The Parish is Responsible for Forming Youth as Disciples
The community has an important role in the accompaniment of young people; it should feel collectively responsible for accepting, motivating, encouraging and challenging them. All should regard young people with understanding, appreciation and affection, and avoid constantly judging them or demanding of them a perfection beyond their years.Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, 2019, #243; emphasis added
Christus Vivit is calling us to change the way we look at youth and the way we help them grow in faith. As a parish, we are being called to take responsibility for sharing faith with young people and raising up young disciples. In many cultures, the highest celebration of their identify comes in forming and ritualizing the way that children grow into adults in the community. In many Catholic communities, the job of forming youth has been delegated. We delegate the task to a youth minister or to a small group of adults. We delegate the task to catechists or to a particular youth community. In many ways, we delegate the task of evangelizing and catechizing youth to publishers and those who develop media content.
In Christus Vivit, Pope Francis describes a vision for a parish community that is collectively responsible for accompanying young people. This means that the community knows, cares for, prays for, and is in relationship with their young members. In this vision, the parish is in partnership with families in forming young disciples. Youth ministry leaders work to animate these relationships and engage youth in the life of the parish.
I was talking with youth at a parish who were preparing for Confirmation. It was a good parish, with a variety of youth ministry activities. I asked the youth about their experience of the preparation process. One young man hemmed and hawed. He didn't want to complain. When pressed, he shared that mostly the preparation process was watching videos with a speaker who lives 2000 miles away. He said that the speaker clearly knew about the faith, but he asked me, "isn't there anyone in our parish who believes this stuff and cares enough about us to share it with us?"
Sharing a living faith with teenagers is hard. Struggling with their tough questions is challenging. Engaging families can be a struggle. But there is real, living faith on the other side of this work. We walk with youth, share faith, lead them to Christ, and join with them in mission. This is the journey of taking responsibility for accompanying our young people. Our parishes are capable of this mission. I also believe that as we struggle to dialogue and articulate faith, parish communities might find themselves renewed in the process.