As a young adult who has worked for the Church my entire adult life, it irks me when I hear questions like:
Where are all the young people?
Why don’t they care about the Church’s work in [insert topic being discussed]?
Why aren’t they here?
In my experience, the major reason we don’t see “young people” is because we haven’t invited them. When we do invite them, they come. And when we respect their interests, experience and contributions, they keep coming.
Case in point: in February 2015, we will welcome over 100 Catholic student leaders from colleges and universities around the country to the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering—the preeminent gathering of US Catholics in social ministry, presented by 16 national Catholic organizations, under the leadership of the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.
The Gathering attracts around 500 participants—so college students will likely make up at least a fifth of the total attendees in 2015. This wasn’t always the case: just a few years ago, the Gathering was limited to social ministry professionals. But we realized we were missing out, so we created the Young Leaders Initiative, a special effort to attract and invite emerging student leaders.
Involving younger Catholics led to contagious energy, dynamism, faith and creativity. Long-time participants in the Gathering felt renewed hope in the future of social ministry. Young Leaders Initiative participants couldn’t stop talking about their experience.
Students at the University of Notre Dame reflected about how participating in the Mass, adoration, the Rosary, and other forms of prayer at the Gathering were “the most powerful action,” sending them on a mission to do God’s work.
Participants from St. Mary’s University in Minnesota discovered their essential role in calling lawmakers to pay attention to the real people impacted by poverty and injustice.
Students at Australian Catholic University spoke about connecting their faith with their “passion” for social justice, developing friendships, and being inspired by those who have “committed their lives” to this work.
A student from the University of Dayton reflected that the Gathering helped him “ask the hard questions about how we put the things that move our heart, our faith, our spirit into action? How do we make a real difference and stand with and for others?”
Such questions are a challenge to us, too. Instead of asking, “Where are all the young people?” let’s think about even more ways we can ask talented, passionate, faith-filled emerging leaders to join us in the work for the Kingdom.
Jill Rauh is assistant director for education & outreach at the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.