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Bringing youth back to Church is a process

Posted By November 20, 2014 | 4:07 pm | Local
In 2014 Frank Mercadante came to Diocese to talk to people in diocese who minister to the youth.
Photo by Tanya Connor
In 2014 Frank Mercadante came to Diocese to talk to people in diocese who minister to the youth. Photo by Tanya Connor

By Tanya Connor

Youth are said to be leaving the Catholic Church in unprecedented numbers and the Worcester Diocese is offering parishes steps to assess and address the problem.
Elizabeth Cotrupi, director of New Evangelization Worcester for Youth and Young Adults, said the idea is to help those working with youth “get off the hamster wheel” and ask, “God, is this the direction you want us to go in, or could we be doing it more effectively?”
“As long as we’re on the wheel and we’re moving, we think we’re going somewhere,” she said. But statistics about teenagers’ lack of involvement in the Church indicate a crisis.
For people aged 14 to 32 – the Millennial Generation – Mass attendance is lower and the lack of church affiliation higher than that of previous generations, said Frank Mercadante, author of “Engaging a New Generation: A Vision for Reaching Catholic Teens” and “Growing Teen Disciples.”
“We’re in a crisis situation,” he said. “We have to do things differently.”
NEW, the diocesan youth ministry office, and the Office of Religious Education partnered to bring Mr. Mercadante back to the diocese to present a strategic process to help parishes evangelize and form youth. He gave a training seminar to faith formation and youth leaders last March and a continuing education session to priests in June, which impressed Bishop McManus and attendees, Mrs. Cotrupi said.
Last week Mr. Mercadante presented catechetical leaders, youth ministers, clergy and others with a process he calls Vital 3.0, “a strategy for growing third generation Catholic youth ministries.” Mrs. Cotrupi said 124 people from about 50 parishes attended different sessions throughout the week.
The idea is to build parishes where everyone understands the importance of being a disciple and a disciple-maker and the different generations work together, he said.
Mr. Mercadante, a long-time youth minister and father of six, created the process with Ela Milewska through the Illinois-based Cultivation Ministries he founded. They train parishes around the country to use Vital 3.0 to reach their own goals, using whatever curriculum they choose.
Cultivation Ministries calls the process “Vital,” because it is about building youth ministries that have vitality, Mr. Mercadante explained to The Catholic Free Press. The 3.0 comes from being what he calls the “third generation” of youth ministry, which is emerging today.
“It’s about building a parish that is full of disciples and disciple-makers … as opposed to: ‘This is the group responsible for working with teens,’” he said.
Vital 3.0 fits perfectly with the United States bishops’ framework for adolescent catechesis, which outlines a curriculum, said Elizabeth A. Marcil, religious education office director. Her office is offering workshops to help local parishes understand the framework.
In addition to the religious education program, the home and the parish are catechetical agents, she said. The mission goes beyond catechesis; it’s a whole process of bringing people to discipleship.
Mr. Mercadante noted that an ecumenical “Exemplary Youth Ministry Study,” which included Catholic churches, found that great youth ministry was intergenerational and came out of great congregations.
“I think there was a real sense of excitement and enthusiasm in response to a real challenge facing the Church, namely, what to do about the Millennial Generation that is leaving the Church,” said Father Nicholas Desimone, bishop’s liaison with the youth ministry office and pastor of St. Mary Parish in Uxbridge, who, at 32, is “at the very end of that generation.”
Vital 3.0 offers a new, doable approach to address this challenge, he said.
“We have this wonderful, beautiful faith that is full of hope” and we’re closing parishes, said Mrs. Cotrupi. “If we want to help save these kids … we need to come together and pray together.
“You could say, ‘We can do it ourselves,’” but she challenged listeners to consider Vital 3.0 or explain why they aren’t interested.
Neeni Francis, who assists the religious education director at St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Upton, said praying for one another is part of their program. Confirmed youth who are preparing to give confirmation retreats to new candidates pray for the candidates’
conversion, for their parents and their parish.
She said she told her students in grades 9-11 she was going to the Vital 3.0 information session. She asked what they wanted her to take from it to help them.
“The most important thing they came up with was ‘invitation,’” she said. “‘We need to be invited and we need to be inviting.’”
“I think it’s really exciting,” Mary Pat Heelan, director of religious education at St. John, Guardian of Our Lady Parish in Clinton, said of Vital 3.0. “I don’t think we have a choice” about using it. “That doesn’t mean that what we’re doing isn’t beautiful. But when the Holy Spirit sort of sparks an idea in us” it’s important to be open to it.
Father Hugo Cano, associate pastor in Clinton, said their religious education program has 600 young people, from pre-schoolers to confirmation students, but they don’t have a youth ministry. He said their pastor, Father Joseph M. Nally, sent him to learn about Vital 3.0, which he sees has potential for the parish. It’s a long process, he said. But why not begin?
Parishes are being encouraged to take this training over the next two years. The training involves several live sessions and webinars.
Mrs. Cotrupi said session participants are struggling to get volunteers to help them now, so they may wonder how they can take on the Vital 3.0 training. She said she tells them to pray, get an intercessory prayer team to help, and trust God.