Over the years, the church has worked to meet the changing needs of young people. In 1905, Pope Pius X mandated that the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) be established in all parishes to teach the faith to children not enrolled in Catholic schools. In the 1930s, the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) was born out of a need to keep young people off the streets while parents were at work. In many places, CYO developed into a weekly program of religious, cultural, social and athletic activities. In the 1960s, retreat movements such as Search were popular.
Yet initiatives that were successful in the past may need to change because of generational and societal shifts. Change can be good when it draws on the best of what has come before, yet moves in innovative ways to meet current needs. Today, the call is to develop in all parishes comprehensive youth ministry to meet the present needs of young people.
Youth ministry is about more than just programs and events. It’s about building relationships with young people and inviting them to share their gifts with the parish community. In 1997 the U.S. bishops identified three goals and eight components of Catholic youth ministry in a document called “Renewing the Vision: A Framework for Catholic Youth Ministry,” available on the USCCB website. These goals and components deepen the vision and expand the scope of what youth ministry can be.
The first goal is to empower young people to live as disciples of Jesus Christ in the world today. Young people need to have a personal relationship with Jesus and to acquire the knowledge, skills and values to live in this world as disciples of Christ. To do this, young people need to be taught the faith, but they also need to have modeled for them what discipleship looks like through service, prayer and parish life, and by exploring vocations.
The second goal is to draw young people to responsible participation in the life, mission and work of the Catholic faith community. Youth are not the church of tomorrow; they are the church of today. Young people have gifts that can be shared in parish liturgical, pastoral and catechetical ministries. Through their reception of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, young people are called to participation today, not tomorrow or in 10 years. Young people experience the Catholic faith at home, in the parish, in Catholic schools, and in youth-serving organizations. Each of these communities can help young people grow in faith.
The third goal is to foster the total personal and spiritual growth of each young person. Good youth ministry helps young people develop as complete persons. It is concerned about the whole of the young person, not just their spiritual development. It does this by addressing their spiritual needs in the context of life. Consequently parents and families are meant to be involved in youth ministry. The third goal also includes reaching out to young people in the parish who don’t come regularly — or don’t come at all — so that every young person in the parish belongs to youth ministry.
In addition to the three goals, “Renewing the Vision” defines eight components of comprehensive youth ministry. “These components provide a framework for the Catholic community to respond to the needs of young people and to involve young people in sharing their unique gifts with the larger community” (Renewing the Vision, page 26). These components correspond to the mission of the entire church:
- Catechesis: Deepening the faith of young people through teaching and reflection, utilizing a variety of learning methods, working toward transformation in Christ.
- Community life: Building community, not just between young people, but with their families and in the broader parish community.
- Evangelization: Proclaiming the Gospel and inviting young people into relationship with Christ through ongoing witness.
- Advocacy: Interpreting the needs of young people, standing up for them both as individuals and a peer community, challenging the parish to examine its practices to better integrate young people into the life and mission of the community.
- Justice and service: Engaging young people in helping and serving others, and educating them on the themes of Catholic social teaching.
- Leadership development: Inviting, training and supporting adults and young people into leadership for youth ministry as well as in parish liturgical, catechetical, pastoral and social ministries.
- Pastoral care: Providing prevention programs for youth and families, caring for those in crisis, and providing guidance during times of major decisions and moral choices.
- Prayer and worship: Helping youth to develop an individual prayer life and experience a variety of communal prayer styles, and involving youth in the sacramental life of the church.
Many of these components are already present in the parishes of the Diocese of Honolulu. Some may have been connected to high school Confirmation programs and may naturally shift to a youth ministry focus once Confirmation is celebrated at a younger age.
It should also be noted that youth ministry, as defined by the U.S. bishops, includes middle school youth (grades 6-8) and high school youth (grades 9-12). These age groups should be ministered to within different programs and events because of age and developmental differences.
Pope John Paul II challenged young people: “Do not be afraid to accept your responsibilities: the church needs you, she needs your commitment and generosity; the pope needs you, and at the beginning of this new millennium, he is asking you to take the Gospel on the paths of the world” (World Youth Day in Rome, 2000).
This holds true today. Young people have gifts that can transform the faith community. There is the African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Likewise it takes an entire church to know, value, welcome and include young people. The church needs young people to be the church today.
Lisa Gomes is the director of the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry of the Diocese of Honolulu.