by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. —There’s no sugarcoating it. The situation of young adult ministry in the Catholic Church can be described in one word: crisis.
“The number of Millennials according to Pew Study research — those between the ages of 18 and 25 — who are active Catholics going to church at least once a month is 10 percent,” said Gordon DeMarias, founder and executive director of St. Paul’s Outreach.
“It’s approaching single digits,” he continued. “This is a crisis.”
If this keeps up, the priest shortage won’t matter, because there won’t be anyone to serve.
“Cultural Catholicism, nominal Catholicism, maintenance Catholicism is a dead retention policy,” said DeMarias, quoting author Sherry A. Weddel.
There is hope, however, in the new ministries, methods and ardor of the new evangelization, he said. Exciting things are happening now.
DeMarias was one of the speakers at the “Outreach to Young Adults” daylong workshop, held on Jan. 16 at Savior Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kan. It was the first of seven new evangelization workshops to be given this year as part of the “Proclaim It!” aspect of the ongoing archdiocesan Faith Initiative.
“Young adult work in the church is hard, for a number of reasons,” said DeMarias.
Teenagers and young adults are relatively easy to find during their junior high, high school and college years because they are preparing for the sacrament of confirmation or are in a somewhat constrained environment and can access campus ministry offices.
“But once people leave college, it’s hard to even get in contact with [young adults], because they are not gathering any place in the church,” said DeMarias.
Catholics must respond to this need by embracing Pope John Paul II’s call for a new evangelization, he said. It’s the church’s essential mission and deepest identity, he added.
“[Pope John Paul II] said that the time has come for the church to commit all of her energies to a new evangelization,” said DeMarias.
“There is a new state of affairs in our church today, and no one is permitted to remain idle,” he continued. “No believer can stand on the sidelines. Every faithful Catholic Christian needs to be engaged in this work of the new evangelization.”
The “new state of affairs” is a culture that has forgotten God, he said. It is the “culture of death,” a culture that has become “toxic” in many ways for Christians.
Before he became pope, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger called for new grass-roots movements to take up the call to a new evangelization, said DeMarias. Some of these movements are by and for young adults.
One of those new, grassroots movements is Saint Paul’s Outreach, which DeMarias founded as a Catholic campus outreach ministry 25 years ago in St. Paul, Minn. The ministry is now active in seven states and at four colleges and universities in the Kansas City area alone.
The mission of St. Paul’s Outreach, said DeMarias, is to change lives by helping people undergo a deep conversion to Christ. Despite the challenges of young adult ministry, it is bearing fruit and there is reason for hope.
“I hope what we impart is hope, and not despair,” said DeMarias. “It’s hard. The ground is hard. The challenges are hard.
“But God’s grace and power is at work. And Our Lord is searching the world for men and women like yourselves who are willing to courageously and generously say ‘yes’ to his invitation to be workers in vineyard, to be missionaries in his new evangelization.”
Matt Karr, Kansas Mission Center director for St. Paul’s Outreach, also spoke at the workshop, giving an overview of the campus-oriented ministry in the morning, and leading participants in some brainstorming and prayer in the afternoon.