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By Lynn and Bob Gillen

Links for Learners | August 2001

Young Adult Catholics: Are They Coming Back?


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Links for Learning

Finding Curriculum Connections for High School Teachers and Students

This month’s Links for Learners will support high school curriculum in:
Christian lifestyles—parish ministries; Christian leadership; directives of Vatican II
Social studies—generational issues and dynamics

Finding Links for Discussion Group Leaders and Participants

Look for connections for use in programs outside the classroom, such as:

Parish sacramental preparation programs and CCD classes; young adult discussion programs; seasonal discussion groups; RCIA programs.
Parents will also find this material useful in initiating discussion around the dinner table, in home study, at family activities.

Understanding Basic Terms in This Month’s Article

Look for the key words and terms below as you read the article. Definitions or explanations can be researched from the article itself or from the resource materials cited throughout the Links for Learners. You can also find a list of terms on the glossary page of

Young adult ministry

'Me Generation'


Experience of community

Small faith groups

Spiritual awareness




'Generation X'



Anonymous culture

RCIA program

Young-adult friendly

A Look Forward From Your High School Years

As a teenager your concerns center on friends, family, school, sports, music. College is still in the future, and young adulthood just a distant dream. This month's article, however, challenges you to think ahead for a few moments. We'll take a look at the needs of young adults and the Church's response, its ministry to young adults. Included in the discussion will be what kind of leaders the Church needs to serve young Christian adults. This will offer you insight into what you are doing to shape your own life. What you do now, how you live your teen years, will set the tone for your life as a young adult.

Politician and former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill observed that all politics is local. Despite the regional and national scope of American government, for example, individuals are active in politics at the local level: school boards, city councils, town planning committees. Life in the Catholic Church is no different. The vast worldwide organization of the Roman Catholic Church consists of a network of Christian families forming faith groups in parishes, schools and dioceses.

Forming Christian community at the local level is exactly what the Church is about. The Second Vatican Council, in its Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church, says, "Let families flourish which are imbued with the spirit of the Gospel and let them be assisted by good schools; let associations and groups be organized by means of which the lay apostolate will be able to permeate the whole of society with the spirit of the Gospel."

Now in your high school years, after being centered as a child on the local parish and school, you begin to move from the parish and experience Christian life in other settings. You may stay rooted in your parish for Confirmation programs and weekly liturgy, but in high school you also participate in retreats, service programs, classroom faith discussions and school liturgies.

This transition beyond parish roots continues through the college years. By the time an individual reaches his mid-20s, affiliation with the parish of origin is often just a thing of the past, and unfortunately, so is affiliation with the Church.

Young adults are very much in transition. They move out from home or college to begin jobs and careers. They may relocate to an unfamiliar city, find new roommates, take on a car loan. They must work to pay rent, buy food, afford entertainment, and pay off college loans. Some will experience disappointment when their four years of college education do not translate to a related job and career. Others will feel pressure to find a life partner.

The Church listens to the needs of young adults. At the national level, the American bishops developed a pastoral plan for young adults, titled Sons and Daughters of the Light: A Pastoral Plan for Ministry with Young Adults.

At the local level, numerous dioceses sponsor young adult programs: Chicago, Atlanta, New York and Providence, for example. The Atlanta program includes volunteer service in the Mustard Seed Communities in Kingston, Jamaica.

Chicago's program has a 20-year history. Its Theology on Tap summer series draws hundreds of participants annually, culminating with a liturgy and picnic with Cardinal Francis George.

All these ministries are the Church's response to young adults' need for spiritual awareness. This month's author says there is "…a need or hunger to find good people in life." We live in an anonymous culture, with disconnectedness a common, perhaps prevalent, experience. Catholic bishops worldwide agree, "…man painstakingly searches for a better world, without a corresponding spiritual advancement." (See Vatican II's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Introduction, section 4.) Individuals are looking for an experience of community.

Building Christian Community

Christian community doesn't just happen. Parishes work hard to create and sustain programs. Look at St. Clement in Chicago. As a sponsoring parish for the diocesan Theology on Tap program, St. Clement's attracts hundreds of young adults for regular talks and discussions. Some have chosen to join the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) process and be initiated into the Catholic faith.

The mission statement for St. Clement includes this conviction: "We are a welcoming community called to embrace and respect our diversity of age, gender, lifestyle, livelihood, race, ethnicity and religious traditions as we join together in our faith and worship while sharing our talents, spirit and resources in the service of God."

In Old St. Pat's, another Chicago parish concerned with young adults, parishioners and clergy developed a mission statement to articulate their purpose. One of their goals states, "Choose to celebrate the goodness of life by continually creating an experience of hospitality, friendship, prayer and service that responds to human needs." What a beautiful statement of their reason for ministry!

Both of these parishes demonstrate renewal guidelines articulated by Kevin Sandberg, a community coordinator at St. Clement until 1999:

  • Know names and faces; relationships are key
  • Make programs pastorally based
  • Make programs team-centered, with trained leaders
  • Offer a variety of activities
  • Lead people spiritually

Think about what kind of personal traits you will need if you were to bring Christian renewal to life. Do you now know names and faces outside your circle of friends? Do you now work hard to build and maintain healthy relationships? Can you function effectively now in a team-centered situation? Are you capable now of being a spiritual leader, a force for good in your family, with your friends, in class discussions? Do you now volunteer to be a minister in school or parish liturgies?

Your answer to these questions may be, "No." More likely, it's "Sometimes." No doubt there's room for growth. But that's what being a teen is all about—growth. So where do you go from here? How do you prepare to be an effective Christian adult?

"Good church is built on listening to people," says Father John Cusick at Old St. Pat's in Chicago. Dialogue between the Church's clerical leadership and its members is crucial to a healthy Church. You can ensure your own growth by making efforts to voice your concerns and needs. Talk to friends. Speak with your teachers and counselors. Go to your parish council. Talk to older siblings who are in college or just starting their young adult years.

"The Church has not been really founded, and is not yet fully alive, nor is it a perfect sign of Christ among men, unless there is a laity worthy of the name working along with the hierarchy. For the gospel cannot be deeply grounded in the abilities, life and work of any people without the active presence of laymen." Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church, chapter 3, section 21.

When you become a young adult, wouldn't it be great if others could describe you as someone who chooses to celebrate the goodness of life by continually creating an experience of hospitality, friendship, prayer and service in response to human needs!

Research Resources

Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further reference. Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site’s archives.

The New York Times
The Los Angeles Times
Time magazine
The Associated Press
The Chicago Tribune
People magazine
The History Channel
The Miami Herald
The Close Up Foundation Washington, D.C.-based organization
ABC News
Channel One’s online resource
The Vatican
National Conference of Catholic Bishops
The New American Bible
Documents of Vatican II

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