Creating community: young adults gather for spiritual formation, service, and social activities
A flyer inviting 18 to 35-year-olds to “movie night” coaxed Juan Becerra to learn more about the young adult ministry at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish.
“I’m surrounded by the older generation and wanted to be around the younger generation as well,” said the 24-year-old architect who works for a Southlake firm. “I’d like to help both parish communities.”
Bringing together young parishioners like Becerra to watch “I’m Not Ashamed,” a Christian film about Columbine shooting victim Rachel Scott, is one of the ways Adrian Romero revitalized the young adult ministry he oversees at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Fort Worth. During the 18-month-long COVID health crisis, the program ceased in-person gatherings and members met virtually through video conferencing.
Zoom was a useful tool providing uplifting moments for participants coping with the stress and isolation caused by the pandemic.
“But connecting virtually is hard,” the ministry’s coordinator admitted. “We were able to share what we were going through but it’s not the same. As Catholics, we’re all about community. Being in person gives us that opportunity.”
Guest speakers, a new Bible study focusing on the Gospel of Luke, and plans to help the parish’s social outreach ministry collect hats and socks for holiday gift baskets are some of the activities attracting more young adults to participate.
Lifelong parishioner Guillermo Gomez began coming to the Thursday night meetings this fall hoping to build Christ-centered friendships. As a second-year student at Texas A&M University School of Law, the 25-year-old said the conversations he’s having with new friends are a nice break from his “all-consuming” law studies.
“It’s providing what I hoped it would,” Gomez said. “We talk about Christ and that is a boon to my spiritual formation.”
Creating an altar for the parish’s Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead celebration on Nov. 2 brought Gomez together with other young adults for the group’s first post-pandemic project. The Day of the Dead is a holiday celebrated by people from Mexico and Central America to honor dead ancestors.
“Our pastor [Father Luis Arraiza, OFM Cap.] wants to give our young people a greater presence in the Church so he asked if we would collaborate with our youth group to decorate the altar,” Romero said. “It was the first time we were assigned such a great responsibility and I think parishioners liked what we did.”
The ministry is now looking forward to more involvement in parish activities.
“It’s easy to put young adults and youth aside but we don’t want that,” he emphasized. “We want to be included and let the community know they can trust young people to lead and do what is needed in the Church.”
Creating More Awareness
Defined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as “people in their late teens, twenties, and thirties; single, married, divorced or widowed; with or without children,” the young adult population is a sizable part of the Church and leaders agree their youthful enthusiasm and energy have the potential to contribute greatly to parish life.
In his landmark exhortation on youth and young adults, “Christus Vivit” (Christ is alive), Pope Francis advised, “We need to make all our institutions better equipped to be more welcoming of young people. Young people need to be approached with the grammar of love, not by being preached at. The language that young people understand is spoken by those who radiate love — by those who are there for them and with them.”
Responding to the pontiff’s message in “Christus Vivit,” U.S. bishops are currently drafting a new document to help parishes support and nurture the faith of young Catholic adults.
Meeting a need
A vibrant, active young adult ministry is an effective way to remind people of discipleship, according to Victoria Ramon, diocesan director of youth, young adult, and campus ministry. Attracting and retaining young parishioners who are busy building careers and families is especially critical in North Texas — one of the fastest growing regions in the country.
“We’re seeing an influx of people from other states, so it’s important to get them plugged into the sacramental life of the parish community,” she said. “Creating young adult ministries helps do that. It not only connects them to other people in the community but recognizes that the sacrament of the Eucharist is what brings us all together.”
Currently, there are 17 parishes with an active young adult ministry in the diocese. Of these, six groups are for Spanish-speakers, Ramon said.
The young adult demographic is broad: college students, young marrieds, those in the military, young professionals, and people discerning the priesthood or religious life.
“It’s a mix of these people coming together from different backgrounds, and they need to be ministered to,” Ramon asserted.
The need is even greater as society emerges from the pandemic.
“People are looking for that community they have missed these past months,” she said, adding the Church is eager to help them make those connections. “In the past, ministry for young adults didn’t exist the way it does now.”
Missing the inspiring service and worship opportunities she experienced at St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M, 2012 graduate Meg Ruhter started a young adult ministry at Holy Family Parish in April 2019.
“It can be challenging to transition from a college campus that is thriving and building disciples to parish life where the young adults are expected to remain at the ‘kids’ table,” suggested the 31-year-old who relied on the support and guidance of Holy Family Pastor Father Hoa Nguyen to introduce the ministry. “Young adult ministry carves out a space for us to live out our baptismal call. Slowly but surely, that will inspire other parishioners to do the same.”
A diocese-wide kickball tournament, a dance with the young adult group at St. Patrick Cathedral, and a well-attended kickoff dinner with Fr. Nguyen sharing his vocation story launched the venture. Members were just beginning a Lenten study of the Mass in 2020 when the pandemic hit. No longer able to meet in person, fellowship continued thanks to “happy hour” Zoom sessions and small group “bubbles.”
But Ruhter credits monthly Eucharistic Adoration, an event called “Beloved,” for sparking interest in the young adult group. Complying with social distancing and other COVID protocols, the evening attracts 50 to 70 young adults from across the diocese for praise and worship led by Shaun and Debra Fattig.
“We knew people needed to spend more time with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament,” said Holy Family’s coordinator of youth ministry. “I really believe our Beloved nights set the faith of our young adults on fire.”
Helping the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society and collecting items for the unborn baby drive add elements of service to the ministry.
“We try to have a well-rounded approach of praying, growing in our faith, and serving those in need while building strong, virtuous friendships,” she added.
Young adults can provide hope for older people and, at the same time, inspire the younger generation. Volunteers from her ministry recently staffed a Confirmation retreat for high schoolers.
Ruhter explained the mutual benefit. “The teenagers were able to see 20-year-olds who were still on fire about their faith and cared enough to share it with them.”
Feeling seen and known
Victoria Hamaty grew up in a Catholic home but didn’t “fall in love” with the faith until she was a student at Florida State University. The public relations major was influenced by the Brotherhood of Hope — a community of religious brothers who evangelize undergraduates on secular college campuses.
As director of discipleship at St. Philip the Apostle in Lewisville, Hamaty now works to help other young adults grow in relationship with Christ through prayer and community.
“This is the most active young adult group we’ve had at St. Philip’s in several years, and I think it’s because people were so isolated during the pandemic,” the 34-year-old said. “This age group seemed to really desire community and we’re seeing a lot more involvement.”
Ranging in age from 18 to the early 30s and mostly unmarried, members meet every Thursday for “faith learning” followed by fellowship, like a trip for ice cream. Occasionally, a Holy Hour is planned, and the young adults dine together at a local restaurant.
In the past, participants have enjoyed barbecues, campfires, making comfort bags for the homeless, or volunteering at a shelter for homeless pregnant or parenting women. They hope to deliver Christmas baskets and do some caroling again this year.
“It’s helpful for a parish to have a specific ministry for young adults so they can feel seen and known,” Hamaty observed.
At the same time, she believes parishes operate best when everyone mingles.
“When you have a 25-year-old at a parish event with an 80-year-old, one person receives wisdom and the other sees the vibrancy, drive, and joy of youth,” she added. “Everyone is enriched.”