In an effort to better understand the challenges and aspirations of Alaska’s young adult Catholics, Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne recently spent an evening in prayer and conversation with more than 30 people, ages 18-35, at St. Patrick Church in Anchorage.
The July 31 town-hall event was in response to Pope Francis’ upcoming synod of bishops that will take place in Rome next year with a focus on youth and young adult ministry. Dioceses across the world are gathering information from young adults beforehand.
Following the recent meeting in Anchorage, Archbishop Etienne spoke to the Catholic Anchor about what he learned about the challenges and hopes of young people in Alaska.
What specific topics came up during the meeting at St. Patrick’s?
Archbishop Etienne: We had an hour of adoration and an hour and a half of conversation. I was strictly in listening mode that night. We posed a couple of leading questions and we just turned them loose. I just sat there and listened and took notes. It was a wonderful exchange. I told the young community that they are important. That is the whole reason that the Holy Father has seen fit to dedicate a whole special synod on how the church is relating to the young church and what we can do better. That is an encouraging word coming from the pope himself — we want to hear from them. He is giving marching orders to us bishops to be attentive to our young church and to be listening ourselves to what their needs are.
What did you learn from the young people at the meeting?
Archbishop Etienne: I knew that there were challenges for all Christians to live our faith out in the culture today. I knew particularly on college campuses that the environment was less than welcoming, but they were helping me understand that it is beyond less than welcoming. There is a concrete pushback against any Christians that are vocal about their faith. There is clear communication now to keep that to yourself, fundamentally.
They also shared a desire for more opportunities to mingle with Catholics of their age group. They had a desire for our local parishes to do more to promote activities for young adults. It was a good learning experience.
What other topics came up?
They mentioned that they would like to know more about prayer and spirituality — how to live a life derived from prayer.
They are looking for a more outgoing and welcoming church, and they didn’t limit that to just young adults. That was a pretty broad message I heard. They mentioned that the Mass schedule just does not accommodate their needs — weekday Masses in particular. They are all working and it is very difficult for them with their work schedules to find a parish that has a sacramental schedule that accommodates the reality of their lives.
They are clearly looking for greater engagement of the clergy with young adults. They said they gather regularly but it is seldom that they see a priest come join them. I’m glad I’ve been able to be with them twice in the eight months I’ve been here, that is a good thing.
They said, with an eye to the synod or maybe to this pope, but one of the things they said is that they don’t want the church to be something that it is not in order to attract more people. So there is a great desire for the church to remain faithful to its true mission. I don’t see any fear about that. The church is pretty solid in that regard.
They would like to see more camps and retreats available for young adults in this archdiocese. They said there are people who just don’t know their faith today and they are looking for resources.