How We Build Young Leaders

Mariann Hughes photoPolitics can be discouraging work. Long hours are punctuated by anxious moments as bills wend their way through committee hearings, debates and floor votes. Sometimes months of work crash to the floor in mere seconds.

But working for the Church gives politics a deeper meaning. Our work defends the vulnerable, the sick, the poor, the unborn, the elderly and the imprisoned. And more often than not, our comrades-in-arms are there to pick us up to fight another day.

Two years ago, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approached our staff at the Maryland Catholic Conference with an idea for a network of Maryland college students. These liaisons would receive valuable training and skills-building, then work to involve their fellow students in faith-based advocacy by disseminating resources, holding events, and sharing our work at their respective universities across the state. They would also attend the USCCB’s annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in February 2015 with 500+ leaders from across the nation, including 100 participants in the Young Leaders Initiative. The costs of their training and stipends were generously funded with a grant from the Catholic Youth Foundation USA.

As with any pilot program, it took time and trial-and-error to craft parameters and goals, but we found three students who were willing to be our guinea pigs! (Thelma, from Mount St. Mary’s; Alisa, from the University of Maryland; and Patricia, from Maryland Institute College of Art.)

Working with these young women during the 2014-15 school year was a joy. They were enthusiastic about the work of the Church in the public square. Whether they were planning a voter registration drive, engaging speakers to talk to the student body, or volunteering their time with charitable organizations, the young women showed passion for their faith and an eagerness for more projects. They were poised, confident and cheerful.

During the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington DC, I watched these young women hold animated conversations with their peers. I saw them chatting excitedly after workshops with leaders in the Church. I saw their heads bowed in prayer and their hands raised in praise. They shared their career goals with me. None of these talented, ambitious students wanted to be rich or famous. They wanted to help people and share their love of Christ with the world.

As I continue to grow and develop our relationships with an increasing network of young adult Catholics, I’m humbled that no matter the stage in life, we all bring something to the table. Those older than I offer wisdom, experience, prudence. Those younger offer hope, zeal, energy. Working with these students has given me a sense of Church and of community – all backgrounds, ages and walks of life coming together to show their love for Christ in a real and tangible way. All of sudden, this doesn’t feel like a battle anymore. It feels like family.

Mariann Hughes is the associate director of advocacy and outreach at the Maryland Catholic Conference, which advocates for the Church’s public policy positions before the Maryland General Assembly and other civil officials.

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