The Starting Point
Youth Ministry in the Catholic Church
Catholic Youth Ministry is an integral part of the mission of the Church. The Church’s call is to evangelise. It is a sign of God’s love and presence in the world. The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, tells us that the Church is both ‘called’ and ‘sent’ (5). We are a people gathered together into community by the risen Jesus, united in our faith and worship and sent to continue his work in the world. The central mission is that of ‘making disciples’ (Matthew 28: 19-20).
A travelling companion
At the core of youth ministry is the encounter between young people and the Gospel as the Church brings the good news of Jesus to each generation. Pope John Paul II called the whole Church to become the ‘travelling companion’ of young people:
‘What is needed today is a Church, which knows how to respond to the expectations of young people. Jesus wants to enter into dialogue with them and, through his body, which is the Church, to propose the possibility of a choice, which will require a commitment of their lives. As Jesus with the disciples of Emmaus, so the Church must become the travelling companion of young people.’
(World Youth Day 1995, Philippines)
If it takes ‘a whole village to raise a child’, then it certainly takes an entire Church to journey with young people as they grapple with the Good News and respond to discipleship in their unique situation and in the world around them.
The first apostles of the young
Young people themselves are central to the Church’s mission to the young. In the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, the Second Vatican Council said:
‘the young should be the first apostles of the young, in direct contact with them, exercising the apostolate by themselves, among themselves, taking account of their social environment.’(12)
Young people need to be encouraged and fostered by supportive adults. The document highlights that both adults and young people have a role in youth ministry and are called to journey together, each bringing ‘their own personal riches’. Pope Francis often speaks of the need for both the ‘wisdom’ of the elderly and the ‘energy’ of the young.
Synod on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment
In 2017, in preparation for World Youth Day, Pope Francis said
‘Every young person has something to say to others. He or she has something to say to adults, something to say to priests, sisters, bishops and even the Pope. All of us need to listen to you!’
Following this, the Pope called for a Synod on ‘Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment’ to take place in October 2018. A worldwide consultation and a preparatory meeting with young people ensured that the voices of young people would inform the Synod. In March 2018, a pre-Synod meeting of 300 young people was called and the final document from this meeting expresses many of the reflections shared by the young people to give the Bishops at the Synod a ‘compass’ for the way ahead so that the Church can ‘learn’, ‘listen to the voices of young people’ and ‘best accompany young people’. The full document is available from the website of the Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.
By working in our individual parishes and partnerships, we can contribute to a whole church vision for young people to experience “life to the full”.