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Voices Being Heard Only a Good Beginning

Too Much of a Good Thing

The deceptive thing about standing on the ocean shore and looking out at the water is that it looks as if the water ends. In reality, though, what we can see is only a very small part of an ocean that extends for miles beyond our view. The many streams, lakes and rivers that empty into the ocean must also be taken into account. All added up, something that from the ocean shore looks so comprehensible is actually much more involved.

This fall, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops waded once again into the waters of young adult ministry by passing an extensive 77-page pastoral plan for young adults entitled "Sons and Daughters of the Light: A Pastoral Plan for Ministry With Young Adults." Bishop Tod D. Brown of Boise, chairman of the laity committee, introduced the pastoral plan at the meeting and explained that it was so extensive because young adults are in so many stages of life.

According to the document, young adults currently make up approximately 30 percent of the total U.S. population. When speaking of young adults, the bishops refer to men and women in their late teens, 20's and 30's. That group is further defined to include single people, married couples--with children or without--and those considering vocations.

The bishops developed the plan after holding a series of town-hall type meetings with forums of young adults. Insights gained in those meetings are included throughout the document.

In the Introduction of the document, the bishops list three goals which they hope to accomplish with this pastoral plan: 1) firmly state that young adults deserve the Church's attention, and that we, as members of a community of faith, must actively invite and welcome them into the life of the Church; 2) describe briefly the life situation of young adults so that the Church can effectively respond to their needs and concerns and 3) develop a comprehensive and workable plan of action for ministering with people in their late teens, 20's and 30's based on the four goals of connecting young adults with the Church, Jesus Christ, the mission of the Church in the world and a community of their peers.

Voices Being Heard

Michelle M. Mystkowski of Patchogue, New York, who is quoted in the document, says, "As a young adult in today's dynamic society, I, like so many other young adults, am hungry. I have felt a strong spiritual hunger, a hunger which stems from the need to discover who I am, who is my God, and what is my purpose in society....It is my hope that the Catholic Church will help guide me through this transitional period of my life....It is also my hope that the Catholic Church will provide us, as young adults, with the opportunities to truly feel an integral and necessary part of the Church community; to provide us the chance to gather with other young adults so that we may share and reflect on our life journey and self-discovery together."

One example of ministry offered in the plan is to form support groups, send anniversary cards and have an anniversary supper for young married couples. "This shows an ongoing concern for the couples and helps to keep them connected during the early years of marriage, when the divorce rate is highest," the document states.

Only a Good Beginning

To its credit, the plan recognizes that ministry to young adults has been lacking for quite some time. By advocating reaching young adults with peer ministry, mentoring, use of the Internet and e-mail, the bishops have shown a true desire to reach out to young adults where they are in life.

But by addressing the plan to those in leadership positions in the Church, such as youth ministers, campus ministers, pastors and pastoral associates, the bishops are asking more from a group that is already overburdened.

The document is full of comments such as Mystkowski's stating that young adults are longing for and willing to take advantage of opportunities to nurture their faith lives. They also express a need for support from the Church. That desire and willingness should fuel this plan. Unfortunately, the responsibility of initiating "Sons and Daughters of the Light" is left by the bishops to Church administrators. And given the plan's length and comprehensiveness, how many are likely even to read this document, let alone to implement it?

For example, the plan deals with issues such as Confirmation preparation, college, marriage, vocations and the Baptism of children. The needs of those preparing for Confirmation are quite different from those preparing for marriage, and the same ministers can hardly deal effectively with the problems of teenagers, the engaged and young married couples all at the same time. Also, combining these very different age-groups seems a failure to recognize the distinct problems and challenges that present themselves at the many different stages of young adulthood.

Matthew T. Dunn of Beavercreek, Ohio, points out, "Today's young adults are at a disadvantage....There is a story and a face with each one of these lives....We are the generation which has grown up in broken families. We have gay and lesbian friends who want to be accepted for who they are....We have friends and family members who are divorced, we have friends who are single and pregnant...."

With this pastoral plan the bishops have taken an important first step in addressing the needs and problems of young adult ministry. More must follow. We need to recognize the distinct demands of each group among the young. We must recruit and enable capable guides to minister to them and mentor them in their journey of faith. Most importantly, we must encourage and inspire these young adults to develop their own faith lives both on a personal level and with their peers. With "Sons and Daughters of the Light" the bishops have given young adults the resources and opportunities; now it's up to the young adults to take on some of the responsibilities.--S.H.B.

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