BALTIMORE — The day after the U.S. bishops were encouraged at their Baltimore meeting to bring young people back to the church, they were urged to also pay more attention to and support the teens and young adults among them in parishes and church programs.
To help them do this, they were advised Nov. 12 to use “Christus Vivit” (“Christ Lives”) — Pope Francis’ reflection on the 2018 Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment — as their guide.
“‘Christus Vivit’ is a call to action for everyone in the life of the church regardless of our age,” said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, a delegate to last year’s Synod of Bishops on young people.
In remarks on the second day of the bishops’ Nov. 11-13 meeting, he acknowledged that many in the room might feel uncertain about how to respond to and help young people in the church, but he said they can find encouragement from the pope’s message and, in particular, his sentiment that young people are the church’s hope.
The pope’s apostolic exhortation — which is both a letter to young people about their place in the church and a plea for older members to encourage them — was described by Bishop Caggiano as a call to action and a moment of grace that “we should not and cannot allow to slip away.”
For starters, he said his fellow bishops should read the pope’s document “from cover to cover and engage in dialogue” about it with church leaders on the diocesan and parish level as a way to enrich church ministries and outreach.
So the bishops would not just take his word for it, Bishop Caggiano also introduced two young adults to them who gave their insights on the pope’s document.
Brenda Noriega, coordinator of young adult ministry for the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, told the bishops she was grateful for “Christus Vivit” because it provided a foundation for her work. She said one of her favorite parts of it is where the pope responds to the frustrations of many young people and reminds them that God loves them and that they matter.
She said she finds hope with pastors who are willing to listen to young people and “accompany us on the journey like spiritual fathers.”
Brian Rhude, program coordinator at the Catholic Apostolate Center in Washington, said he wouldn’t be before the bishops at this moment if it hadn’t been for the Catholics who accompanied him over the years.
Rhude said he was particularly struck by how Pope Francis warns against looking at all young people with broad strokes and assuming they are all the same. He also said he had been inspired by message in “Christus Vivit” that “our individual stories do not occur in a vacuum” and that as people come to know more about each other they can “form the greater story that God is writing.”
Bishop Caggiano stressed the importance of youth and young adult ministry already at work and suggested that bishops find ways to continue to encourage these efforts and invest in them even more, expanding efforts of a more diverse outreach.
“Quite frankly, our ministry will not reach its goal unless every young person is at the table, particularly those who are immigrants, marginalized and poor,” he said.
He concluded by stressing that above all, the bishops should “listen more deeply” to young people.
“We do a lot of talking about young people and young adults,” he said, “but Pope Francis is asking us in the heart to listen to and learn from them and invite them right now into appropriate leadership in the church.”
Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim