Youth Pathways to grow in their Catholic Faith

Recent headlines in the south coast have been abuzz with talk and frustrations of commute times, swirling around the unexpected closure of the Washington Bridge. The traffic jams and added times of commute have been a headache scenario for many traveling to and from the area. Entrance ramps have been clogged with commuters looking to make it to their final destination. For many it has been a nightmare, as I look at such a scenario, however, I look at such a scenario from the eyes of a Catholic dreamer. What if the journey to heaven had just as many commuters? What if people knew the surest route to eternity is the Catholic Church? What would our on ramps look like? And  wouldn’t we want our on ramps jammed with people wanting to get on the surest route?

In a world marked by constant change, confusing shifts in cultural landscapes, and the elimination of moral norms, the Catholic Church recognizes the importance of engaging the youth in activities that not only strengthen their growth in society but also serve as entrance ramps onto the Catholic interstate, which is the most direct path leading to eternity. Saint Pope John Paul II, during his 1995 World Youth Day visit to the Philippines, invited the Church to become “traveling companions of the young people.” Just as Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, his bride, the Church and its members are to be the driving instructor, the bridge and the interstate. 

According to the Springtide Research Institutes, who provide relevant social–scientific data to those who know and serve youth conducted research on “belonging” and they found that, “young people today are experiencing epidemic levels of loneliness…one of three young people feels completely alone most of the time and nearly 40% have no one to talk to and feel left out.” Youth activities within Catholic programming create a sense of community and fellowship among young individuals. Moreover, youth activities provide a space for mentorship and guidance. Titus 2:7-8 encourages older members of the Church to be examples for the younger generation: “In everything set them an example.” 

Picture the Catholic Church as a vast and winding interstate, and youth programs are crucial entrance ramps that guide the younger generation onto the road to a deeper Catholic identity and a potential call to vocations. The Secretariat for the New Evangelization and its youth evangelization efforts has seen this year hundreds of youth utilize new and re-envisioned programs such as Catholic Youth Day, CYO Basketball, regional retreats, parish retreats, and regional youth nights, as pathways to a deeper Catholic identity and hopefully igniting holy vocations.

In Proverbs 22:6 it says: “Train up a child in the way he should go.” This is the mandate of Sacred Scripture. Early exposure through church activities can have a lasting impact on an individual’s spiritual journey.  I saw a parent one day place a couple droplets of medicine into her child’s apple juice and I commented, “Smart move! Disguise the flavor” She responded, “It not only disguises, but it also helps her absorb what she needs.” The child was low in Iron, and the mother was using Apple juice as the conduit in order for her child to absorb Iron more effectively. Catholic programming for youth can be the conduit in which the faith is absorbed more effectively.

The Springtide Research Institute found in its research that: “young people need more trusted adult relationships in their lives. Connecting young people to even just one additional trusted adult can reduce their feelings of loneliness, isolation, and stress. But the benefits of connecting young people to five or more trusted adults is a game-changing prospect—and ought to be our goal.”

As young individuals immerse themselves in Catholic activities, they embark on a transformative journey of self-discovery, unlocking the potential for discerning their vocation. The pathway to deeper connection with the Catholic faith involve youth programs, which become a fertile ground for a vocational call. We are all called to holiness, yet there is a special call to a few enough willing to answer the call to the priesthood and religious life. In this journey, the wisdom of 1 Corinthians 7:7 resonates, highlighting the unique gifts bestowed by God. Through diverse activities, young hearts unravel their talents, propelling them toward the revelation of a specific vocation. 

Jan 22, 2024 an update from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation addressed the Washington Bridge closure, giving scope of work, a heavy emphasis on strategic construction scenarios. Analogously, the Catholic Church, envisioned as an expansive interstate leading to eternity, underscores the pivotal role of youth activities as vital entrance ramps guiding the younger generation onto this spiritual journey. These activities ensure a vibrant future, paving the way for a profound Catholic identity and potential vocations, steering the youth on a purposeful path toward the horizon of eternity.

Anchor columnist Oscar Rivera Jr., is director of Youth Ministry in the diocesan Secretariat for the New Evangelization.