These are some of the key messages arising from a series of youth forums conducted at deaneries within the archdiocese over recent weeks.
Peter Bierer, coordinator for the Catholic Office for Youth and Young Adults (COYYA), has attended all the forums and said many youth in the archdiocese were feeling a sense of disillusionment with their place in the Church. He said they spoke of not feeling supported in the parishes, of youth groups being disconnected from the life of the parish and being “belittled” by older parishioners for the way they expressed their faith.
“The youth are saying, ‘we are different and we express our faith differently – and that’s okay’. They want to be included with the older parishioners in the decision making of the Church, in the music, in the liturgy.
“They want the Church to know that they are committed to the Church and they want to be taken seriously.”
Those attending the ‘Raise Your Voice’ forums were predominantly in the 18 to 25 year old age group, were single and studying at university or working part-time. Mr Bierer said the participants were grateful for the opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions and enjoyed being with young people from other parishes and schools.
But it became clear that in some parishes young people wanted greater inclusion and acceptance and to build relationships with the older parishioners. There were also some wonderful examples of parishes that were getting things right and had a vibrant youth culture.
“While many parishes are keen to include youth they sometimes find it difficult to connect with young people,” Mr Bierer said.
“Technology can be daunting and youth culture is definitely steered by technology. However, when you talk to youth about what’s important, it is all about relationships – the parish developing relationships with a young person is much better than having a cool website.”
Results from the forums will help to shape COYYA’s strategic plan for the future.
“What I am seeing is the need for standardisation of what youth ministry is in the archdiocese. Creating standards for schools and parishes and the qualities and skills needed by youth ministers.
“We need a united understanding of what youth ministry is and what its purpose is,” Mr Bierer said.
He hoped that in the future there would be an annual ‘Raise Your Voice’ gathering for all youth in the Archdiocese focusing on some of their areas of concern. That included issues relating to the environment (climate change and the damage being done to the planet); social equality (the role of women in the Church, gender identity and sexuality); and respecting young people and their place in the Church.
Mr Bierer is also proposing the establishment of a database of volunteers who have skills working with youth and who could support parishes with special events, retreats and music involving young people.
The forums follow an online survey of youth conducted by the Australian Catholic Bishops earlier this year. The survey was in response to Pope Francis’ call to gather information for the Synod of Bishops in Rome in October 2018, which will focus on ‘youth, the faith and vocational discernment’.
More than 1000 youth in the Adelaide Archdiocese participated in the survey, the majority being senior secondary students at Catholic schools.
Mr Bierer said the information from this survey would also be useful for COYYA as it develops its strategic plan.
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