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October 11, 2006



I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned culture. One example: our parish DRE has sponsored a Halloween party during the week of Oct 31. You know, the day before All Saints Day/All Souls Day!

We have an amazing, historical parish built by Pa Ingalls type homesteaders a hundred years ago. To think of how they etched out a living on their farms but still built a Cathedral quality church with marble columns, stained glass, statues galore, etc is simply amazing. The parish cemetery is right next to the church with graves going back to the days when the parish was built. Wouldn't spending a few hours in the dark in the graveyard talking about these ancestors, praying for their souls and thanking God for them be a "Catholic youth activity"? How about a Saints party? No. We have to reach the kids "where they are". The only reason I can think of for choosing to mimic secular culture is that we don't have any confidence in the strength of our own culture. It is really too bad because ours is much deeper, more authentic and more meaningful.

John Kasaian

I think one critical element a youth ministry can provide is a sense of community. When I was attending in public high school during the post Vatican II confusion we catholic kids were on our own. We had some CCD night classes for confirmation taught by an angry sister who played Simon and Garfunkle a lot before leaving her vocation and a 'teen mass' featuring rather bizarre folk music while our clas-mates who attended other churches had sports programs and Bible studies (enableing them to say stuff like "why do catholics believe 'blah-blah-blah' when it says in James xx.x-xx.y that its a sin?") When sisters abandoned their habits and priests left the rectories & their collars to 'hide out' in public there was a similar 'dis-connect' with us young people. I remember troubled teen age times when I wanted guidence but could find no one. My steps led my to my parish church but there was no one there, the doors were locked and just a dim glimmer of the candlelight from behind the stain glass windows gave any indication to the life inside.

Yeah, teens need their church.

When I discovered such dynamic priests as Fr. Stan and Fr. Antoine (often seen on EWTN)and the charismatic Pope John Paul II and the World Youth Day, and the positive effect it had on youth it was GREAT! Unfortunately it was too late for my generation and most of my catholic public school classmates have left the Church but at least my children have the opportunity now to sense that they "belong" to something truly much greater than themselves. By parishes being true to Mother Church, I think youth ministries can be a very important asset. If they become based in 'feel good' theology, they'll fail---which would be a poverty.


I think activities organized by Opus Dei (at least in Croatia) solve most of the problems that you mention. Judging from the interest of many young people (me included) there certainly can be attractive youth ministry that is solidly Catholic.


I have two things that may be of comfort to readers:

1) I work in a parish with a huge percentage of young adults. Many, many come and say, somewhat ashamedly, "I really wasn't listening in 8th grade. What should I know about my faith?" Often, they are in tow of a future spouse who also didn't get any religious formation either, but now wants to become Catholic - and the Catholic has been drawn up short because he/she can't answer any questions about what Catholics believe and why they do things. But, what I get out of this is that someone, somewhere, did give this young adult the idea that the Church is welcoming and a good place to be and now he/she is ready to try and share that while forming a new family.

2) Our RE program meets on Tuesday nights and of course this year Halloween is on Tuesday. I knew right off that I couldn't compete with this and scheduled no class. A fifth grader bounded down the stairs last night and accosted me. "We don't have class on Halloween????" No, I said, we don't. "Why NOT?" I said, you'll be out trick or treating. He said, "But I LIKE class! Can't we have forty five minutes or something like that?" I said, no. But I was thrilled, since he is as normal a kid as you can get and he really likes class because he has great catechists - young adults who know how to reach squirrely ten-year-olds. (And they aren't just playing games - right now that class is memorizing material about the sacraments and the precepts of the church.) So, it isn't a factor of game time, but good catechists who reach out and entice kids to enjoy being part of the church. Indeed, faith is caught, not taught.



This is not meant to undermine what Amy said but just to bring out one side that's likely to be overlooked in contemporary America: youth ministry, like all parish ministry, needs to put a lot of stress on prayer, not just a lot of stress on service. Otherwise being a Christian becomes just a different way to be busy busy busy.

Someone I know was talking to a guy who'd lost the Catholic faith and then later ended up an Evangelical. The guy goes to regular Bible-study and such, but as for becoming a Catholic--"I just don't have the time." I take it he means: "Based on my experience in high school and college, being a Catholic means raking leaves at nursing homes, delivering day-old bread, and generally running around like a madman; now that I'm a grown-up with a family and stuff, I don't possibly have time for all that; so I guess I can't be a Catholic."

