By LINDA BEHRENS
“It’s important in our diocese, in every diocese, for the bishop to invest in our young people,” says Bishop Michael McGovern of the Diocese of Belleville.
“I am trying to make it a priority to provide opportunities for young adults 18 to 35 years old to gather and to pray together,” Bishop McGovern says.
“It is my hope that our young Catholic people will appreciate that they are not alone, that there are other young Catholic adults who are trying to live their faith and grow closer to Jesus and, through Jesus, to grow closer with one another in a community.”
The bishop notes that some parishes, depending on the population, have more young people and more opportunities for them to come together than others. As a diocese, he would like to provide opportunities for several parishes or many communities to gather together.
At a recent Mass at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Belleville, about 30 young adults joined Bishop McGovern at a reception and meeting afterward.
“I learned about some good things happening for young adults at that gathering,” he says. “The idea is to help people grow in their faith and their sense of identity. How can we grow in prayer and liturgy? How can we grow in unity with others? What opportunities can bring people together?”
Bishop McGovern mentioned several service opportunities already available in the diocese, such as the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for those who are alone or on the margins at St. Henry Parish in Belleville and meals delivered to homes. The Cathedral of St Peter offers a breakfast every Saturday morning at Notre Dame Academy.
“They are looking for volunteers,” the bishop says. “This is a great way for young people to connect. Good-hearted people who want to do something to assist the poor or people in need. We welcome your involvement.”
And Bishop McGovern wants to develop more service opportunities, social activities and times for prayer.
“It’s important for young adults to find a way to pray and to pray together,” he says, “such as celebrating the Eucharist together or plugging in with other activities already happening, like prayer at the Poor Clare Monastery.”
He adds, “Young adults may not be aware of the monastery or haven’t been there. It’s an opportunity to help them connect with a significant part of our diocese, with women in consecrated life. It’s a beautiful place we have here in our diocese.”
The Poor Clare sisters offer adoration, vespers, rosary and benediction every Sunday afternoon, which is open to the public. Recently young people in the diocese were invited to join the bishop there.
The vocations office for the diocese offers St. Andrew Dinners for men interested in priesthood. Bishop McGovern celebrated Mass at the Newman Center at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, followed by a recent St. Andrew Dinner. Upcoming dinners will be held Nov. 20 at St. Mary Church in Chester and Dec. 4 at Holy Childhood Church in Mascoutah.
“Every parish has younger people in their area. We connect well with children and parents when the children are in grammar school because of our schools and PSR programs,” Bishop McGovern says. “But every parish doesn’t have a teen outreach for high school, so we need to unite parishes together. We need something more after confirmation in 8th grade to stay connected with 14- to 18-year-olds.”
The bishop continued: “Then we need to continue with those 18 and older. Some go off to work, some to the military, some to school. They need opportunities to grow in their faith, to grow in their relationship with Jesus, and to celebrate Mass and the sacraments regularly.”
Some parishes have gatherings of young adults that are very intentional. Bishop McGovern hopes to develop something in each of the five vicariates over the next two years.
“In some areas of the diocese, Catholics are a minority,” Bishop McGovern says. “It’s helpful for young people to understand their own life and faith as a Catholic. They are going to be interacting at different levels with people who have different faiths or no faith at all.”
He adds, “It’s important to have a sense for what it means to be a Catholic. It’s something we have to work on with young people at every level – grade school, high school and beyond. We need to help people grow and understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the Catholic faith.”
Bishop McGovern also hopes to connect with young people via a social media presence on Facebook, Instagram and “the Real Time with Bishop McGovern” podcast.
Mark Loyet, director of faith formation and youth ministry, explains that coming out of a pandemic and a downward trend of church engagement across all age groups, young adults are a particularly important demographic of the church. They are the youngest of the “fully-able-to-be-active” church members.
“The challenge we’re trying to figure out is how can we help them want to be present, be involved in leadership,” Loyet says. “We need to start with building relationships, listening to what they want and meeting people’s needs.”
A young adult ministry, Loyet explains, is unique.
“What are their needs? Where are they at in life? They are establishing their lives now, becoming independent, focusing on careers, finding a partner, discerning their vocation. Some have started families, raising young kids. They have different lifestyles and diverse needs,” he says.
Loyet adds, “Ultimately young adult ministry, first and foremost, is a ministry of a parish. We want to help foster this. At the diocesan level, we want to augment what parishes are doing, not supplant it.”
The office of faith formation and youth ministry is compiling a list of events or activities at parishes or ones hosted by the diocese or other groups.
Clara Firtos, 26, who attends St. Luke’s Church and the Cathedral of St. Peter in Belleville, is the newly hired administrative assistant for the office of faith formation and youth ministry.
“It’s important for the diocese to reach out to young adults, because when they come to church, they are looking for other people their age,” Firtos says. “It’s what you most commonly hear – that they are looking for other young Catholic adults.”
She adds that for the two main subgroups of young adults – singles and ones about to get married – socializing aspects will have that community coming back to church.
Firtos is new to area and was looking for group of young catholic adults. She connected with a bible study with young women at the Cathedral, after attending the recent reception with the bishop.
“I am engaged to someone who is discerning Catholic, and I wanted an environment where I could show him my Church and our Christ-centered relationships,” she says.
Firtos believes it is important to have gatherings with the bishop.
“It’s important to have a bishop that stands for young adults and young adult relationships, whether we are single or about to get married,” she says. “It’s a way for us to meet each other. It’s been a struggle coming out of the pandemic.”
SEEK23 Conference for young adults
The office of faith formation and youth ministry invites young Catholic adults to a national conference happening in St. Louis. The diocese is interested in financially helping young adults who want to attend.
The SEEK23 conference, sponsored by FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), will be held Jan. 2-6, 2023, at the America’s Center Convention Complex. It provides an opportunity to answer the call to deeper discipleship with Christ.
Through prayer, sacraments, inspiring keynotes, and more, this event is an opportunity to encounter the Gospel anew and to be revived, equipped and encouraged for the life of faith Christ is calling us to lead.
“SEEK23 provides the opportunity of seeing 10,000 other young Catholics our age at a Mass, worshipping Jesus, in full blown adoration,” Firtos says. “It seems unheard of, but it does happen, and it happens once a year. For are fortunate that it will be held so close to our diocese in January.”
If interested in attending, contact Clara Firtos at [email protected].