A National Youth Ministry Summit was held at the Franciscan University of Steubenville on July 31-Aug. 2. It was titled Voice and Vision and was co-sponsored by Franciscan University of Steubenville and the National Dialogue of Pastoral Ministry with Youth and Young Adults. The National Dialogue is a collaborative effort between the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry, USCCB National Advisory Team on Young Adult Ministry, National Catholic Network de Pastoral Juvenil Hispana (LaRED), and Catholic Campus Ministry Association.
Denise York, director of Youth Ministry at Immaculate Conception Parish, East Aurora, and Ashley Gruhalla, Campus Minister at Niagara University, participated in the summit. Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "Christus Vivit" and the related synod were the focus of the gathering which included youth and young adult ministry leaders from across the country.
There were four moderated panel discussions and a breakout session over the course of the three days. Four keynote addresses were given by Bishop Arturo Cepeda, Carinal Blasé Cupich, Dr. Timone Davis and Bishop Frank Caggiano that preceded the panel discussions. During the breakout session the participants came up with implementation ideas in various areas of youth and young adult ministry.
One of the key focuses of the summit was Pope Francis' art of accompaniment which he includes in "Christus Vivit." The Fuller Institute for Youth's study on creating faith that stays with young people identified that each young person benefits from five adults to accompany them on their faith journey. The National Study of Youth and Religion revealed that the parents' faith life has the largest impact on a young person's faith. So if the parents are two of those five adults, then who are the rest? How are our ministries preparing adults to accompany young people? How are we connecting young people to these adults? How are we working with parents to help them accompany their young people? These are some of the questions pondered during the summit.
Cardinal Cupich's keynote dealt with "Pope Francis' Understanding of Vocations." Youth and young adult ministry with a vocational slant was also a focus of "Christus Vivit." How are we helping youth and young adults discern their call from God? What skills are we giving them to do this? Cardinal Cupich noted that we have to instill in young people that they are always growing and learning throughout youth. If we can convey that to them, then they will be open to ongoing conversion.
Bishop Cepeda noted that 50 percent of Catholics ages 14-29 are Hispanic/Latino. He challenged us with these words, "If we don't do anything now, we will have no future for our church." How are we reaching out to Hispanic/Latino youth? What are we offering in our parishes for them? One of the panels focused on the populations that are often forgotten in our ministries. People with disabilities, people with mental illness, and people from other cultures. How are we building unity in our diversity?
There was also discussion about a possible new youth ministry document by the U.S. bishops. "A Vision of Youth Ministry" was published in 1976 and "Renewing the Vision" was published in 1997. A lot has changed in our world and in ministry since 1997. There were mixed responses to the question of whether or not we need a new document though.
One of the questions that kept coming up during panel discussions and meal conversations was, "What are we going to say no to in our ministries so that we can implement these changes?" Another version of that question is, "How do we need to change what we currently do in our ministries to respond to these realities?" How we have always done youth and young adult ministry needs to change in order to address the realities of today's world.
The summit raised many questions, and offered an opportunity to discuss the questions with colleagues from across the country. Everyone was challenged to take these ideas and thoughts home and find ways to implement them in their ministry settings. During the first panel on Thursday night Bishop Caggiano said, "How do we define success in ministry? Until we change our answer to this question we cannot move forward." There is no doubt that our culture is changing, but a change needs to happen in those who minister with youth and young adults. That internal change was stimulated by the summit. Perhaps the best quote on this came from John Grosso, director of digital media for the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., "Let's define success by how many people we bring to Jesus."
The Voice and Vision National Youth Ministry Summit was a historic ministry moment. Dr. Bob Rice from the Franciscan University, and Paul Jarzembowski, assistant director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the USCCB, will be compiling and sharing the work that was completed at the summit. The work will continue as parishes, schools and college campuses work to minister to, with and among youth and young adults.