YACM: Welcome, engage young adults in Church life

October 27, 2015

HOUSTON — Young adults age 18 to 39 encounter many life experiences and critical decision-making during these years. For decades, the Catholic Church has recognized the need to provide a supportive and nurturing parish life environment to help these young adults in their faith journey. 

The key is offering a variety of opportunities for worship, faith formation, fellowship and service that meet the specific needs, interests and lifestyles of today’s young adults.

“This is the time when many young people make big decisions regarding careers paths, education choices, spouses, having children, etc., and we need our Catholic community’s support now more than ever,” said Dagny Moore, a young adult living in north Houston who started JP2CYAM (John Paul the Second Catholic Young Adult Ministry) at St. Edward Catholic Community in Spring, and St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church and Sts. Simon and Jude Catholic Church in The Woodlands close to four years ago.

Currently, the Office of Young Adults and Campus Ministry of the Archdiocese, which is funded by the DSF, has 39 active young adult ministries offered in the English language and 30 offered in Spanish. JP2CYAM is one of those offered in English.

After joining several young adult groups at these parishes, Moore noticed that each group only drew a small amount of people with limited offerings, some disbanding after a few months.

“I found it hard to build community when the meetings were so spread apart and membership scarce, so I took a chance and formed one group for the three nearby parishes, hoping the numbers would possibly double,” Moore said. “Today, we have members from about six north Houston parishes. My core team of six young adults help me plan and implement programs for approximately 50 active young adult members that participate in an event at least once a month.”

She believes these programs allow young people to have a support network available when they are lonely, searching for answers and direction, looking for meaning in their lives and helping to recognize that they have an important place in the Catholic Church.

This sentiment was stressed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in its message of welcome in the “Sons and Daughters of Light: A Pastoral Plan for Ministry with Young Adults.”

“We know that your talents, and those of other young adults, can enrich the Church and can be a sign of God’s presence in society. We invite you to share them with us and to become part of a welcoming community for other young adults as well.” (Nov. 12, 1996, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)

According to the director of Young Adult and Campus Ministry, Gabriela Karaszewski, the mission of young adult ministries at the parish level, as well as programs offered through her ministry Archdiocesan-wide, follows the USCCB’s statement in the Sons and Daughters of Life pastoral plan: To connect young adults to Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, mission of the Church and their peer community.

Karaszewski believes that while young adult ministries at the parish level each have different needs based on membership, most offer programs in four main areas to help make these important connections. This includes opportunities for prayer, formation, service projects and community-building events (i.e., sports and socials). She said JP2CYAM serves as a role model for other parishes since it allows many opportunities for members to become a community. Moore agrees.

“JP2CYAM is unique since we have events two to three times a week that allow people more opportunities to get to know each other in many different settings,” Moore said. “Our mission is to encourage Catholic young adults to grow in their faith by living balanced lives and participation in spiritual, service, physical and social activities. By offering these options, we hope to draw people with different interests and at different levels in their faith journey.”

Young Adult and Campus Ministry recently launched a new workshop for leaders interested in starting or reinvigorating a young adult ministry in their parish entitled, “Starting and Sustaining Young Adult Ministry.” 

Karaszewski said she was pleased that approximately 35 parishes had representation, 16 that were starting new, which demonstrates there is a strong interest by young adults to lead and build community within their own faith communities.

Karaszewski said since young adults are typically active, it is easy to find those who are willing to serve and put their faith into action. Recently, Young Adult and Campus Ministry sponsored a Habitat for Humanity home-building project, the Pope Francis House in Houston, with 300 young-adult volunteers from 25 parishes who provided all the labor over six Saturdays. 

Karaszewski said if parishes don’t have additional resources to start a young adult ministry, she encourages them to look for existing opportunities that would engage this group, such as adult faith formation programs, retreats, service projects and liturgical-year celebrations, such as Ash Wednesday, Lent, Easter, Advent and Christmas.

“Each young adult has several gifts and talents that can be put to use in our communities and many of them are ready to help; all they need is a welcoming face,” Karaszewski said. “While it might be a matter of tweaking these programs to make them appealing and welcoming to young adults, we should be asking, what are we as a parish doing to actively reach out to these young adults to ensure we are being proactive in our efforts.”