Year of teens and young adults launched

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, July 3, 2011

The archdiocese is trying to catch the wave and engage the interest of Catholic youth and young adults up to the age of 24.

This month marks the launch of the archdiocesan Strategic Pastoral Plan with the Year of Teens and Young Adults, timed to coincide with World Youth Day in Madrid and an overnight event to be held here, said Msgr. John Canary, the archdiocese’s vicar general.

“That’s kind of a kickoff event,” Canary said, referring to the international gathering in Spain and the companion event Aug. 20-21 at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the Des Plaines campus of Maryville Academy. Organizers of the local event expect about 2,000 young people.

“It’s going to be a major kickoff experience for the teens and young adults in the archdiocese to spiritually strengthen them and encourage their own contribution to the mission of the church,” Canary said.

The implementation of the strategic plan will include four themed years. After the Year of Teens and Young Adults, the archdiocese will celebrate the Year of Sunday Mass, Year of Parent Formation and Year of the Sacraments. Parish transformation — an initiative to help parishes find ways to become financially viable and spiritually vibrant — will continue throughout all four years. All five areas were highlighted by the archdiocese’s strategic plan steering committee as needing attention.

Church’s future

The teens and young adults will lead off the effort not only because of the timing of World Youth Day but because they are the future of the church, said Father Louis Cameli, the cardinal’s delegate for Christian Formation and Mission.

“We really want to take care of our young people,” Cameli said. “We want to make sure they take their rightful place in the life of the church.”

There is a limited opportunity for doing that, said Msgr. Richard Hynes, director of the Department of Parish Life and Formation.

“It’s between 13 and 23 or 24 years old that an indelible mark can occur,” Hynes said. “It can happen if there’s a spiritual awakening during those years, coupled with experiences of service, coupled with a sense of belief that their voices are heard. If those things happen, there’s a high probability that those individuals will be practicing their faith when they are 30, 40, 50, 60 years old.”

To help teens and young adults make their voices heard, the archdiocese is encouraging parishes to hold “conversations” with teens and young adults. Guides for such conversations are available at The guidelines differ slightly for the two age groups, as they are at vastly different places in their lives.

“It’s only 10 years (between 13 and 23), but it might as well be 10 hundred years,” Hynes said.

However, in terms of church, both groups have expressed a desire to be included in parish life, not to be seen as somehow separate or outside of it. They want opportunities to serve, both their parishes and the world, and they don’t want older parishioners to look down on them or talk down to them, according to feedback from several parish sessions.

Young adults also are focused on developing healthy relationships, something Hynes finds encouraging.

Multi-effort vision

The year-long effort will include initiatives from many archdiocesan offices and departments, including the Evangelization Office, the Office for Catechesis and Youth Ministry, the Office for Hispanic Catholics, the Office of Catholic Schools and Young Adult Ministry.

Nancy Polacek, the coordinator for the Strategic Pastoral Plan, said the conversations should help parishes figure out what they can do to better engage young people in their own parish life.

“There is no one way that a parish should do it,” said Polacek, who has been sharing the plan with pastors at deanery meetings all over the archdiocese. “We have 357 parishes that are so diverse, and they each have their own needs.”

But people in every parish must realize that this year applies to everyone, not just the young people who are at the center of the efforts.

“It’s a year for everyone to be considering how they raise up the faith of people 14-24,” she said.

The archdiocese is asking parishes to aim to have conversations with their teens and early young adults over the summer. At least one, Incarnation Parish in Palos Heights, plans to hold its session with young adults as part of its Theology on Tap program.

While no definitive benchmarks have yet been set to judge whether the year is a success, Polacek said the archdiocese is hoping to see more parishes offering youth ministry.

Canary said the archdiocese has already seen more interest in that.

“One overall good result is the sharing of information that pastors and others are already engaged in around teenagers and young adults,” Canary said. “I’ve been impressed with the way pastors have been responding. It does not seem to be one more thing that’s been added to their plate. Rather they already seem to be engaged in this outreach. It seems to be helpful.”

Cameli said he hopes the Year for Teens and Young Adults yields great results, for the sake of the church and for the sake of the young people.

“We want them to have hope and direction,” he said, “the kind of hope and direction that can only come from faith.”