“From all the ‘corners’ of the Earth we gathered, and hearts and minds met.”
Those simple words sum up the experience of one young adult Catholic who attended Catholic Extension’s first-ever Young Adult Leadership Summit. The Summit, held in Chicago in late July, drew young adult Catholic leaders from 20 dioceses.
They came from California, Texas, Wyoming, The U.S. Virgin Islands, Montana, Ohio, Mississippi, New Mexico, Kentucky, Puerto Rico and Virginia – bright shining faces eager to talk about their Catholic faith. They were invited to the Summit because of their proven extraordinary commitment to their diocese and communities through leadership and ministry service.
For some, this was their first plane ride or their first trip to a big city. For many, it was also a first chance to meet fellow young adult Catholics with a similar mission – to engage their peers in becoming active leaders and participants in the next generation of the Catholic Church.
One participant, Christian Jokinen of Las Cruces, New Mexico, has taken on enormous responsibility as a young adult to help build community and faith at his parish. He selflessly volunteers for 30 hours a week in multiple roles. He serves as a Eucharistic minister, teaches pre-Confirmation classes, trains altar servers, coordinates religious education and more. “Wherever they call me is where I end up going—it keeps me busy,” he said. “It’s a lot of time, but it’s fun.”
For Ana Hernandez of Monterey, California, another Summit participant, ministry to young adults and youth is a family activity. “We’re working together – my dad, mom, younger brother and I are all involved in the youth group,” she said of her family’s work at their parish.
“We want to tap into the energy and enthusiasm that young adults have demonstrated for the Church, for the service of others and for the faith,” said Joe Boland, senior director of Grants Management for Catholic Extension, who led the Summit activities. “They are here to help us understand and discover how we can multiply that energy and enthusiasm beyond this group of dedicated young leaders into the greater community of young adult Catholics across the country.”
Through workshops, presentations, small-group discussions, faith-sharing sessions and even some social activities, Catholic Extension invited these young adult leaders to share their feelings about their faith, goals for their ministries and ideas for the church.
“Everywhere we go, we are inspired by the young leaders we encounter who are the bright light of the future of the Church in their diocese,” said Fr. Jack Wall, President of Catholic Extension. “Many of these young people lack financial resources for their ministries; however, their genuine faith and conviction are moving them to do great things. We thought it would be very powerful to bring these young leaders together, to learn what inspires and motivates them and to see how Catholic Extension can support them in their efforts.”
Even though the Summit wrapped up just a short time ago, Catholic Extension has heard that the ideas the young adult leaders gathered from the event have already inspired them to take action. Upon returning to her hometown, Ana Hernandez sent the following note to her deacon: “It was an awesome experience. Now I think I’m in the wrong Major. Now I want to study Theology.” Another participant, Marsha Howe from the Diocese of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, was so moved that she has met with several local diocesan priests to share her experience. She also met with local youth group leaders to create a youth leadership program to ensure the participation in the faith from young Catholics on each of the different islands.
“Catholic Extension is committed to building a network of young Catholic leaders,” Fr. Wall added. “We were blessed to have this opportunity to come together to share ideas that will ultimately strengthen the Church’s outreach to young adults.”
Catholic Extension provides grants to dioceses throughout the United States to empower Catholic communities by funding a variety of building projects and ministries and investing in lay, religious and ordained Catholic leaders. Last year it supported youth ministries with more than $2 million in grants exclusively in underserved or under-resourced dioceses.