Thursday, March 30, 2017

Five Ways the Catholic Church is Listening to Millennials Right Now

CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Paul Jarzembowski 

Next week, representatives from countries around the world will meet at the Vatican to discuss plans for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment” and the 2019 international World Youth Day (WYD) in Panama. The Catholic Church is making plans for the next three years to listen very intently to the voice of millennials in the world today. 

As the national liaison for youth and young adult ministries at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I will be going to represent the USA at this international gathering, being held April 4-9, 2017 in Rome. I will be accompanied by Suness Jones, a young woman from the Diocese of Cheyenne (Wyoming) who is now serving as a missionary in Texas with the National Evangelization Teams (NET Ministries). Suness was part of the international social media team for WYD in Krakow in 2016, and served as an intern with the USCCB Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth in 2015.

This unique meeting, hosted by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life in collaboration with General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, is focused on the theme From Krakow to Panama – The Synod Journeying with Young People. We are very honored to be able to represent the USA at this international event and participate in these important conversations.  

Why is this gathering so important?

1. During the meetings, time will be spent on evaluating the logistical and pastoral aspects of World Youth Day in Krakow. Over 40,000 youth and young adults from the United States went to Krakow, and even more participated in digital and stateside celebrations. We’ve received feedback from bishops, youth and young adults, and pilgrimage leaders, and we look forward to sharing those insights with the international organizers.

2. We will also hear about initial plans for WYD in Panama. While a number of youth and young adults may not be able to attend the international gathering in January 2019 due to the unique timing of the next WYD, we hope to learn about the exciting things awaiting those who are able to make the journey. We also will brainstorm ways to connect with young people who may be participating in local stateside events concurrent with WYD in Panama.

3. In addition to WYD, this meeting will focus on the upcoming Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October 2018, which will be aimed at the realities, ministries, and vocational journey of youth and young adults. The Synod (and the preparation leading up to it) will be an opportunity to explore ways to listen more intentionally to young people, and to help them respond to God’s call for their lives, especially to the vocations of marriage, ordained ministry, and the consecrated life.

4. The Holy Father and church leaders want to hear from the young people themselves. That’s why Suness is joining me – because she, as a twenty-something millennial, will be able to take part in these high-level discussions. The voice of young Catholics is so important. Our work with young people cannot be done without their input, their creativity, and their passion.

5. On the final day of this year’s gathering at the Vatican (Palm Sunday, April 9), Suness and I will be on hand to watch Pope Francis entrust the World Youth Day Cross to the youth and young adults of Panama as they lead us towards the Synod and WYD. What is special about this is that the World Youth Day Cross has continuously been passed to young people from different countries since 1984, when St. John Paul II first entrusted it to the youth and young adults of the world. It has been and continues to be a sign of the Holy Father’s great confidence in their decisive witness to Christ and their mission for the world now, as young people.

Pope Francis recently announced that, for each of these next three years (2017, 2018, and 2019), the entire Church, and in particular the youth and young adults of the world, should follow in the footsteps of young Mary of Nazareth. In her courageous response to the angel Gabriel, Mary declared “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be done to be according to your word” (Lk 1:38). She trusted in God, and she accepted her call despite the challenges that awaited her. The hope is that all young people will share Mary’s openness to God’s call and step forward in faith, accompanied by the Church.
But first, all of us must listen. We must listen to and engage youth and young adults more intentionally. That is the journey that awaits us. This international meeting will be an important marker along the way. Please pray for Suness and I as we make our way to Rome and represent the United States there.


Paul Jarzembowski is the Assistant Director for the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, serving as the lead staff for youth and young adult ministries, at the USCCB. In this role, he is also the United States’ national coordinator for World Youth Day initiatives and is involved in the planning of the Convocation of Catholic Leaders.