Diocesan youth engage bishop with suggestions and opinions
Bishop invites youth to second session on Martha’s Vineyard


By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff
kensouza@anchornews.org

EAST FREETOWN, Mass. — More than 300 diocesan youth, ranging in age from 15 through their 20s, filled the pews of St. John Neumann Church in East Freetown on Wednesday, June 27 to voice their hopes and aspirations for the future of the Fall River Diocese, during what was billed as a special “Youth Listening Session.”

Part of the bishop’s ongoing “Rebuilding in Faith and Hope” initiative, the unique afternoon event was held to coincide with the annual Christian Leadership Institute that was taking place at nearby Cathedral Camp and all of this year’s CLI attendees participated in the open forum.

“This is the 11th Listening Session for our diocese this year,” Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., said in his welcoming remarks. “I think we saved the best for last, so we can now hear from our young people. You are truly an inspiration to us, you give us hope for the future of our Church, and I’m happy and blessed to have you here today.”

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As he’s done with the previous parish-based Listening Sessions, Bishop da Cunha then sat silently in the Sanctuary, listening attentively as each young person took a turn at the microphone to address him.

“What Bishop da Cunha really wants to hear from you is where you’re at right now in your life — with life issues, with God, with Jesus, in prayer, in faith,” said Beth Mahoney, principal of St. Margaret’s Regional School in Buzzards Bay and one of the coordinators for the session. “We want you to take some time this afternoon and really reflect on what is it that is in your heart that you’d like to express to our bishop.”

In the first of three questions provided on handouts for consideration, the youth were asked: “Where is God in your life today and, in 10 years, where do you see yourself in your faith journey?”

“I wish I could say my relationship with God was super-close, but I can’t really say that,” said Claire from St. Jude the Apostle Parish in Taunton. “For the past few years, it’s been really shaky with everything that’s been going on in the world. I didn’t know what to feel anymore, especially with regards to religion. But my sister got me to go to CLI and it’s been great to have a group of people where I could talk about religion with. I also believe that God has brought me my best friend, who has helped me a lot with everything.”

“Right now, I often get distracted with sports and school,” said Riley from Christ the King Parish in Mashpee. “Going to Mass or church is not always the first thing on my mind. Most of the time I tend to think of God only when I need Him, not when I should be encountering Him.”

“This past year, I had lost over 50 pounds and I thought that was not possible,” said Dan from St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Parish in South Attleboro. “But through my relationship with God, and with prayer every day, I did it in a couple of months without help from Oprah Winfrey or Weight Watchers.”

“I’m on the youth council and I help teach the second-grade CCD classes,” said Jillian from St. Dominic’s Parish in Swansea. “It’s nice having a faith community there and in 10 years I’m hoping we can continue to make things better.”

In what turned out to be the most popular question of the session, youth were asked to consider: “In your opinion, what are two big obstacles that keep young people away from a relationship with Christ and the Catholic Church?”

“I think a lot of people are skeptical about their faith, because when they are younger, they just go along with their parents,” said Nick from St. Dominic’s Parish in Swansea. “Another thing is, the Catholic Church hasn’t taken a stance on issues like the LGBT community and I think some of them feel like they aren’t being accepted by the Church.”

“I’m worried that in the diocese we don’t have anything to sustain youth interest,” said Daniel from St. Anthony’s Parish in Mattapoisett. “Some parishes have youth groups, but if those groups were regionalized, that might be helpful. Because I know in my parish we don’t have enough people to sustain (our own) youth group.”

“I think the problem is our culture: TV, the music, the media,” said Joe from St. John Neumann Parish in East Freetown. “They all work in conjunction to pull us away from the truth. Being Catholic is a struggle, because it’s very counter to the current pop culture. I think many youth feel in conflict with their friends.”

“I think two big obstacles that are keeping young people away from the Church would be negative connotations, such as the Church’s stance on some political issues,” said Gary from St. John the Evangelist Parish in Attleboro. “And another thing is, some people have this notion that science and religion can’t coexist, that one has to be right and the other is false. But I don’t think that’s true at all.”

“In my opinion, the two big obstacles I think are how society puts us to believe that God really isn’t alive,” said Elyse from Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in New Bedford. “Social media tends to push the idea that God isn’t alive and why should we believe that. And I also think that peer pressure is a big deal. For people who do believe in God, it’s awkward for them because others will be talking bad about their religion.”

“One of the big obstacles I think that keeps youth away from the Church are school and work,” said Thomas from Annunciation of the Lord Parish in Taunton. “I’m in my junior year and I know I have a lot of work coming up — I’m taking AP courses. So you don’t have much time for everything else, including extracurricular activities, campus ministry and student council. The other thing I find is an obstacle is communication. A lot of youth from the diocese don’t know all the opportunities available to them. If youth know what is going on, I think we’ll get them more involved in the Church.”

“The two main concerns I have with young people are the way they are brought up,” said Steve from St. Margaret’s Parish in Buzzards Bay. “Consider how they were taught: maybe their parents themselves really weren’t brought up in the faith. Also, that sense of temptation to believe that God doesn’t exist which is always prevalent on social media. You need that sense of community to build up the Church.”

“One of the concerns I’ve seen is the adults who are ministering to our youth are used to ministering in a certain way,” said Sonia from Holy Name Parish in Fall River. “There’s a disconnect between generations. These methods may not be working and the youths don’t understand. There needs to be a way to address them in a more communicative way, because the methods that worked 10 years ago, may not work now due to all the social, cultural and political changes that have occurred.”

