If you are a young person, the parent of young people or a ministry leader, your thoughts are wanted.
To more deeply understand the lived experience of youth and young adults, several national organizations have joined together to engage young people in conversation to learn about the needs and challenges they face today. These conversations will guide the Church to more effectively encounter and accompany the young Church.
This National Dialogue is formally supported by the USCCB; LaRED, National Catholic Network de Pastoral Juvenil Hispana; the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry; the Catholic Campus Ministry Association, and the National Advisory Team for Young Adult Ministry. Over 50 bishops will be consulted on a regular basis.
"This gives us a mechanism to have very important and needed conversations about young people that points us toward the future and point us toward hope," explained Kathryn M. Goller, director of the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. "It's about listening to young people and those who care about them to find out about their lived reality and figure out ways in which the Church can better respond to that."
Although not the first time these questions have been asked, this is one of the first very organized ways of finding answers.
Phase 1 ran from 2017 through summer of 2018. Signified by the word Unify, the first phase built harmony among the varied youth ministry organizations throughout the United States.
Now entering Phase 2, the key concept is Engage.
"This is the heart of the dialogue because this is where the conversations are going to happen," said Goller.
Conversations will take place in small groups and one-on-one between young people and the people who care about them - parish ministers, campus ministers, teachers - to understand their lived experiences. These conversations are not meant to take place just within church walls or involve highly practiced Catholics. They're designed to be with just about anyone, from the highly engaged to the marginally Catholic.
A different set of questions will be used for each of the four audiences - youth, young adults, parents (which includes grandparents and guardians) and ministry leaders (bishop and priests to lay ministers and volunteers). Questions will also vary based on the involvement level of the people being asked.
Currently, key leaders are training local leaders in schools, colleges and parishes on what the National Dialogue is and how to facilitate the conversations. Those local facilitators will engage in conversations over the next year. Goller asks youth ministry leaders, faith formation leaders, high school and college campus ministers to find five leaders from their institution to meet with one of the Youth Department staff to facilitate the conversations.
Local leaders can also self train through a webinar available at NationalDialogue.info.
"The exciting impact of this is that if we can really engage parishes, high schools, even some of the elementary schools and college campuses, then if they can really grasp the vision of this initiative and move it forward, we really have the potential for much, much wider reach," said Goller. "If our department staff alone were to try to manage and control the National Dialogue in Buffalo, we wouldn't be able to talk to nearly as many people as we can using local leadership."
To reach out to those who identify as Catholic, but who don't regularly go to Church, skilled parish leaders can talk to their youth, then ask them to invite friends who are less involved to meet over coffee or pizza. Non-churchy questions might be: where do you find joy in your life? What challenges do you struggle with in your life? How can people in the Church be more supportive?
"We're going to do what Pope Francis asks of us, we're going to do what Jesus modeled for us, which is go to the margins."
Goller describes the diocese now as being in the launching stages of this second phase. Presentations have been made to key leadership groups, such as the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation, Catholic Schools Department and Cultural Diversity commissions over the past couple months.
"I think people learn a lot about what the National Dialogue is by simply participating in the conversation. Participating in that conversation is, in essence, on-the-job training for that group of people to go out and become facilitators," she said.
This phase is planned to last until the end of 2019. Goller would like every parish and high school to be involved, but realizes that may not be realistic.
"I don't want parishes or an elementary school or a high school or college to participate in this because I'm asking them to or because the diocese is asking them to or even because it's a national initiative," she said. "If they do this well, the local benefits all on their own are worth it to do, because if they do it well and they have conversations with folks and they're sincerely listening, each of those local facilitators is going to have powerful information about people who they know, people who are in their community. When we hear those stories of the folks we are in relationship with, we can't help but be impacted."
The National Dialogue works in conjunction with the recent Fifth Encuentro and recent synod of bishops to help the bishops and pastoral leaders discern and respond effectively. Through leadership formation, support for communities and families, resources and networking, the Dialogue will assist parishes, campus, dioceses and organizations in mobilizing their efforts to build up the Church's ministry to youth and young adults.