Over-emphasis on service can be a new kind of Pelagianism, or a holy version of the frantic activity of the Harvard-bound.

Repeat: NOT an attack on what Amy said.

P.S. Religious orders seem to be reviving. But are the active ones reviving out of proportion to the contemplative ones? (Honest question, not a rhetorical one.) If so, perhaps that's because the Christian life is too often portrayed as one of service, not enough as one of prayer.

P.P.S. Actually the problem with Youth Service Activities isn't just the potential for over-activity; it's also, as Amy suggests, that they're just a different way of catering to kids rather than bringing them into the service activities that are already going on in the parish.


The world is aggressively Corinthian. Trying to be a saint is lonely, difficult, and according to the wider culture, unnatural and boring. The media is very good at reinforcing this image.

Teenagers are at the point of paradox where they want most badly to be adults but don't want adult responsibility, to individuate themselves but also fit in, and to have adventures but also feel secure.

The world they are about to enter is a brutal, unforgiving place. To prepare them, we should catechize them like crazy before they become teenagers. They should have a great deal memorized to the point of irritation -- not because this is good in itself, but because orthodoxy will have become ineluctable. It will recur in their minds, even in rebellion.

Then, instead of prolonging their adolescence with "soft Church," we should require them to work with mentors who can show them just how mangled and broken the real world really is. Then they will know the only salvation is through Christ crucified, and His presence.

Otherwise, we will continue to get the trappings of what Kierkegaard called "Christianity" -- not Christ.


Great post Amy! It's a difficult problem with no easy answers. Thinking about the "youth ministry" events I attended as a teenager in the 90s, I'm trying to figure out what could have been done differently to have a better outcome. As you point out, a huge part of the problem is how to reach kids whose parents are not practicing Catholics. My parents are not practicing and I wasn't either in high school. Most of the youth events I had to go to were either for confirmation, school sponsored retreats, or parish youth group activites that I was sent to because my mom thought I was being too introverted. Maybe that's a good place to start regarding youth ministry.

As you point out, it tends to follow the evangelical model of being very emotion-oriented. There's also (in my experience) a strong tendency to encourage what I'd call a false sense of intimacy with the other kids at the event. I recall doing many things like hug chains, blindfolding with someone else to grasp you and guide you around, and the thing were someone falls backwards and others are responsible for catching her. Even many of the purely social activities used as a "fun warm up" involved a lot of physical contact between people.

Believe it or not, some teens are kind of introverted. Some teens do not have an aching need to always touch and be touched, especially by strangers. Add co-ed settings to this and you've really got some issues! It sure made me uncomfortable, especially because of the implicit suggestion that I wasn't loving my brothers and sisters if I was reluctant to touch all of them.

You also pointed out the heavy emphasis on faith sharing - leaders and teens sharing personal stories about the role of faith in their lives. I always hated this part - it was boring and uncomfortable. Some people, even teens, are more private than others and aren't comfortable talking about such things simply for the sake of talking about it. I often felt I had little to talk about, because the experiences recalled by others were all very emotion-based. My temperment is such that I don't often have those kind of spiritual experiences. When I do, it is so special that I'm reluctant to share it with others, except maybe my husband.

So as a teen, I was frustrated that I had little to talk about and felt like I had to make something up so I wouldn't look like a weirdo. I got the impression that spirituality and faith was restricted to these emotionally charged experiences - there was no place for a person, especially a teen, who wanted a more quiet and solemn/structured way to relate to God.

Finally, the lack of catechesis we all had really hindered the effectiveness of faith sharing. Even at the time, I was getting the inkling that we were all talking but none of us knew what we were talking about. There had to be more to faith, to being Catholic, than learning how your classmate no longer "felt alone" when she prayed after being dumped by her boyfriend. Good for her, although it was not any of my business to begin with, but where's the meat and substance in this? Is this all there is, I wondered. Why did I, a sophomore at a Catholic high school, know more than I ever needed to know about my classmates' emotional states at various times in their lives but none of us knew about things like the Real Presence, adoration, the sacrifice of the Mass, all the fascinating stories of the saints, the history of our Church, the universal call to holiness, the necessity of sacramental confession, and salvation?


