Saturday, April 28, 2018
Blanca Morales - Florida Catholic
Photography: BLANCA MORALES | FC
MIAMI | Approximately 70 students from the archdiocese's Catholic high schools met with Archbishop Thomas Wenski April 25 to share their thoughts on their experience in the Church.
The listening session echoed the one that took place with Pope Francis in Rome in preparation for the October bishops’ synod on youth. The event was organized by the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry in cooperation with Donald Edwards, associate superintendent of archdiocesan schools. During the 90-minute session, the high school students were asked to answer three questions:
- What is your (archdiocese, parish, school) doing well in bringing youth to live as an active Catholic Christian?
- What could the (archdiocese, parish, school) be doing better to assist young people to be engaged, active Catholics?
- What aren't we doing that we should be doing?
Two students from each grade were chosen by their campus ministers to voice their thoughts. While the students spoke one by one for two minutes each, their teachers and campus ministers took note, and the archbishop listened attentively.
Though many students praised their schools' efforts to create fun faith activities, they did not shy away from expressing what they need. Among their concerns were feeling unwelcome in parish ministries — such as becoming lectors — because of their age, thus being limited in how they can serve.
“We feel left out sometimes,” said one student.
Victor Barreto of St. Brendan High in Miami said he was grateful to be turning 18 so he can join the Emmaus group, since his home parish lacks a youth group.
Justin Valdez, a student at Christopher Columbus High and parishioner at St. Timothy in Miami, noted that his public school peers were drifting from the faith because of a lack of youth programs in their parishes. Many also expressed a desire for more structure and content in their youth groups.
Victoria Alonso, of Immaculata-La Salle High in Miami, said it was “disheartening” to see her peers forget all they learned a week after their retreat because there was no follow-up to help them continue to walk in the faith.
Students also voiced a desire for greater availability of confession at school, as well as better promotion of confirmation programs.
“It's not promoted enough,” said Kylie Grant, an 11th grade convert who attends Archbishop McCarthy High in Southwest Ranches. She had taken the initiative to receive the sacrament but felt that students need to have the opportunity to invite others to conversion.
Another student suggested making spiritual direction more available for all students, while a student at Columbus felt that music at most Masses felt childish and lost its beauty in “trying to be hip.”
The students emphasized having opportunities to serve the community both locally and abroad, beyond just once a year. Among the suggestions were mission trips during Holy Week, serving at a soup kitchen, and activities that kept them from drifting from their faith during the summer.
“I've learned a lot about myself through service,” said Julian Rodriguez, a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes in Kendall.
Being a generation that grew up online, many cried out for having resources, news and events better advertised on social media, such as Instagram. “Pope Francis uses Twitter,” one student said, noting the impact a tweet or post can have.
“We need better marketing,” St. Brendan’s Barreto said. “Youth groups aren't publicized enough. A paper sign-up isn't enough.”
One thing also was made clear: Young people need young adult role models and peer witnesses.
“We don't listen to adults,” Immaculata-La Salle’s Alonso said. “We are more impacted by one another.”
Kevin Cruz, from Archbishop Coleman Carroll High in Miami, agreed. “It would have helped to have slightly older peers share about their faith,” he said.
The goal of the listening session was to shed light on the reasons why a growing number of young people disassociate themselves from the Catholic Church, something which is taking place across the U.S. and other countries, not just in South Florida.
The students were told that not all their questions and concerns would be answered, but that the archbishop would consider them all and do what he could.
The students said they hope to be included in future efforts to reach out to their peers.
“We need more opportunities like this,” said Melanie Corrales, a freshman at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Fort Lauderdale. “Since we are the future of the Church we need to have our voice heard.”