“One of the concerns I see in the Church is there’s no sense of welcoming for many young people — especially those in the LGBT community,” said Isabel from Holy Name Parish in Fall River. “Many people feel that the Church is not welcoming to them and I feel if we take a bigger approach to be welcoming, just like Pope Francis said to be welcoming, and I think if we express that to everyone it will show people that they are accepted into the Church and I think it will help to get more people involved.”

“When I was younger, I was really open about my religion,” said Eric from St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford. “Because of that, I got the nickname ‘Jesus Freak,’ which wasn’t very nice. I think a lot of people really don’t like (the Catholic) Church, and I’m not sure how we can fix that.”

“It’s the way a lot of kids are brought up,” said Jayden from Our Lady of Assumption Parish in New Bedford. “We’re surrounded by a lot of evil today. A couple of years ago my cousin was stabbed and killed and a lot of people who knew him asked: ‘If God was present, why did He let him die? If God is always present, why do so many bad things happen?’ So with that mindset, that’s why a lot of young people don’t believe in God and want to join the Church.”

“I think the two main problems are parents and friends,” said Cindy from St. Francis Xavier Parish in Acushnet. “Because parents who weren’t brought up in the faith will not teach their child to be faithful; and friends, because if someone is brought up in the faith, they’ll try to ridicule them for going to church and that’s just pushing people away.”

“I personally think that the biggest problem in our Church right now is the way that CCD is taught,” said Brittany from St. Thomas More Parish in Somerset. “In my church it’s mainly older couples and I also think they’re teaching it the wrong way. I just think our curriculum needs to change every year, just like the kids are.”

“I live in New Bedford and I have to agree that the city can have a negative impact on young people,” said Andrew from Our Lady of Fatima Parish in New Bedford. “Some people have a desire for things that will lead them away from God. Some people may believe that living for God’s love is not the easiest path. Maybe we have to do more to explain what is going on in the world today through CCD to the younger kids, so they can know how to prepare for life and all the pressure that they’re going to get.”

“One of the problems for young people is not having your family and friends support your beliefs,” said Barbie from Annunciation of the Lord Parish in Taunton. “My family believes in God, but they’re not very religious. They’ll sometimes bring me to Mass, but they won’t even go inside — they’ll just wait outside for Mass to be over. It’s important for the whole family to be brought up in the faith.”

“I think two of the problems are CCD classes and culture,” said Abby from Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish in Seekonk. “Sadly, culture changes every year. We see it in all these new things that happen politically and it’s hard to be able to gauge what’s going to happen.”

“Obstacles that keep kids away from the Catholic Church or a relationship with Christ are simply distractions,” said Jocelyn from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish at St. James Church in New Bedford. “Electronics are a big factor, since we are all tied to our phones and computers, our PS4 and Xbox. We forget to open our eyes and see the good God has given us.”

“I have friends from all different religious backgrounds,” said Alex from Holy Family Parish in Taunton. “I have atheist, Islamic, and Jewish friends — and it’s always awkward to try to talk to them. I think we need to better understand other religious beliefs.”

The third and final discussion question was: “What do you think is the number one thing we can do to help people, ages 12-17, to be on fire for their faith?”

“I recently helped create the Youth Ministry Alliance for the deanery of Taunton,” said Thomas from Annunciation of the Lord Parish in Taunton. “All parishes in the Taunton Deanery are included in this and our main goal is to come up with plans for events for unification. A wise priest once told me during a homily that we are better together than we are apart. It seems like some parishes are competing against each other when we all have the same problems. What this alliance hopes to do is to bring youth back into the Church and try to get them to stay in.”

“I think the best way to help kids ages 12 to 17 is to change the way we teach catechism,” said Sam from St. Anthony’s Parish in Taunton. “A way to keep kids engaged in the Church is to show that God is not just an authority figure, but also a friend.”

“I think what we have to do is get the youth involved as young as possible so they would want to stay,” said Jillian from St. Dominic’s Parish in Swansea. “Maybe if we can find something to get younger kids involved it will make them want to stay as they get older.”

“One thing we need to do is to talk to them,” said Barbie from Annunciation of the Lord Parish in Taunton. “Kind of like what we’re doing today. But if we can find a way to bring people together, we can do great things.”

“We need to build more connections between our communities,” said Bridget from Holy Family Parish in East Taunton. “I belong to two Catholic communities: my parish and my school. In my parish, I’ve seen a really strong ministry where during our last Confirmation retreat, we actually had more helpers than Confirmation candidates. In my school, it’s very small so it’s really hard to get a youth ministry started. So I think by building connections with the other schools in the diocese, it would be easier to get something started.”

“You know, as I listened to you, two words kept coming to my mind,” Bishop da Cunha said. “And those two words were: hope and inspiration. I felt hopeful here today because I know that we have a future for our Church because of people like you. And for that I want to say thank you and God bless you!”

In closing, Bishop da Cunha thanked all the youth for their input and announced and invited everyone to attend the first-ever diocesan “Catholic Youth Day” which will be held on the grounds of St. Augustine Church in Vineyard Haven on the island of Martha’s Vineyard on Tuesday, August 7.

Modeled after World Youth Day, this local version will feature music, talks, Mass and dialogue with the bishop, Reconciliation, a cookout lunch, lawn games, and special guest, singer-songwriter Chris Muglia. 

The event is free, but is limited to the first 300 who sign up via their parish Religious Education office. For more information visit www.fallriverfaithformation.org.


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