Oh, and there isn't nearly enough serious catechesis about the Mass.


Well...I have to say that I've been lucky enough to be a part of a very effective Catholic youth ministry program in Grand Rapids, MI. The focus was always Catechesis and giving the youth the Gospel without letting entertainment take over. The youth CRAVE catechesis. Seriously. My experience over the last 7 years of youth ministry is that they only show up when there is something substantive. If you don't give it to them, they'll go to great lengths to seek it out.

That said, there are still priests and parishes around that don't support good youth ministry, and do their best to try and import "entertainment" principles at the cost of orthodoxy. But if you really work hard on forming relationships with these youth and just giving them the teachings of the Church without any extras, they'll come flocking. I guess I feel like the tension is sort of overstated. It's a tension the hippie generation has fashioned that doesn't really hold true with the youth of today. They just want Truth and they want to be authentically loved. And they come, in droves, to get it.

We have a long way to go, since the Protestants got a head start on the whole youth ministry thing (I started at a Protestant youth group myself!), but generally, there's a whole lot more hope in the youth of the Catholic Church right now than there is within various Protestant denominations.


I think this post reinforces the ideas of Joseph Bottum in his article "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano". I teach in a small private catholic high school and for the most part our youth ministry is a disaster. The young are uncatechized as are their parents. We stress the accidents of our faith and we ignore the substance. We push kids to attend retreats when they don't even know why they need a retreat or the point of a retreat at all. We stress our local diocesan youth rally to students who do not even know to genuflect in our chapel. We have a priest, a Legionairie, who comes weekly to say mass but the students (with a few notable exceptions) seem to respond exclusively to the Sign of Peace. I say this as the campus minister and head of the theology department. Theology classes mirror the problem of our culture. We have tried and continue to try many different options but the task is difficult. We can make religion class the most difficult and therefore the most important class in the curriculum. In doing so we enter the battle with parents and administrators who like the idea of a Catholic education but do not want it to adversely affect the student's grade, or we can make it into God is great lets watch a video class that teaches nothing but entertains the students and makes no waves. If one is not careful theology teachers tend to fall into these categories as well. I think I am rambling so I will stop. High school ministry and theology should be a place to reinforce truths already learned and believed instead it is a mishmash of entertainment, theology, catechesis, and casuistry. It is attempt to reinforce the truth that, for the most part, is unknown.



You said just what I was thinking, but better than I could have.

We need to improve our Catholic communities. This is not a "youth" issue or about a specific aspect of parish culture, it's an overall problem. It's a shame that one can't go to his or her Catholic Parish anymore and find people of all ages involved in many social and spiritual aspects of the parish. For the last year, I have attended an urban parish and see the pews filled with people 20-35 years old. Maybe it's my perception, but their involvement in the parish life is one hour a week. After mass, they're gone.

In the back of the Church, you'll see 60-70 year-old women selling raffle tickets or promoting some parish program. The sodality, Holy Name Society, and KoC are made up of 70-somethings. The parish only has one priest, and I can imagine that his hands are full as it is.

I think the young adults aren't involved for two reasons, #1 being the obvious reason that no other young adults are involved, and #2 that growing up, they never had any sense of involvement in a parish growing up.

My involvement with the Church consists of Mass, adoration, reading and praying on my own, and surfing the blogosphere. That's it. I suppose I could get involved with a lay apostolate like Opus Dei or the Legionnaires or the NeoCats, but those involve extra research, as well as spiritual outlooks that I don't necessarily share.

I went to a parish in Philadelphia with a "young adult" mass once. I was so freaked out by all the hand-holding, clapping, showmanship of the priest, inane homily, blaring LCD screens, mediocre but loud rock'n'roll music, and strange people (although I am sure they were very nice) that I never went back. If they had just had a normal mass, I probably would've kept on going there.

Okay, now I'm just rambling and complaining, so I'll stop here.


None of these ideas for parish activities are going to go very far unless we parents do a better job catechizing our kids, teaching them to pray, and teaching them to serve. If we allow our kids to be ignorant, distracted, and selfish at home, we can't expect them to be interested in parish events that are content-based, prayer-oriented, and service-oriented.

Mike Hayes

I love this post.

