By Seth Gonzales
The Texas Catholic
For three days in July, Bishop Edward J. Burns was all ears as nearly 700 youth and young adults from across the Diocese of Dallas gave him their thoughts on the state of the Catholic Church’s outreach to young people.
Speaking to participants before the open microphone sessions began, Bishop Burns encouraged them to be open and honest about how they see the church in their lives today.
“(This convocation is) a great opportunity for us to get into the midst of some of the issues of our day; the struggles of our faith, where we can go and how we can strengthen ourselves in relation to our Lord Jesus Christ,” Bishop Burns said. “It’s so exciting for me to stand here and see a number of very familiar faces. It’s also exciting for me to get to know a whole host of other people in this diocese.”
The convocation, held July 27-29, was organized by the Diocese of Dallas’ office of Youth and Young Adult, and Campus Ministries and held on the campus of St. Rita Catholic Church. A total of 55 parishes sent delegations ranging between 10-20 people each, with six non-parish delegations attending as well.
Bishop Burns called for the local convocation in response to the Vatican’s request that dioceses around the world collect feedback from their youth and young adult communities. That feedback will be the focal point next year during a Synod of Bishops in Rome, where church leaders will assess the effectiveness of their mission to young people.
Last year a study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University reported that the typical age of youth and young adults who had left the Catholic faith was 13, and sometimes as young as 10. The report’s jarring statistics have sent many youth ministers back to the drawing board.
“What this convocation made very clear is that the parish as a whole has to raise the young person,” said Jason Deuterman, director of the Diocese of Dallas’ office for Youth and Young Adult, and Campus Ministries. “It takes everyone.”
Deuterman said parish ministries play a critical role in the faith life of young people, but that faith is ultimately started and nourished in the family.
“If families are not praying regularly and you mix that in with a culture that young people are in that’s constantly plugged into something, then that element of prayer is not lived out,” Deuterman said. “What happens at the church, what happens in youth ministry should only be secondary to lifting up the family.”
One by one, participants approached the microphone and shared their thoughts on a variety of faith-related topics. Stephanie Contreras of Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Garland said the church needs to be more attentive to the challenges teenagers face from their peers and society as a whole.
“Many teenagers are going through things and feel like they don’t want to be here anymore,” Contreras said. “Many of them are encountering things like cyberbullying so it’s important for us to help them out.”
Lauren Stapleton of Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Plano said events like the convocation should happen more frequently because it gives the church an opportunity to help young people navigate through the often conflicting messages they receive from the church and the rest of the world.
“Just creating a safe place for youth to share their thoughts and things they struggle with, their faith and how they can reconcile that with what the world is telling them, that’s important,” Stapleton said.
Deuterman said an executive summary of the Dallas convocation will be sent to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in October, in preparation for next year’s synod. A more detailed report will be made public in January.