By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
This past week, from May 15-17, young adult leaders from across the US met for 3 days at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC. The Summit was organized by the US Bishop’s Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. Paul Jarzembowski, lead staff for the Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the US Catholic Bishops’ Conference, told Vatican News that this Summit gave these young adult ministry leaders the possibility of gathering together, “to network, to learn, to share, and ultimately to move forward with this ministry”.
130 leaders in young adult ministry representing dioceses, parishes and other organizations participated. This ministry in the US focuses on adults from the age of 18 to those in their thirties. The themes were drawn from a document released in 2017 bythe US Bishops entitled Living as Missionary Disciples, which is heavily inspired by Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: Encounter, Accompany, Community, and Mission.
These themes guided conversations in both large and small groups as the leaders grappled with such issues as youth on the periphery; those who suffer poverty, marginalization, and disability; generational and cultural differences; and the digital reality affecting their ministry. Some key themes in this ministry which came up were accompanying young adults through the various transitions that occur in this period of life, mentorship, leadership development, multi-parish models of ministry, and the self-care of the minister leader.
A live-stream feed allowed about 40-50 people to participate in the summit offsite. Their presence “reminded us that even the people in the room weren’t the only people who needed to be having the conversation”, Paul said. In addition, he said that it provided the opportunity of modelling how social media can be used to integrate young adults who may not be able to participate in live events.
Hopes and follow-up
Paul described three hopes that the Bishops hope to achieve with the summit: strengthening leaders and giving them tools, offering them a network of other leaders, and gathering ideas from local leaders so that some can be implemented on the national level. The Secretariat hopes to follow up directly with the participants, share what they learned online with the wider young adult ministry community, and they hope that local summits modelled on this one would be organized in the future. Participants will also be able to take advantage of several national and international events in the near future such as a Leadership Forum the Bishops are organizing in December, a national Hispanic “Encuentro” being planned, and World Youth Day in Panama in 2019.
Connection with the upcoming Synod
The preparatory and pre-synod summary document directly provided some of the themes discussed during the summit. “We wanted to explore those a little more deeply”, Paul said. He then highlighted the synodal process itself which “has invited the Church to listen more, especially to listen to young people”. With this in mind, meeting with young adult ministry leaders, many of whom are lay people, allowed the Bishop’s Secretariat staff the possibility of listening to them “because they work every day with youth and young adults”. He hopes that the input from the Summit participants will be helpful to the Bishops directly involved in the Synod, especially in implementing the eventual post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation.