Sons and Daughters of the Light: A Pastoral Plan for Ministry with Young Adults
November 12, 1996, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"Sons and Daughters of the Light"
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be
hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the
lampstand where it shines for all in the house. In the same way your
light must shine, . . . so that, seeing your good works, they may give
praise to your Father in heaven. (Mt 5:14-16)
Why We Are Issuing This Plan
In every age, Jesus Christ is the light of all nations (Lumen Gentium,
no. 1) with Christian men and women called to reflect the light of
Christ and, in this way, to be "light" for the world. To reflect the
light of Christ requires a maturity of faith and a willingness to live
this faith daily in society. We join the Holy Father in affirming the
essential dignity of young adult men and women—those in their late
teens, twenties, and thirties—as "sons and daughters of the light." Yet,
many young adults tell us that they face increasingly complex and
difficult times and that they need the help of the Catholic Christian
community to be this "light."
They tell us about changes in family life, church life, societal values,
and neighborhoods. They highlight how these, along with advances in
technology, communications, and medicine, present new and different
problems and require new and different responses. We bishops recognize
these changes and realize that we must address them together in the
church if we are to share the faith with the next generation.
We begin by acknowledging that at the center of our faith is the belief
that all people, made in the image and likeness of God in Christ, are
called to be sons and daughters of God—lights for the world. Through
this plan, we hope to accomplish three things:
- To state firmly that we, as members of the church, must
actively invite and welcome young adults into the life of the Church.
This does not mean placing special emphasis on one generation but having
a vision of Church rooted in God's invitation to all generations.
- To describe briefly the life situation of young adults so the Church can respond effectively to their needs and concerns.
- To develop a comprehensive and workable plan of action for
ministering with people in their late teens, twenties, and thirties
based on the four goals of connecting young adults with Jesus Christ,
the Church, the mission of the Church in the world, and a community of
We recognize a certain urgency in developing this plan as a result of
the listening sessions with young adults. These sessions provided us
with valuable insights and knowledge concerning the Church's ministry
with young adults. In particular, the following points deserve our
- Many young adults are willing to share their
leadership skills in ministry and their deep spirituality with their new
parish communities. For some, these gifts developed during their
college years through participation in campus ministry.
- There is a growing interest among young adults, on campus and
in the workplace, to devote time and energy to helping others through
community service activities.
- Many young adults express a desire to develop a closer
relationship with Jesus Christ and to deepen their spiritual life, but
this does not necessarily mean being a member of a Church.
- During late adolescence and early twenties, many men and
women, while claiming to be Catholic, decide to participate less in
church activities, especially the Sunday eucharist.3
- With the birth of their first child, young adults typically
return to active religious practice after a decline in church
participation during late adolescence and their early twenties. Today
this return is no longer certain. If they do return, it can be with
- There is a growing movement away from an institutional
conception of religion to an individual conception of faith. This is
particularly true for those born in the 1970s and 1980s.4
- Many Catholic young adults seeking a welcoming community and
answers to questions about the meaning of life are attracted to
religious/spiritual movements, sects and cults, and fundamentalist
- Many Catholic men and women tell of not feeling welcomed in
our communities, while others speak of wanting, but not finding, the
Church's help with serious moral and economic questions.
- People from different ethnic groups sometimes struggle to express their faith in terms of their culture.5
- The membership of many, if not most, of our Catholic organizations is much older today than it was twenty years ago.
- Interchurch marriages have increased. This ultimately affects
church life, especially as a couple decides how to worship and then
raise their children in a religious tradition.6
- The values of many young adults no longer come primarily from
family and Church but from friends, the media, and contemporary
- Many young adults feel they do not have the same access to
economic and social opportunities as their parents. This affects their
faith, hopes, and dreams for the future.
- Young adults who suffer from violence and poverty come from
other countries to the United States looking for peace and for ways to
make a living. They hope that their quality of life will improve in this
In light of these insights, our ministry with young adults, who make up
approximately 30 percent of the total U.S. population, must be
intensified.7 We need to be a Church that is interested in the lives of
these men and women and is willing to invite them into our community. We
need to be a Church imbued with a missionary zeal for the Gospel. When
young adults accept our invitation, we must welcome them, acknowledge
their participation, and make room for them in all aspects of church
life. This outreach is especially important to the alienated. The words
of Pope Paul VI speak of the importance of this ministry: "Existing
circumstances suggest to us that we should devote our attention in
particular to young people. . . . It is essential that young people
themselves . . . should be ever more zealous in their apostolate to
their contemporaries. The Church relies greatly on such help from young
people, and we ourselves have repeatedly expressed our full confidence
Young adults hunger and thirst for God. We desire to experience Christ's
love in our own lives that we may live lives of hope. As we develop our
spiritual life, we look for three things. First, we search out
meaningful experiences of liturgy. . . . Second, we seek to learn more
about our faith. Third, we are eager to share our personal stories in a
small Christian community of friends...
Sergio Rodgrigues, Providence, R.I.
The Audience for the Pastoral Plan
This plan is written to people in leadership positions in church life to
encourage them to recognize, support, and motivate ministry with, by,
and for young adults. This includes those in parishes, campus ministry
centers, dioceses, the military, and Catholic movements and
organizations. It is especially written
- to pastors and pastoral associates, to encourage them to
give special attention to the needs of young adults in their parishes.
- to campus ministers, to strengthen the relationship between campus and parish.
- to young adult ministers, who work most directly with young
adults, to recognize the efforts they have made and to incorporate their
ministry into the full life of the Church.
- to young adults in leadership positions within the Church who work among their peers and with the larger community.
- to diocesan offices, especially those that work with ethnic
and immigrant populations, many of whom are people in their late teens,
twenties, and thirties.
- to military chaplains, who have a unique opportunity and
challenge since a large group of Catholic young adults is found in the
- to leaders in parishes, movements, and organizations whose
ministry connects them to young adults, such as chaplains (in schools,
healthcare centers, and in prisons), family life ministers, parochial
vicars, directors of religious education, youth ministers, those
involved in liturgical ministries, adult educators (especially those who
prepare people for marriage, baptism, the Rite of Christian Initiation
of Adults, and lay ministry), and parish council members.
As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the
body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one spirit we
were all baptized into one body . . .
If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.
1 Cor 12: 12-13, 26
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