One thing that it raises is the marked difference between milennial (born after 1980) culture and GenX (1964ish-1979ish) culture.

GenXers, who had a serious suspicion of institutions often DID come into the church (and still do) through service or community activities...or simply because there was a more vibrant and emotional type of liturgy and a sense of relevance in the preaching (e.g. Father talked about matters that were connected to things in their everyday life--and not a theological treatise or a diatribe against modern society).

The Milennials however are markedly different. Why? Their longing is not for community but rather for security. The big events in their lives are Columbine, 9-11, and recently the natural disasters of Katrina and the Tsunami. For immigrants the experience of crossing the boarder may also be significant.

Therefore, they will react in kind to stronger messages that "make sense" of moral decisions and give them a sense that the time spent in church is not merely "well-spent" but a time that is unlike any other time.

They long to be "moved to awe"--why? Because nothing ever shocks them. And everything is at the touch of a button for them--so they are powerful as well.

The problem that exists is that young people often expect God to work instantaneously...and when that doesn't happen--they are loathe to continue with prayer or ritual. They simply move on to the next "church store."

This is also why the eucharist is so key for this age. We have what nobody else has--the bread of life! The good news is that we don't turn it into another commodity for them...but we give them as many experiences as possible with Jesus in the Eucharist. But they need at least some simple Catechesis on the Eucharist or it falls into being "just another magic trick." When catechesis of the eucharist is done well--the result is indeed profound.

What youth need more than anything (and some earlier posts reference this) are mentors. How many youth ministers really prioritize their time with the members of their youth ministry so that each gets some individual attention instead of just programmatic busy work? How many of them make sure that they understand the essentials of the faith? How many know what's really going on in their lives?

The challenge for us as ministers is simply that. To bring Christ's mentorship to the world...so that when these youths begin to form their own narratives about "the way the world works" the church will be at the center...

Because we have been active in the center of their lives and placed Christ there to be with them.

Much peace...great post, Amy.

Mike Hayes

D. Scott Miller

Wow, what a long, but good post!

I just wanted to add a little more to your suggested answers…

I am agreed that young people need to experience “more vigorous, serious liturgical and spiritual life in the parish, period, which young people are seen as an integral part, not as a special interest group.” This would mean that young people would not experience the Eucharist separate from the whole community with all the generations gathered together. And, yes, they have much to contribute to the Eucharistic ministries- bringing their vitality and energy to hospitality, lectoring, song leadership, Eucharistic distribution. We fail young people if we ask them only to be altar servers.

Of course, we need to educate all the faithful, not only the young faithful, more about the Eucharist itself and what it means to be the “Body of Christ.”

Further, you state that we need to work with the assumption “that young people are called, not to be served and catered to, but to serve.” John Paul II in his 1995 letter regarding the World Day of Prayer for Vocations said it this way, “This is what is needed: a Church for young people, which will know how to speak to their heart and enkindle, comfort, and inspire enthusiasm in it with the joy of the Gospel and the strength of the Eucharist; a Church which will know how to invite and to welcome the person who seeks a purpose for which to commit his whole existence; a Church which is not afraid to require much, after having given much; which does not fear asking from young people the effort of a noble and authentic adventure, such as that of the following of the Gospel.”

That quote is easily pulled from Renewing the Vision: A Framework for Catholic Youth Ministry published by the US Bishops less than 10 years ago. www.usccb.org/laity/youth/rtvcontents.shtml

It is in this same document that the US Bishops identify one of the essential goals of youth ministry as: To empower young people to live as disciples of Jesus Christ in our world today. Despite John Paul II’s constant invitation to young people towards discipleship, despite what is written in the General Directory for Catechesis and the National Directory for Catechesis about discipleship, it is still a word and a lifestyle that we as Catholics have yet to fully grasp, wouldn’t you agree?

If is we as adult Catholics are fully “getting it,” how can we possibly hope to pass it along to the next generation?


Amy and the commentors have raised very good points, many of which I can relate too. It is hard to communicate the faith when you're dealing with uninvolved, non-practicing parents.

The things I've seen through the years make me so sad'. The boys who were altar servers with my own children, and whose parents would only get them to Mass the day these kids had to serve... a Mass the parents did not attend.

The "touchy-feely" high school youth group that discussed every-day problems, not in the light of the Gospel but with a very secular mentality and which my children did not want to attend because "we already get all that stuff in school".

