Time to let your light shine

The other day I was meeting with a high school student in my parish preparing for Confirmation. One of the questions I asked was why Church isn’t a priority for most high school students. His answer was all of our energies are on three other priorities: school, sports and family. I suspect that is a pretty average situation, not just for high school students, but also those in college and even older.

We know that only about 10-15 percent of the millenial generation go to church on a regular basis. We also know that 90 percent of those high school students who are active in their faith stop going to church their first year of college. 

We are in the process of formulating goals and objectives for Catholic Campus Ministry for the next five years at UMass Dartmouth. At our first meeting we were going over the results of a survey we did of Catholics on campus. The students observed that Church is often related to their parents. They went to church and youth group because it was important to their parents and we had fun in the different activities and trips. But now in college, they trying to figure out who they are, to create the person they want to be, not the son of this person or the daughter of that person. Basically, Church was part of the identity of their family, but not them. 

These various surveys, studies and observations tell us that one of the greatest tasks before us as a Church is helping students to take ownership for the faith themselves, of nurturing and developing a real, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

College Campus Ministry programs in the Diocese of Fall River are built on three pillars: faith, community and service.

Faith: We provide opportunities for Spiritual growth: Mass, Sacraments, catechesis, theology courses, retreats, Scripture study, etc.  Some of these programs are offered online. 

We provide opportunities for Spiritual direction. This past year we began a vocation discernment program: helping students to involve God in discerning their vocations and careers. As the student progresses, they will have the opportunity to explore different vocations in the Church.

Community: “human beings are social beings,” we need others to flourish.

The Novus program at UMD invites students to a pre-orientation program. The program is run by our peer leaders. It provides incoming students to get a head start in meeting their classmates, other students and get familiar with the campus before the start of orientation and school. This past year was the first year we have run the program and it was a great success. The students formed close friendships that have strengthened over the year. They are very active in Campus Ministry events and they are always bringing new students to Mass or other activities and events. This program along with the Peer Leaders and a small Christian community process we offered them in the fall actually intervened to keep at least one student from dropping out because of homesickness/transition issues.

This summer we are offering an overnight retreat for any recent high school graduate who is heading off to college in the fall. It will be an opportunity to Spiritually prepare for the transition and learn from those in college how to maintain and grow in faith while a student.

Service: College students (of all faiths or no faith) are craving volunteer opportunities. We sponsor a monthly soup kitchen, have worked with My Brother’s Keeper and help students find volunteer opportunities in the community.

Finally, Campus Ministers don’t just hang out in the office dreaming up programs, but we are present in the life of the campus, present for students who need to talk or vent. Countless interactions ranging from social interactions to a student in crisis happen very informally: while we are at lunch, walking across the quad, in the library, coffee shop, etc. 

In 1999 St. John Paul II was present at a youth rally at the Keil Center in St. Louis. I close with his words to the youth, words that still ring true 16 years after they were first spoken:

“This is the time of your ‘training,’ of your physical, intellectual, emotional and Spiritual development. But this does not mean that you can put off until later your meeting with Christ and your sharing in the Church’s mission. Even though you are young, the time for action is now! Jesus does not have ‘contempt for your youth.’ He does not set you aside for a later time when you will be older and your training will be complete. Your training will never be finished. Christians are always in training. You are ready for what Christ wants of you now. He wants you — all of you — to be light to the world, as only young people can be light. It is time to let your light shine!”

Editor’s note: Father Frederici researched his statistics from a number of sources. If anyone would like to know those sources they can contact The Anchor.

Anchor columnist Father Frederici is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Pocasset and diocesan director of Campus Ministry and Chaplain at UMass Dartmouth and Bristol Community College.

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