Since 2017, apart from 2019, I’ve been involved with a youth summer program called Light the World! Summer Institute and have served as the program’s director since 2020. At Light the World!, high schoolers from around the world join us at The Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. to explore how the Catholic faith can be joyfully and vibrantly lived through the vocation of the lay person and the universal call to holiness.
In June, LtW! welcomed fifty one high schoolers over two weeks who were led by a team of fourteen undergraduate students. I work in young adult ministry daily, serving as a formator, mentor, and pastoral person for the undergraduate students I serve at CatholicU. However, for one month out of the year I get to put on my youth ministry hat and get in the trenches (so to say). It is, in fact, this annual experience with the young church that, I believe, helps me to become a better young adult minister as I get a sneak peak of what is to come with future generations of college students. Because of this intersection of youth and young adult ministry, I find myself walking away with new insights about the young church each year and I’d like to share a few of those here, aided by Pope Francis from Christus Vivit.
“There is also a special need to accompany young men and women showing leadership potential, so that they can receive training and the necessary qualifications.” Christus Vivit, 245.
Each year we hire fourteen undergraduate students at CatholicU to serve as counselors, ministering to the high schoolers and witnessing to the joy of the Gospel. This year, my staff was uniquely impressive. Impressive not because they are expert pastoral people, have all of the theological knowledge one could have, and are perfect communicators, but impressive because of how open they are to one another, to our program, and most importantly to God. These young men and women came from a variety of different geographical regions, experiences with ministry and the Church, and areas of study, yet all came with an openness to the will of God that was refreshing and beautiful. Ideas were not presented as absolutes but as hopeful suggestions for improvement. Failures and shortcomings were, over time, seen as opportunities to accept God’s grace amid our weakness. Every opportunity that was given to these young men and women were seen as just that, opportunities to give another yes to the Lord.
“The very first truth I would tell each of you is this:‘God loves you.’ It makes no difference whether you have already heard it or not… God loves you. Never doubt this, whatever may happen to you in life. At every moment, you are infinitely loved.” Christus Vivit, 112.
Our evening sessions at Light the World! take our participants on a journey of God’s presence and role in our lives. By reflecting on themes like reconciliation with God and listening to God’s call for us in our lives, participants and staff alike are brought into a closer encounter with the Lord and confront the big questions in our lives. I am continually struck by the consistency with which the struggles in the lives of faith of young people come back to this simple truth that Pope Francis articulates in chapter 4 of Christus Vivit, God loves you. There is a deep hunger by young people to be seen and heard, to be acknowledged as loveable, and most simply to be loved. I witnessed high schoolers who had put up walls before they even arrived on our campus begin to soften when they realized that the people around them at Light the World! were there to love them, no strings attached. When my staff struggled, it wasn’t because they were doing a bad job, but because this truth of God’s love for them was squeezed out by temptation to compare and hyper-criticize themselves. At the heart of each person’s search for God this summer was the desire to know of God’s love for them.
The Young Church is alive, but it is in great need. The need to know they are loved by the Body of Christ and by the Risen Christ, the need for opportunities to lead while being accompanied by mentors, and the need for ongoing encounters with Christ daily. Light the World! helped me to see these needs in a new light and to reaffirm my commitment to serving the young church through the Joy of the Gospel!