Put Out into the Deep

Redoubling Our Outreach to Youth

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

For several years now, the Diocese of Brooklyn has been privileged to host the Steubenville Youth Conference at St. John’s University where over 2,000 young people come for a retreat weekend. Truly, it is amazing to see the outreach to most of the East Coast. Almost 600 priests requested faculties from our diocese to minister during these days, as normally the priests are accompanying youth from their diocese.

This East Coast youth conference is a wonderfully planned event that certainly leaves a good impression on the young people who attend. The number of participants from our own diocese has grown over the years. The lively Eucharistic celebrations during the retreat are planned by Life Teen, a national group that for the last 20 years has been responsible for attracting our youth to liturgies with contemporary music that can add to their liturgical celebration.

Recently, a report entitled “Going, Going, Gone” has created some attention and consternation. This report examines a national study of over 3,000 former Catholic respondents ages 15 to 25. The main findings, as suggested by the report’s title, indicate that many of our young people, who were baptized as Catholics, have been going away from the practice of their faith and many are, indeed, gone. The most startling finding is that 35 percent of the respondents, list “none” as their current religion.

The new terminology, “Nones” refers to those who claim no religious affiliation. My sociological mind scrutinized the data very carefully. One fact that researchers seem not to understand or account for in their recommendations, which were very few, is that while all of those who responded as “Nones” had been baptized, only 60 percent made their First Communion, and only a third made their Confirmation. I am wondering how we can say, “Going, Going, Gone” if they were never really part of the Church itself?

Not that the report should be dismissed. But rather for me it means that we must redouble our efforts of catechesis, especially those who, after first communion, leave the catechetical programs and are never to return. Their understanding of the faith is rather minimal and our culture, being what it is, supports them not practicing any faith.

In my homily at the closing Mass at the Steubenville Conference, I spoke to the young people about some recent research that identified the needs of the young people of today.

The theme of this year’s retreat was Revealed. The first revelation theme discussed was The Father’s Love Revealed, which certainly reflects the image of the Prodigal Son. Many young people believe that because of some of their activities they are not able to return to the practice of the faith. This is the first thing that needs to be dismissed, recognizing that God’s love is revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

Most of all, as we learned in the Second Vatican Council, Christ came not only to reveal God to man and woman, but also man and woman to themselves. How true it is that humanity can only be understood in relationship to Jesus Christ who was true God and true man.

Another basic need of young people is the need to belong. We see how peer pressure influences their lives. They seem to follow all of the mannerisms of those around them; they tend to dress the same, like the same music, use the same social media, and even have the same tattoos. Unfortunately, some take this to extremes by joining gangs because of their need for friendship. But the relationships they have with one another are many times superficial, and carried on in cyberspace rather than face-to-face.

Another need young people have is a need to be transparent. They need to reveal themselves. They need to be understood so that they can be truly honest. Yes, this is never an easy task. However, the new means of communication unfortunately seem to trick young people into thinking that if they have many friends on social media then they truly have revealed themselves to one another. But relationships themselves need to go much deeper.

Another need that young people have is a need for guidance. Young people do need the help of others, especially adults. But they find adult relationships very difficult to come by. Young people may always be in conflict with their parents, or even their young ministers or priests who serve them, yet they do not ever seem to have the time to engage them in the critical aspects of their sometimes bewildered lives. How important it is that young people learn the art of prayer, because in revealing themselves to Christ Jesus in prayer they will be more capable of revealing themselves to others who may be of assistance to them.

The Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens has taken seriously youth ministry in a very new way. Our Capital Campaign, Generations of Faith, contained a $10 million allocation to developing youth ministry, identifying and training youth ministers and moving the level of youth ministry from mere engagement to formation, which includes catechetical and moral formation so necessary for young people today. I take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to all who contributed so generously to our Generations of Faith campaign, which made this initiative for our youth possible. As we finish the redemption of our capital campaign, we will roll out the full program for our young people who not only are the Church of today, but also the Church of tomorrow.

We need our youth to continually adhere to their Catholic faith. And yet, we need to do much to encourage our youth, as the society around us seems to pull them away.

Anyone who takes the opportunity to assist young people truly puts out into the deep unknown waters of how one generation can reach the next generation, especially in regard to the things of faith. Faith cannot be taught. Faith must be caught. Faith must be transmitted by faithful witnesses to others even though they are finding it difficult to believe. They believe those who practice rather than those who try to teach them.

Join me in prayer for all those who participated in this Revealed weekend; the priests and youth ministers who assist our young people, and the young people themselves. We pray that they will live their faith as true young Catholics.

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