Just last summer on Copacabana Beach, at World Youth Day, Pope Francis remarked, “The Church is counting on you... The Pope is counting on you!” Youth in the Church today often feel marginalized, alone, or worst of all- downright ignored. However, it is our calling as baptized Catholics to reverse this trend, and in rural southern Indiana, an unlikely group of Catholics are striving to do just that.
I spent the summer at Saint Meinrad Archabbey, a Benedictine monastery in Indiana, working for One Bread One Cup, a liturgical leadership youth program that forms high school students in the liturgy and helps them to integrate the Word, Sacrament, and Mission of the Church into their lives. Over seventy monks welcomed twenty college interns and hundreds of high school students and youth ministers to their home. However, they did much more than welcome us to their home. For centuries, Benedictine monks have been known in a special way as guardians of the rich liturgical patrimony of the Church. And guess what they did with it? They gave it away, they gave the youth the most precious gift that they have, telling them to go back to their parishes and implement what they have been taught, ranging from how to be an EMHC, to Cantor, to liturgical artist. However, it was not so much being taught how to do these things, as much as helping the youth to realize and use their God given gifts to build up His Kingdom. Whenever I think of the mission of One Bread, One Cup, I always see its mission epitomized by Matthew, Chapter Ten, when Jesus commissions and sends out the apostles to minister, to go and proclaim the kingdom of heaven.
An important aspect of the New Evangelization is helping youth rediscover or discover for the first time the richness of the Gospel. However, once teens join a youth group and appear to begin to be engaged, what happens then? Pope Francis at World Youth Day said, “Sharing the experience of faith, bearing witness to the faith, proclaiming the Gospel: this is a command that the Lord entrusts to the whole Church, and that includes you…” Therefore, part of the whole Church’s mission is to make it known that teenagers are not only called to be disciples of Jesus, but to be apostles; to partake in the apostolic mission and responsibility of Jesus and the Church.
Spending the summer ministering to older high school students from across America, from Louisiana to Michigan, has shown me one very effective way at helping youth to recognize their calling to be apostles, and to discover and then use their God given talents to participate in a certain liturgical ministry. Everything the Church does flows from one thing- the celebration of the Eucharist. Therefore, if we are trying to keep youth in the Church, or help them to realize their calling to be apostles, why would we not involve the youth in the most important work that the Church does? If youth understand the liturgy and participate in it, then they will be able to understand and participate in the Church, because the liturgy is the greatest teaching tool the Church has. “Renewing the Vision,” a landmark document on youth ministry by the USCCB says evangelization, “calls young people to be evangelizers of other young people, their families, and the community.” Once youth become involved in the liturgy and understand it, it becomes the natural next step for them to evangelize others and in my experiences and probably yours, it becomes much more likely that they will feel a part of the Church and stay in the Church.
Conor Boland is a College Ministerial Intern for One Bread One Cup, at Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology and is an undergraduate at the Catholic University of America.