“To be Youthful at Heart is to Fall in Love with Jesus”

STEUBENVILLE, OHIO– “What do young people want? They want to encounter the Lord Jesus! They want to know the full Truth of our faith. They want liturgy that’s vibrant and beautiful. They are looking for communities. They are looking to go into the world to make it better!” said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano at the “Voice +Vision” conference held this week at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.

Almost 300 national leaders in youth and young adult ministry, theologians and bishops gathered on July 31 for the first U.S. summit focused on Pope Francis’s major letter on young people released last spring.

The participants reflected on the recently concluded Vatican Synod on Youth, Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit, which is his response to the findings of the Synod Fathers, the recently concluded Fifth Encuentro and the ongoing National Dialogue on Young People.

Paul Jarzembowski, who oversees Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said the gathering, known as the National Dialogue, was an occasion to follow in Francis’s footsteps and “mobilize the Church towards greater unity and engagement of youth and young adults.”

Conference organizers said that Voice + Vision was primarily focused on panel discussions and group conversations that intentionally lead to specific proposals. It was designed to give voice to what is happening in the United States in youth and young adult ministries and propose a vision on how the Church can move forward.

In his reflection delivered on Thursday, Bishop Caggiano said that reaching out to young people is a great challenge and opportunity to respond to their needs as well as renew the entire Church during a time of crisis.

“They are looking to evangelize and for leaders who are transparent, honest, accountable, and will walk with them. Who in this room doesn’t want the same thing? We are looking to not just renew a ministry to young people, but to the whole Church.”

The Bishop said that Church calls all people to be young at heart through faith. “In the end, to be youthful at heart is to fall in love with Jesus. We need to see success not in numbers, but in converted hearts.”

He told participants that no one has all the answers, but by working together, the Church will find the way forward.

“Where do we go from here? I have no idea. But Jesus knows. The Holy Spirit knows where we are going, and the collective wisdom of the Church will lead us forward in this journey. If this journey is going to lead us to where we want to go, it needs everyone among the baptized. My dream is that the whole Church will join us on this journey of renewal.”

In his Facebook posting written from the conference, Bishop Caggiano said that “many of those who spoke noted that we are living in an unique moment in the ongoing ministry on behalf of youth and young adults. At the same time, we continue to address the grave evil of the abuse of minors, which has greatly contributed to the disaffection of young people from the life of the Church.”

The Bishop said that many of the conference participants were asking the same questions: “What is the Lord is asking of us, right here and now, in support of our young people? What needs to be changed in our ministry and outreach efforts so that they bear greater fruit? In what ways must we as leaders (bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay leaders) seek deeper conversion of mind, heart and spirit so that we can exercise leadership in an authentic, faithful and compelling manner?”

He added that participants will continue to reflect, pray over and explore these questions, “asking the Holy Spirit to guide our work so that we can courageously confront the challenges our Church is facing in relation to young people, some of which are the result of our own sinfulness, mediocrity and lack of courage.”

In Christus Vivit, Pope Francis proposes that there is a need for “new styles and strategies,” as well as recognizing “those practices that have shown their value” (204) in ministry with young people.

This summit is co-sponsored by Franciscan University of Steubenville and the National Dialogue of Pastoral Ministry with Youth and Young Adults. The National Dialogue is a collaborative effort between the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM), USCCB National Advisory Team on Young Adult Ministry, National Catholic Network de Pastoral Juvenil Hispana (LaRED), and Catholic Campus Ministry Association (CCMA).