The "specially designed" Masses and homilies while they were in college which makes them think that everything has to be aimed specifically at them. One of my daughters stopped going to Mass with any regularity when she graduated because she "couldn't relate to those sermons, they say nothing to ME! Not like the ones I heard in school."

I agree with Amy about the disconnect between the contemporary ethos of youth ministry and the historical understanding of what a Christian disciple is. I think we have discarded, to our shame and loss, the precious witness of the saints. The gospel can at times seem very abstract, but when you are presented with real, live people who have lived it through the centuries, that is inspiring.

Catechesis is basic. You cannot be inspired by what you don't know. The head and the heart must be in it together. Youth programs are necessary, but the young people need to be shown that they are also part of the greater parish community, not just one more group to be catered to. I wish I knew how to pull this off effectively.


Definitely an issue, Amy, that comes down to: no easy answers.

Also, it's vital to understand that each youth is an individual. My large family raised in the 50's, 60's and 70's produced eight very different Catholics but I would say all of us are Catholic.

IMHO, I think it really comes down to combining these three things, thus the "good news" for youth ministry:

1) good weekly parish mass
2) good youth "events"
3) good home/domestic Church

I think you need all three and that is what is difficult for today's parents and youth, finding the balance for all three.



Excellent point, Mila.

I took the point of Bottum's article to be that various "reforms" of the past several decades either directly or indirectly swept away all the little things that made Catholic culture distinctively Catholic, that entered and became part of our everyday lives, that marked us and reminded us who we were, where we came from, and to Whom we belonged. They were attached to us. Catholic culture was "thick" with them. Imagine how many of them were handed down, generation after generation.

Bring them back. This isn't difficult. How many of us are going to pass on our Rosaries? Our Missals? Our pocket guides to Thomistic philosophy? Our well-thumbed Catechisms with our marginalia? Our little book about our own patron saint?

What? You don't have them to pass on?

Get them.


Check out this website for a great Catholic youth ministry program. And yes, the content is as cool as the name.


Shaun G

As a young person (I'm in my mid-20s), I've always felt like the way churches reach out to their youth is quite often "economized" — as long as they have them gathered together in one place, they try to throw everything at them at once: catechesis, "fellowship," whatever they can cram in while they can. And usually, they end up a with a Frankenstein's monster that just. doesn't. work.

Better, I think, to separate those elements so that each can be developed more fully. Not every Church-y activity needs to be made artificially "fun"; that just makes young people's B.S. meters go off. Similarly, not every fun activity needs to by Church-y. Sometimes kids just want to hang out and goof around, without a woefully tangental sermon tacked on.

And regarding young people's willingness to get involved: Having worked with middle-school and high-school students, ranging from the rather privileged to the rough-and-tumble, I feel very strongly that near the top of almost every young person's deepest desires is to feel like they matter.

Which is -- thank God -- very conducive to having them take on roles of service in their parishes and communities, but here's the thing: When you reach out to young people in general, you're not necessarily making any of them feel like they matter as individuals.

A more effective tactic: Approach the young person directly. Explain what your need is (altar server, substitute usher, bulletin hander-outer, etc.) and impress upon them that their help would be tremendously appreciated. If possible, point out why you came to them, rather than someone else. ("I noticed you have such a nice speaking voice, and we could really use someone like you to do the announcements before Mass.")

If we are to share our faith with them authentically — which includes, of course, the notion of a God who made them each unique and loves them as individuals — it's got to at least sometimes be on a one-on-one level.


Well, St. Augustine seemed to think the solution to "catechizing the unlearned" was to hold a crash course on the whole course of salvation history, bringing it up to the present day, combined with a beginning and end focused on the individual and the fate of his eternal soul. After that, presumably, you could get to the other bits.

I think that's not a bad start. The next class, you could do a crash course on the Mass (including etiquette, and what parts you're supposed to be particularly attentive and meditative about). Maybe practice genuflecting and bowing and such.

Next class, a crash course on the Sacraments.

Next class, a crash course on the Old and New Testaments and how we got 'em.

Next class, a crash course on the saints, including the people students are named after.

Next class, important prayers.

Next class, vocations.

