry Initiative Specialist.
Mr. Morisi is directly responsible for the youth ministry in the Diocese of Brooklyn. As we know, it is so important that the Church be involved with our young people. Our youth are not only our future, but they are a part of the present Church today. We need to make sure that they recognize that we seek their participation, and also that we wish them to participate in ways that are acceptable and meaningful to them.
The Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens has put out into the deep waters of youth ministry and has attempted to accomplish a lot of good work in a short period of time. Please join me in praying for our youth ministry, so that we can walk with the youth of Brooklyn and Queens and make sure that our accompaniment brings them to a greater appreciation of the practice of their faith.