By Antonina Zielinska
Working as a Tablet reporter for the past year has been a blessing for many reasons, the most important of which is hope.
A major source of my reignited hope is meeting the youth of the diocese. My travels to the parishes and schools and to World Youth Day in Spain has allowed me to see the beauty of our young people.
These high school and college-aged children of God set aside time in their already overfilled schedule of classes, homework, jobs, sports and extracurricular activities to help others. Tablet readers have read about many examples of their sacrifice to attend World Youth Day, a pilgrimage that brought us closer to God than we could have possibly imagined.
However, what impresses me most is that the passion of World Youth Day is not an exception; in many ways it is the norm. On nearly every assignment, I meet young men and women who go above and beyond expectations to volunteer to perform acts of kindness.
Not being much older than those still in school, I was raised in a similar world. In public school, I was expected to help anyone I could, whether it be a peer who is struggling academically, a new immigrant in the class, or the people of the community. From first grade to the end of college all my schools made sure to drill the message of “leadership=servitude.”
Over the years volunteering became second nature; in fact it became the cool thing to do. What was not cool however was attending Mass or identifying oneself as a true believer. I can recount many an occasion when I had to defend that being religious does not mean being brainwashed.
I believe this combination of social pressures brought about a generation of youth who are passionate about making the world a better place but do not always see the Church as a place where they can do that.
The youth who do attend church are usually passionate about contributing to their parishes, but it does not take an expert eye to spot the lack of youth at Sunday Masses.
My peers say that Jesus was cool because He helped people, but the Church does not follow Him. This perception of the Church must change in order to bring it into a healthy future. The way to get young people into church is to show them that they can do good in the church.
When I came back home from college I wanted to volunteer and I did what came naturally to me: I searched online on Craigslist, Facebook and other similar sites, but all the volunteer opportunities I found were over-staffed or not really helping anyone. It took me a while to turn toward the Church to fill this need. I now regret that it was not my first choice.
When I visit schools, I am able to get kids to pick up the paper by telling them they can find volunteer opportunities among its contents.
So this is my plea to every priest, deacon, religious, minister and devout Catholic: use the incredible resource you are surrounded by. Reach out to young people, allow them to do good for the community, and show them that the need they feel to do good for others comes from God Himself, who sent us His Son to show us the way.