Obviously, this is asking rather a lot. But I was always so boorrrrred in CCD, because they gave us new material so slooooooowly and repeated it so often. I don't think we learned anything really new and interesting between fifth grade and Confirmation.

And AJP is exactly right about the horrors of youth ministry. Teenage life is so lacking in dignity. Treat kids like human beings with a right to live and not cute pets, and they'll come.


"I wish I knew how to pull this off effectively."

Don't we all!

I disagree with that old cliche, "The faith can't be taught. It must be caught." Without a rudimentary knowledge of doctrine, exactly what is it that one is supposed to fall in love with? Again, can't 'following Christ' be gotten at any Christian church in town?

There are so many good ideas and observations posted here. We need a roadmap. Certainly there's one out there that hasn't been distorted by some group with an agenda. Surely we don't have to reinvent the wheel!


I believe the Good Book has something to say on whether faith is caught or taught:

"Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

"How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

"And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

"But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?

"So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."


I wonder something about all those youth ministers who organize emotion-laden, content-free events.

Do these youth ministers think that actual catechetical content is important, but that unfortunately it's not possible to pass it on? Or do they think, deep in their hearts, that emotions are where it's at and that intellectual content doesn't matter in the end?

If the former, then if they became convinced that the Real Thing could be passed on, they'd do it; if the latter, then they wouldn't do it even if they could.

Put more bluntly: do our youth ministers need a different bag of tricks, or do they need new jobs?

(Obviously it varies from person to person; what I wonder about is the overall pattern.)


I think how you can summarize this is as follows:

The faith of the children will pattern the faith of their father. If the father just goes along because the wife wants him to (which happens in many evangelical churches), then the faith of the children will be minimal. The father has to be the leader in the family in teaching, living and practicing the faith. If he is, then the children will be wonderful Catholics.


I haven't reading the whole thread but this is such a great topic. I teach 9th grade CCD girls. What a challenge. We had a "retreat" night at the aprish. A diocesan Youth Minister gave a talk in which God/Jesus was never mentioned. It was about "being nice". UGH. How about being good??? I grumbled to one of the other teachers about my disappointment./ She replied..."Well we don't want to "scare them away" by talking about God. YIKES. I feel a bit of the failure in that the kids in general compartmentalize church/God etc as not having much to do with the day to day walk of life. It's a SUnday thing...if that. Yet they are starving for the truth....


YES! Shaun G. YES!

Let them ask questions. And answer them directly and as completely as you can... and keep answering them.



I hope you are wrong. I am currently catechist to two brothers, 12 and 14. We started the new session a couple weeks ago. Their father is apathetic about the faith, but the boys seem mildly interested (especially the younger, but he's young enough to still want to please his teachers, so that could be part of it). I am working hard to open their eyes to the real vocation of Catholic manhood without encouraging them to disrespect their father. Who knows what will become of these boys, but it is my hope that they will grow into real Catholic men and pass that on to their sons. The best I can do is try to be an example to them of the very thing I am trying to help them become.

We don't do any of that silly stuff that I suffered through in Catholic school religion classes for 12 years. Instead, we proceed with the idea that something extremely precious has been passed on to us and that our duty as men is to stand up as protectors of that precious thing. I often remind them that if all the books and computers in the world were destroyed, it would be their duty to have the faith written on their hearts and engraved in our minds in order to pass it on to the next generation, just as I am passing it on to them.

We stick pretty much to the Catechism and do not fear memorization (engraving the faith in our minds). We always take time to pray, and pray at the perpetual adoration chapel as often as we can. They seem to accept my explanation that they have to learn a few basic things in Latin (Apostles' Creed, Our Father, etc.) so that they will be able to share the basics of the faith with the universal Church, no matter what language is spoken locally. They have stuck with it so far. We'll see how it continues for the next several months.

I think that kids will basically do what they have to do if you don't offer them too many options. In most cases, they will get used to it after only a little complaining -- especially if you really believe in what you are doing and try to live it out in your own life. They appreciate honesty and can smell a fake a mile away.

Yes, our program is relatively small (only about 20 kids in the pre-confirmation age range) but I don't think numbers are the best measure of success in catechesis. Numbers will, sadly, have a lot to do with how many parents see the need to make their kids go. Once kids are there, I think it is up to us to show them something very different from the rest of their experiences, something that has the potential to save the whole world from all that foolishness. Fortunately, the Church is, in its most basic elements, mysterious and countercultural, so you don't have to dress it up in a lot of frippery to get them to see the radical nature of Christ's call. If only we had a regular Latin Mass in our parish... I think that would really give some kick to the youth program. No chance of them ever getting ANYTHING like that in school. Heh.

