The Catholic Diocese of Arlington has an active, vibrant ministry to serve young adults. What ‘moves the needle’ to attract them to the faith, then keeps them engaged at this key time in their lives?
By: Brendan Gotta, Young Adult Coordinator for the Diocese of Arlington
I want to share with you a quick story: A few months ago, I helped coordinate a hike to Harpers Ferry. The weather ended up being perfect, and we had more than 30 young adults attend. The day in itself was great, but one person stuck out to me in particular, and for the sake of privacy, we will call him John.
John had moved to the area the evening before this hike, but because he had done a little research about the Diocese, he saw that this event was taking place, and decided to join us. I spoke to him for a brief time, and — I have to tell you — I was inspired. John knew what he wanted and went for it. He could have spent the day unpacking and getting acclimated with his new surroundings; instead, he chose to hike and meet new people. His presence made a very important impression: we are called to community.
Take a look at the lives of the saints. You do not have St. Clare without St. Francis, and you do not have St. Francis without St. Clare. The same can be said for St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier. Once again, the same can be said about St. Peter and St. Paul. Honestly, the list could go on forever. For every saint we encounter, we can find another person who influenced him or her, or called them toward sainthood. As human beings, we have a desire to love and to be loved, and this comes about when we form authentic friendships and community life that call us on to greater things.
For over the past two years, I’ve been blessed to work for the Diocese of Arlington as the Young Adult Coordinator. Since being in this role, I’ve been given the task (no doubt with the Holy Spirit doing the heavy lifting), to try and build community life within these boundaries, and bring young adults closer to Christ. So the question becomes, how is this being done?
The first thing to understand is, no matter where you are in your faith journey, conversion is always necessary. The friars who were present during my college years preached: “Constant conversion,” helping me to understand that I’m called to a daily “Yes.” With regard to Young Adult Ministry for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, I’m asked to meet people where they are. Through the Arlington Young Adult Ministry initiatives, we welcome people who are in beginning stages of their faith life along with people who were raised Catholic their whole lives. The overall goal is to preach the Gospel message, and help young people desire the Lord in their lives. This is done through a variety of events including Catholic Sports Club, the Annual Nationals Game, hikes, Trivia Nights, Theology on Tap and so on.
Once a true desire for relationship with God has been formed, one can look to build. This takes action and a willingness to stretch oneself. For most people, an evening out at the ballpark is an easy sell. Who doesn’t enjoy hot dogs, beer and friends? Getting someone to desire spending an hour in prayer, though? That can be a little harder. In the end, it is these opportunities that people will remember, and for which to be thankful. It goes back to that daily “Yes.” If we give ourselves to God, He will do great things. Through this ministry, we look to offer these opportunities, including Arlington Worship, the Thomistic Institute, Mornings of Recollection, an annual retreat, service projects, mission trips, World Youth Day-themed events, and more. These events have the faith component at the forefront, and truly offer an invitation to all young adults to grow in intimacy with our Lord. In the end, we must realize that the desire to be loved can only be perfectly fulfilled by God.
Eventually, the student is called to be the teacher. We start by looking to draw Catholics and non-Catholics in, and then provide formation opportunities. This is not the end of the process though. Instead, the goal is for these men and women to go out and be leaders at their parishes and in their communities. Young adults sometimes decide not to get invested at their parishes because they have the mindset that they don’t have a role, or are not going to be around long enough to really “make an impact” — but this is not the Gospel message! Every person has unique qualities that have been given for the purpose of building up the kingdom. Our hope is that, through conversion and formation, these qualities will lead to a desire to then be heralds of the Word, and fishers of men.
Win. Build. Send.