By Fr. Hau Vu
A while back (from 2017 to 2020), there was a nationwide effort to listen to the concerns of young people and those who minister among them. What came out of this model of synodality, which is the same model we are in as a Church right now as we prepare for the Synod, is a final report entitled National Dialogue on Catholic Pastoral Ministry with Youth and Young Adults.
The findings within this report were very helpful in identifying what the Church needs to do in order to respond to the sobering realities of Catholic young people and to the crisis the whole Church is experiencing in regards to the decrease in the number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
The recommendations, based on the National Dialogue data and conversations, are important for us to take a look at because they are also ways that we as a Church can move forward to promote, invite, foster and nourish the vocational discernment of our future priests and religious. These are the ten main recommendations that emerged:
1. More intentionally connect the life of faith with the lived experiences of young people.
The National Dialogue observed that even active young people feel the Catholic Church does not show how faith is relevant to their daily lives, transitions and lived experiences.
2. We all need to do more synodal listening to one another.
The recent experiences of the Synod, the V Encuentro and the National Dialogue show that synodality is essential, especially listening to those from the peripheries and bringing in the voices of those who are not around the table.
3. Address the “authenticity gap.”
The National Dialogue revealed that the church needs to show more empathy and authentic engagement with the young, rather than empty platitudes or impatient judgment of the young and the disaffiliated.
4. Increase the investment in accompaniment.
We do not walk alone; we need each other. The National Dialogue, echoing Christus Vivit, saw that the Church must train more people in “the art of accompaniment” with youth and young adults, especially in the area of mental health.
5. Expand ministry with young adults.
All age groups and conversations with the National Dialogue noted the church’s significant lack of attention to young adults (ages 18-39) and expressed a strong recommendation to increase, invest in and expand this ministerial area.
6. Reimagine faith formation.
There was regular encouragement in the National Dialogue to move away from a classroom model and toward more relevant learning models featuring mentorship, small groups, accompaniment, faith sharing and authentic witness.
7. Reconsider preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation.
There was a clear call to re-examine and reconsider how the church prepares young people for Confirmation.
8. Partner with parents and enhance family ministry.
Due to the concerns of ministry leaders and parents expressed in the National Dialogue, there must be increased dialogue and collaboration with families and the domestic church, including the growth of intergenerational/family ministries.
9. Transform ministry leadership.
It was evident in the National Dialogue feedback that the church needs to seriously address the formation, support and resourcing of ministry leaders and create a culture of collaboration and unity across ministerial and ecclesial lines.
10. Embrace complexity.
Because of the plethora of findings from the data, and recognizing the needs of young people, families and leaders are so vast, there is no “one size fits all” approach that can be taken; rather, leaning into this complexity is highly recommended.
Excerpts taken from National Dialogue on Catholic Pastoral Ministry with Youth and Young Adult Final Report, nationaldialogue.info.
Fr. Hau Vu is Associate Director of Vocations in the Diocese of San Bernardino.