Sorry for the long post... If anyone has any suggestions for keeping these boys from repeating the apathy of their father, I'd be glad to hear them.



One problem with youth ministry is: youth. We've extended youth so long, and delayed maturity so much, that we expect young men and women in their early 20s to 'need' special Masses, homilies directed specifically at them, etc. Just a few generations ago these young men and women would already have begun living their vocations and would either be taking the first of their vows or raising the second or third of their children!

As for the real 'youth,' I agree with those who suggest sticking to the basics. I'd start with the ten Commandments and go from there. I'd also tell the kids something they already know, but practically never hear in Church: Evil is real. The battle for your immortal soul started the day you were baptized and won't end till you draw your last breath. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity didn't take on flesh and come to earth as a man in order to smile a lot and be your friend; He came to suffer and die on the Cross to fix man's broken relationship with God and to make it possible for us to gain eternal life. And He would have done it just for you, if you were the only person. Through the Church He has given you everything you need to engage in the battle against evil; He even feeds you on His flesh to give you strength. You can win the battle against evil, with his help, and this is one battle in which there are no pacifists.

Why would I tell kids this? Most of them already know it. They've encountered evil before, by the time they're old enough to be in a youth group. They may not recognize it in all its forms, but they know it exists. And they know that a church that pretends it doesn't, in order not to 'scare' them, is a church that won't really help them fight it.


There is a book called something like "Family Based Youth Ministry" and the author cites longitudinal statistics which show that when children and youth are involved in church with their parents and family they tend to stay involved with church much more than those herded into the fun youth group. The author says that regular church without the 'highs' seems too tame for the youth groupies and they drop out in their twenties. Although I think CCD and youth groups are important, the most committed Catholic youth I know learned a lot from their parents--who read books, talked about the faith, and lived it. If you read books like that from the time they are little, they expect it


Here's one specific element of catechesis ad youth ministry that I think is badly neglected: stories of the saints' lives and celebration or at least mention of their feastdays. In early childhood children should hear the stories from their parents; later they can read them on their own in, say, an anthology such as Amy's or even the ugly little Fr. Lovasik books; and then--and this is the crucial step that seems almost never to happen--they should read longer, more detailed biographies, such as the Vision series. These have to be long enough so that the detail can really convey the saint as a model of life in specific circumstances.

Furthermore, children should read or hear MANY of these stories so they are everywhere and always surrounded by familiar friends who can help them; at one moment, you may need to recall Maria Goretti, at another Martin of Tours.

Then, later still, the children should read the writings of the saints, and these will be like letters from someone you love.

Much of this could in principle be done through CCD.

Of course much more can be accomplished at home. If Papa mentions the saint of the day every day at morning prayers, and Mama bakes a cake for every saint that is a family member's patron, children grow up knowing that they are part of a long line of people who have loved Jesus, followed him, failed him, been forgiven, tried again, suffered,... in short, they grow up with a sense of their place in history and in the Church, and tha place is not at the center.


Great topic! Prayer and catechesis are the starting points for youth ministry, not add ons. Ideally, experiences of community and service, both good and necessary, flow out of these things. As Amy argues, community can be experienced by the average young person in all sorts of places other than the parish. Prayer, Sacraments and the wisdom of the Church's teaching can only be discovered, well, in the Church. So start with that!

For an example of how prayer and catechesis for youth can work (albeit at a diocesan level), have a look at the website of Catholic Youth Ministry, Melbourne, Australia: www.cymmelb.org. Weekly adoration for youth has been run at St Patrick's Cathedral there for six years, with a complimentary catechesis program in place for the past twelve months.

Disclosure: I used to work for them!

