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Voices of the future

Synod listening session elicits young people's 'honest, bold' suggestions



MIAMI GARDENS | Youthful exuberance — along with an immense hunger for holiness — marked a Synod listening session held at St. Thomas University that focused on the needs of college students and young adults.

Certainly no other Synod listening session has begun with the rhythmic pounding of a drum line or the choreographed cheers of a "step team" — but that is how the archdiocesan university chose to welcome about 200 young people and Archbishop Thomas Wenski to campus on the evening of Sept. 18.

Among those present were college students from the University of Miami and FIU, young adults who belong to the spiritual movement Encuentros Juveniles, and 12th graders from St. Thomas Aquinas, Chaminade-Madonna, Immaculata-La Salle, St. Brendan, Msgr. Edward Pace and Archbishop Coleman Carroll high schools.

"Eventually, they'll be in college where a lot of these things are going to take effect," explained Father Luis Rivero, newly-appointed archdiocesan director of campus ministry and campus minister at St. Thomas University, who said he spread the word about the listening session on all of South Florida's college and high school campuses. "It's also bringing them to St. Thomas and letting them have a voice for the future."

While other listening sessions have asked three questions of participants — what are your joys, your concerns and your dreams for the future of the Church in Miami — this one asked only two. In the words of Archbishop Wenski: "How can the Church be more present to you, the young people; and also, how can you be more present to the Church?"

"We know the what," explained Father Rivero, noting that the need for expanded ministry to youths and young adults already has been identified as a key synod issue. "What we don't know is the how. The archbishop wants to know how the Church can serve them."

The answers reflected the world in which today's young people live, a high-tech world where social media spreads the word but also a world where faith is easily lost among the din of counter-Christian cultural messages.

"We're all here because we're subscribed to your Facebook page," one participant told the archbishop.

Another suggested that the archdiocese create more activities to assemble and enthuse young people from throughout South Florida, anything from athletic tournaments to Eucharistic processions or even "flash mobs" — impromptu gatherings, usually in public places, to which people are invited via text message or other form of social media.

The young people asked for more opportunities for confession, for Mass schedules that take into account their busy work-and-school schedules, for a renewed emphasis on the richness of Catholic tradition, including the Latin Mass and Theology of the Body, and for the re-opening of an office for youths and young adults at the archdiocesan level. That office, one said, could coordinate a pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Brazil next year; or hold a parallel archdiocesan youth day with the archbishop for those who cannot afford to make the trip.

"Dealing with the real world" would be nice, said one high school student, alluding to the fact that the Church sometimes pronounces its moral teachings as if the world were an ideal place — not a place where those trying to understand and live out those teachings are constantly being challenged.

"Most of my friends are right now very far away from the faith," said one young man, adding that he himself fell away until he realized, "It's God or sin. The moment I realized that, I left that life."

"This is not a dry thing," he said of the Catholic faith. "There's so much richness, so much beauty."

"I'm a convert. Thank you for letting me into the Church," said another by way of preface. He asked for more opportunities for public prayer and piety, particularly a more "extraordinary diet" of spirituality by making the Tridentine rite of the Latin Mass more available.

"You listening to us is wonderful. But us listening to you would be a great opportunity," said another young adult asking for Theology on Tap sessions. These are informal "happy hour" gatherings where young adults get to discuss the Bible or Church teachings with Church leaders.

"Today's teenagers are very ashamed to be Catholic. I don't know why. It shouldn't be that way," said a senior from one of the high schools, echoing the words of other members of her peer group — teens involved in campus ministry at their schools. "We shouldn't be afraid to have doubts."

But there was good news, too.

"I'm very thankful for the Church because if it weren't for the Church I wouldn't be standing here today," said José Salcedo, president of the Student Government Association at St. Thomas University. He asked the archbishop to continue to stand up for DREAMers — undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children and cannot enroll in university or work unless they obtain legal status — as well as all undocumented immigrants.

"Whether there's money or not, all we need is a room and a place to sit," said a member of Encuentros Juveniles. "Let us know what you want from us. All that we have is for you, for the Church. All that we ask is your blessing and your prayer."

"When we give the youths power, we don't need adults to speak for us. We can speak for ourselves," said another youth who suggested the archdiocese create an advisory board composed of young people to help guide its youth ministry.

"Don't be afraid to be leaders," one high school senior told her peers. "Don't wait for the Church to tell you to do it. If you feel a need, do it, because you are the Church."

"I never knew what (a synod) was before. They told me in class. But now I'm glad that I do," said Alexis Cruz, a senior and member of the core campus ministry group at Archbishop Carroll High School.

She came with about 14 of her peers and four of the Carmelites of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles who staff the school, including the principal, Sister Rosalie Nagy, who serves on the Synod leadership team for the archdiocese. The group made the hour-long drive back and forth from the western reaches of Kendall to northwest Miami-Dade County in the midst of rush-hour traffic and lightening storms.

"We did a rosary on the way here," said Alexis — and they also stopped to eat at Burger King.

"It turned out to be that, literally, the students had to be the ones who got up and talked," said Luz Madera, a senior at Msgr. Pace High School in Miami Gardens, noting that the professors and moderators who accompanied the teens did not speak out at the listening session. "This was literally from the heart and from our perspective and what we honestly thought."

"This enabled not only the archbishop to listen to the voices of young people. It also enabled them to listen to each other. That's a great thing," said George Rodriguez, theology professor at Pace. "I remember this 27 years ago," he added, when the first archdiocesan Synod took place. "I was 21. I remember participating in this."

He described today's generations as "very outspoken, very honest, very frank, transparent, bold. I also think it's bold of the Church to listen."

The Synod staff is planning another listening session specifically for young people in high school. It will be scheduled for sometime in November.

Comments from readers

Elvin Negron - 09/19/2012 10:52 PM
That's me in the picture.
I'm glad that the Archbishop gave us a chance to express the needs of the youth.
I am an active parishioner of Mother of Christ Catholic Church and participate in many
youth ministries. We need more opportunities for the youth to get closer to God.
Eliminate any excuses for the Church to get erased from the lives of young adults.
Juvetud Peregrina St catherine of Siena - 09/19/2012 10:48 PM
Hi Elizabeth,
Would love to get in touch with you! we are from the church right " next" to Miami Dade College Kendall Campus. contact me..juventudperegrina2012@gmail.com We meet Fridays at 8 pm.
Elizabeth De Arazoza - 09/19/2012 07:57 PM
I am the Faculty Advisor for the Catholic Campus Ministry at Miami Dade College - Kendall Campus. It would be nice if we could have a Campus Minister like UM and FIU have. Miami Dade College has 8 campuses, the biggest College in the country, and we don't have a minister for our students. Can you please help us? Thank you!
Alex - 09/19/2012 04:09 PM
This is great to hear. As a young Catholic living in Miami, I also pray that the Traditional Latin Mass become more widely available. I just returned from a trip to New York City where I attended Latin Mass at The Church of Holy Innocents. It was beautiful and well attended by Catholics of all ages.
Gigi - 09/19/2012 01:24 PM
This is indeed very inspiring to read about the young adult and youth of the church in South Florida. Congrats for a great turnout. But the young people are the voices of today, not just the future. They have a place today as well. God bless all the youth and young adults of the Archdiocese of Miami.

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