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By Edgardo Juarez

 Plans for ministry with young people in the post-pandemic world must begin with rebuilding trust. As we come to terms with the way life has changed in our families and communities, we must also acknowledge that the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of young people have also changed.

 A recent Springtide Research study found that 40 percent of young people ages 13–25 across the U.S. feel as though they do not have anyone to talk to, resulting in increased rates of extreme stress.

 Now more than ever, young people need trusted adults to help them navigate life in a post-pandemic world. Those ministering with young people must offer intentional spaces where teens can process their lived experiences with their peers and be guided by adult mentors. In these spaces, ministers are called to listen with an open heart, placing close attention to their journey and exercise empathy. These actions are essential to authentically witness to the Gospel and begin to rebuild trust among the young.

 Recognizing this opportunity, the Diocesan Office of Ministry with Young Catholics partnered with NET Ministries to host two virtual retreats for the teens of our Diocese this past month. Close to 100 teens from 25 parishes from our Diocese gathered virtually to reflect on their journey, build community and grow in relationship with Christ, using their smartphones, tablets, and laptops. James Schoenfelder, a member of NET Ministries’ retreat team, shares that “being able to accompany and mentor teens through this unprecedented year has brought joy and purpose to my life. Witnessing young people gathering to pray in their homes with their peers has brought me closer to Christ.”

 As his year of mission comes to an end this May, Schoenfelder and his retreat team are among the young protagonists of the virtual evangelization efforts of this historic time. They became role models of faith for the teens that attended these retreats and have become signs of hope for the new evangelization of our young church. Commented one youth participant, “this retreat made me consider things about friendships in my life as well as my relationship with God.” Another said, “it really helped connect me with others seeking to grow closer to God and helped me know I am not alone.” These comments affirm that the young Church, despite their challenge, continues to seek a relationship with Christ.

 As we look towards the future, we must trust that the Holy Spirit is leading the way in all our evangelization efforts. May the words of St. John Paul II continue to bring hope to our hearts: “I plead with you, never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.” God’s love is all we need.

   To learn more about NET Ministries visit netusa.org.

   Edgardo Juarez is the Director of the Diocesan Office of Ministry with Young Catholics.