John Kasaian

Criticism comes easy and is certainly deserved in many, if not most attempts at establishing Catholic youth ministries---but here is a story I'd like to share: A parish near mine has a Teen Life ministry that really rocks. I don't know if it is the ministry itself or the youth councilors who can take the credit for this, but a few of the councilors work at a nearby coffeehouse I frequent, along with the pastor of a protestant church which also has a strong youth ministry. In talking with the Pastor I learned that His concern was that while the youth ministery at His church was indeed successful in attracting young people after a while many kids would drift away to other non denominational churches that offered different opportunities. The Youth were then more like 'consumers' shopping for the 'best deal'as opposed to the Catholic youth ministry which, as the Protestant Pastor observed, stressed the Eucharist as it's core.

I think thats a lesson to be learned.

There will always other groups with more contemporary music or more fashionable activities or more dramatic fervor, and our youth will find them if that is what they seek but the Catholic Church has the Eucharist and that isn't something you can't exactly shop around for.

If a Youth Ministry can impart a genuine understanding and devotion to the Eucharist I think it has a better chance of success than limiting itself to atheletics and praise music.

Len Z

Whither Youth or Youth Withering? - What would Pope John Paul II say? What about evangelization?

Whether it's 4 percent or 40 percent, the numbers don't seem to be very encouraging. It should spur us to do something about the seemingly bleak situation with young persons in the church. I would like to add two thoughts to the original posting and the subsequent comments.

First, the Holy Father Pope John Paul II had an extremely hopeful and optimistic outlook on young people in the church. His writings confirm this. If you read his message to the church for the new millennium, you will find the many references to youth, their roles and their place in the church. He called them to be "morning watchmen for the new millennium." World Youth Day began on his watch and continues with Pope Benedict. He was not in denial about the problems of youth, but his attitude toward them was full of hope and he was able to connect to them in a special way. He was able to pass on the personal love of Jesus and His church to them. He challenged young persons to give themselves fully to Jesus and His church. Pope John Paul II should be the primary example of how we should view the current situation with the young people, especially those in our care, as youth leaders.

Secondly, it would seem to very important to have an evangelistic component to any serious youth group or youth team. Specifically, I am suggesting an evangelistic outreach component, which features the primary program being conducted by the young persons, with limited adult oversight. Young people are the primary evangelizers of their peers. Vatican II has recognized this. I have seen this bear good fruit for our youth team. Yes, youth need serious catechesis, but we cannot ignore the need and benefits of young persons working as a team to evangelize other youth. Evangelization, catechesis and a participation in sacramental life of the church must be components of every serious youth ministry program and in the youth ministry of the church as a whole.


Here's the real problem...
We are looking at youth as if they are a problem to be solved with catechesis, adoration, latin, saint and rosaries...
I wonder what would happen if a bunch of "youth" got together and tried to programatically (sp) solve their grandparent's problems.
Youth are not a problem to be solved.

"If only kids came to Mass with their parents blah blah blah."
Kids go to Mass as a result of a faith experience outside of the church. Older folks do it looking for an experience.

I refuse to accept the notion that if kids simply went to Mass with their married mommies and daddies and sat there quietly contemplating on the power of the Eucharist as the source and summit of their faith that they would automatically become faith-filled adults.
No wonder they don't get it when every post here has their own "fool proof" way to get the kids involved...

Dan B

Youth don't care about people they cannot personally meet who lived or died for something they have not personally encountered.

Youth don't accept a school of thought they cannot personally understand, taught by someone they do not personally care for.

It is one thing to be told ABOUT the faith (as in cathechism classes or little tidbits of truth during a "youth friendly" liturgy or activity).

It is entirely something else to ENCOUNTER Christ!

This is a basic Gospel reality...

There are no programs that do this - it is people who are filled with the faith - those who are pursuing holiness and practicing the particular charisms that enable them to love young people.

The evangelization of youth will always be attached to persons who are filled with faith and fervor. How many times have you seen this as a requirement for youth ministry coordinators or directors of religious education?

Education is important, but it goes hand in hand with evangelization. Most of us won't learn what we don't care about first, and as we begin to care - then we know we need to understand.

And much of the pop culture youth ministry we see now is a result of people trying to design a program that engages youth by promising them what is cool or popular or what can bring success in their day to day interaction with others - we attract them with what can't bring fullfilment and attempt to sell them on what can. I'm sorry, but that is ingenuine and no young person respects it.

Personally I'm sold on genuine, honest, faith-filled and gifted individuals developing relationships with young people that foster faith. Build a program around that and be honest about results - not everyone who is "qualified" is right for youth ministry.

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