LISTENING TO THE YOUNG CHURCH The Diocese has hosted a pair of listening sessions for young adults recently as part of the worldwide Synod on Synodality. LEFT: A group of young adults share in small groups at a listening session at St. Andrew Newman Center, Riverside, on May 18. RIGHT: From left to right, Josué Marin, Sarah Marin, Bishop Alberto Rojas, Monserratee Angeles and Archie La Salle participate in a listening session livestreamed by Wordnet Productions on May 11.
By Anneliese Esparza
The Diocese reached out to the young Church in a particular way this May with a pair of listening sessions for young adults, one of which was facilitated by Bishop Alberto Rojas.
The listening sessions are part of the Synod on Synodality, a worldwide Church initiative emphasizing listening to one another and discerning the Holy Spirit’s will for the Church.
The first of the two listening sessions took place on May 11 and was livestreamed on Wordnet Productions’ YouTube channel. (Wordnet Productions is an independent Catholic media ministry based in San Bernardino that often partners with the Diocese). The listening session featured four young adult panelists who shared their perspectives on the Church with Bishop Rojas, covering topics such as young people leaving the Church, how the Church can better serve young people and how all Catholics can better journey together in faith despite their differences.
One of the panelists was Monserratee Angeles, who was active in the Church up until high school at her home parish, Our Lady of Hope, San Bernardino. However, her faith was challenged when she moved away for college and encountered people with different beliefs. “My faith wasn’t as strong as I thought it was, and from there it was easy to abandon my faith,” she said.
“When I would go home, people would ask, how are classes? How’s your career going? But they wouldn’t really ask, how’s your faith? Are you still going to Church? How’s your prayer life? Do you need me to pray for you? ... So that’s when I felt the abandonment,” she said, responding to a question of when she had felt that the Church had abandoned her.
When she graduated and moved back home, she met some seminarians who encouraged her to fight for her faith and look for the answers to her doubts. Finding the answers to her doubts as an adult ultimately gave her stronger faith than when she was a child or teenager, she said.
Another panelist, Josué Marin, reflected on the fact that the Church is like a family that you will always belong to. “Church is home and always will be home ... whatever happens in my life, whatever failings I may do on my part, I can always go back home to Church. I can always find refuge in that,” he said.
However, Marin acknowledged the Church is not perfect. “In a household, there’s going to be failings, there’s going to be shortcomings, just in the same way that the Church is going to fail me at times,” he said.
One of these shortcomings is the way that the Church ministers to young adults after their confirmation, Marin said. “Once you reach adulthood, once you’re confirmed, you’re like, where do I go in the Church? What direction do I have? That young adulthood phase is where the Catholic Church needs to be able to see and realize what the young adults need so they can continue on after confirmation,” he said.
Josué Marin’s wife, Sarah, who was also a panelist, said that the Church needs to stop trying to present a weakened version of Catholicism in an attempt to appeal to young eople. “We need to stop watering down the faith, trying to seek things that are attractive and comparing ourselves to other churches and secular things ... at the end of the day, what our young people crave today is tradition, truth, passion and good solid theology,” said Sarah Marin.
In response to a question about how the Church can better walk together, no matter our vocation or situation, the panelists emphasized having different groups (such as lay and religious) forming relationships with one another and not putting any one vocation over another. “No vocation is greater than another because we’re all called to love and we’re all called to serve God,” said Archie La Salle, who was the fourth panelist.
A few days after the Wordnet listening session, the Diocese hosted another listening session for young adults at the St. Andrew Newman Center, Riverside. At this listening session, around 25 young adults gathered to share their perspectives, breaking up into small groups of about five or six, plus a facilitator.
One participant, Colin Steele, whose parish is St. Andrew Newman Center, said that this was the first listening session he had attended and that the experience was positive. “Sometimes it’s easy to be out of tune with other people’s faith journey, and I think this was a great opportunity to create space where people could share the good and maybe not so good of their faith journey. I think that’s really important, because that’s how we grow, when we listen to other people’s experiences,” said Steele.
Another participant, Jenny Alarcon from San Secondo D’Asti, Ontario, said she hopes that the Synod brings about change, especially in the area of faith education. “I know a lot of young Catholic really want to know the truth of our faith ... I feel a lot of what we learn comes from certain parishes or just our own research of podcasts or YouTube or spiritual books, so I hope that everyone, all ages, can one day know as much as what we have learned of the beauty of the Church,” she said.
Continuing on the topic of hopes for the Synod, participant Catie McCool said, “I hope [the Synod] really inspires people to be more involved, encourages people to be more present in the faith, physically and spiritually, that it brings a lot of people together ... I really want more community-based parishes.”
Berenice Villa, Youth Ministry Coordinator for the Office of Ministry with Young Catholics, said, “I am always grateful for the courage of the young people in being willing to be open, honest and authentic in the listening sessions. I always leave the listening sessions and process the experiences of the young church through prayer and reflections, always with some heaviness in my heart especially when I hear the hurt many experience from still being excluded in their parish communities.”
Villa added that young people bring invaluable gifts to the Church and that it is critical to listen to young people becase it affirms them of their importance and encourages them to engage in leadership.
Speaking a week after facilitating the Wordnet listening session, Bishop Rojas echoed similar sentiments as Villa. “We leaders need to hear and listen to the ideas and energy of the young people and then get them involved in the Church ... I have a heart, a special appreciation, for young people, and I want to trust them more with bigger things, because I think they’re capable and they are willing to do it,” he said.
“I totally believe that young people are not just the future, but they are the present. Young people are the present and the big hope of the Church,” added Bishop Rojas.