Creating a spiritual home for today’s Catholic youth

May 14, 2013

HOUSTON — With more than 18,000 high-school Catholic youth and close to 25,000 middle-school-aged Catholic youth in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, a renewed vision has led to a recent name change for the youth department, the Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization (OACE).

“The ministry of adolescent catechesis and faith formation fosters the development of a comprehensive Catholic youth ministry rooted in Gospel values, which reflects a family and multicultural perspective,” said Brian Johnson, Director of the OACE. 

“Through a renewed vision, the department exists to provide direction, leadership and formation of those parish catechetical leaders who minister to younger and older adolescents in a comprehensive approach that encourages parishes, schools and movements to be responsive to the spiritual, emotional, psychological, social and physical development of youth,” he said.

Johnson said that evangelization is the work of the whole Church, and the ministry works to help the Church be perceived by youth as their spiritual home, a place of welcome and a community of faith. 

“Likewise, our catechetical efforts seek to assist those who are leading young people in the ways of Christian discipleship,” Johnson said. “The newly named [OACE] will support ministry to, with, by and for youth that ‘seeks to draw young people to a responsible participation in the life, mission and work of the Catholic faith community.’” (Renewing the Vision, USCCB, 1997)

Johnson said programs like the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF) allow his ministry to successfully reach out to youth, which is of vital importance to the Church. 

“Using the words of Cardinal DiNardo, ‘our youth aren’t the Church of tomorrow, they are the Church of today in formation,’” Johnson said. “If we want to be the Church that truly evangelizes rather than ‘fossilizes,’ we must invest fully in our young people and help them to grow into modern day disciples of hope, love, compassion, forgiveness and faithfulness.”

Because of the complexity and individualism of today’s youth, Johnson believes a variety of communication mediums must be implemented, including social media.
“The Church is challenged to meet young people where they are, so that is why we must use all mediums available, including social media, which is ever-evolving,” Johnson said. “The old adage of ‘one size fits all’ no longer exists; rather it should say ‘one size fits some.’”

“As a Church, we sometimes wonder if we are relevant to a generation that is constantly logged in, texting, Facebooking, Tweeting and YouTube posting,” Johnson said. 

“The short answer to this multilayered question is ‘yes.’ Adolescents today live in a peer-based culture, all of their thoughts, styles, music, television, favorite sports teams and general interests are influenced greatly by their peers for their social acceptance.”

Johnson said teenagers are attempting to understand who they are as an individual in a culture that suggests everyone fits in, does not stand out and has a common thought process. Through all of this, adolescents have a strong desire for parental relationships, which means that the faith life and practices of the parent are directly reflected in the faith life and practices of their adolescents. 

He added that, as a Church, the relevant message for teens is rooted in the “domestic Church” — the family.

Warren Dangerfield, of St. Martin DePorres Catholic Church in Barrett Station, said OACE provides him with an opportunity to share his faith with his family and peers.

“I now have the wisdom to appreciate and understand my Catholic faith on a higher level. This wisdom and understanding will continue to help strengthen my relationship with God,” he said.

Angelica Hernandez, of Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Angleton, agrees. “Through (OACE) I have strengthened my faith even more by attending workshops and retreats with other youth my age,” she said. “Having impacted my life, I have been able to evangelize and stand up for my Catholic faith.” 

An annual offering provided to Houston-area youth by OACE is the Archdiocesan Youth Conference (AYC), which will be held this year at the Hilton Americas Hotel, July 19 to 21. 

AYC, the largest gathering of young people sponsored, planned and implemented by the ministry, brings together more than 2,400 high-school youth and their adult leaders and chaperones for a three-day conference where young people are challenged to live out their faith, learn from exciting and informative presentations from outstanding national speakers and musicians, and make new friends. 

Other annual events sponsored by OACE include the Archdiocesan Junior High Youth Rally and Catholic Summer Immersion (CSI).

The Archdiocesan Youth Council was established in March 1994 to foster the total personal and spiritual growth of each young person in the Archdiocese. The council also seeks to draw young people to responsible participation in the life, mission and work of the faith community.

Connor LeBlanc, of St. Anne Catholic Church in Tomball and member of the Archdiocesan Youth Council, said serving in the council has helped him learn more from the adults he has worked with in the office.

“The (OACE) has directly affected my life and the direction I hope to take it. Serving on the Archdiocesan Youth Council has allowed me to collaborate with Brian Johnson and his staff in planning various faith formation events for our brothers and sisters from sixth to 12th grade,” he said. “What I have been taught through the office has brought my faith to life, as I now intend to carry on in the message they helped me come to understand, a message to always spread the Word of God, especially to our youth.”