Sons and Daughters of the Light: A Pastoral Plan for Ministry with Young Adults
November 12, 1996, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
To foster the personal and communal growth and education of young
adults toward a relationship with Jesus Christ leading to Christian
- Spiritual Formation and Direction: To help young
adults develop their spiritual life rooted in a personal relationship
with Jesus Christ as their redeemer and savior.
- Religious Education/Formation: To help young adults
appreciate the teachings and traditions of the Church through
catechesis, religious education, and pastoral care.
- Vocation Discernment: To help young adults understand
vocation as primarily a call to holiness and Christian maturity lived
through single or married life, the priesthood, the diac-onate, or
Strategies to Implement Goal One
1. Spiritual Formation and Direction
As mentioned earlier in this plan, young adults want to develop their
spiritual life. They speak of this as being the foundation—the
rootedness—of their lives. It is through this spiritual life that young
adults grow in appreciation for the way God works in their lives. Some
suggestions for helping young adults develop their spiritual life
include the following:
- Provide opportunities for participation in the
sacraments, especially the sacraments of reconciliation, eucharist,
confirmation, and anointing of the sick. Identify times that are
convenient for young adult attendance.
- Provide opportunities for young adults to learn and experience different forms of personal and group prayer.
- Invite young adults from other faiths to gather together for ecumenical prayer.
- Form bible study and reflection groups that are both peer and intergenerational.
- Provide spiritual direction resources such as prayer and meditation books and audiotapes.
- Make available opportunities for personal spiritual
direction/formation, and provide the necessary training of spiritual
- List in the parish or campus bulletin the name(s) of
spiritual directors and/or confessors who are comfortable with young
- Sponsor a variety of retreat opportunities for young
adults to deepen their spirituality. These can be both group and/or
In the next ten years, I will be making some of the biggest transitions of
my life. I am not looking for a singles group to meet that special
someone. I am searching for community.I am searching for people to share
my journey. . . . I believe that the Church needs to actively reach out
to young adults and give us the opportunity to find God at work in our
lives.Our lives have become incredibly busy as we try to start careers,
find jobs, and find ourselves. . . . My hope is that the Church would
reach out to us—seek us out and open the door to participation. I am
very aware of my need for God's forgiving love in my life. Yet it is so
easy to put those needs on hold and focus on expectations that society
has put on me. Having a community to share these struggles with would be
a tremendous blessing.
Christopher J. Hood, New York, N.Y.
2. Religious Education and Formation
During the listening process, many young adults spoke of their desire
for effective adult religious education to help them make good moral
decisions. They said that they need a forum not only where misgivings
and doubts can be expressed freely but also where the teachings of the
Church can be clearly articulated in response. While some alienation
stems from disagreement over church teachings, much of what young adults
feel regarding the institutional Church arises from a misunderstanding
of what the Church actually teaches. Many young adults told us that what
is most convincing is an open but well-reasoned discussion, informed
and fortified by the minister's confidence in the wisdom of the Church.
Some suggestions for developing adult catechesis include the following:
- Offer a variety of both topical and
programmatic formats such as a series of evening classes, special
one-evening presentations, days of recollection/retreat, discussion
groups, mentoring relationships, and missions.
- Develop catechetical options that best respond
to the needs of the community such as scripture study groups or
- Use adult-centered methods that are compatible with the culture of the participants.
- Make available print resources, audio and
videocassettes, and computer resources such as CD-ROM and the Internet.
Audiotapes can be used while traveling, exercising, or at home in the
- Choose themes for catechesis and faith
formation that include church teaching or church life, such as church
tradition, theology, theology of the sacraments, scripture studies, the
role of women in the Church, and Catholic identity. Also, consider
issues that include relationships, intimacy, sexuality, family life,
culture, workplace ethics, morality, personal faith, and dealing with
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) is an excellent
occasion to minister with young adults. The RCIA provides the
opportunity for young adults to enter our faith and for those already
baptized and in communion with the Church to be sponsors for other young
adults. Parishes should continue to nourish the faith of these newly
baptized. They also need to prepare young adults who have not received
their first communion or been confirmed.
For many young adults, marriage can be a key moment for evangelization.
The engagement period itself is "set within the context of a rich
The Church connects with more
young adults here than at any other time outside of Sunday Mass. They
bring with them their past experiences of the Church. Some come with
positive memories of parish youth ministry programs or Catholic schools.
Others have been involved with the university or college campus
ministry, but have limited connections to the parish. For some, this may
be their first step back into church life.
Young adults approach the Church to be married for a number of reasons,
including parental pressure, the desire to have a church wedding, or to
reunite themselves with the Church. Regardless of why they come, the
Church and its ministers need to welcome them as Christ welcomes them,
with understanding, love, and acceptance, challenging them with the
gospel message, and giving them hope that a lifelong commitment is
Marriage preparation connects young adults with Christ and with the
Church. The good news is that marriage preparation serves an important
and useful purpose for most of those who participate in it.36
Marriage preparation is an opportunity to learn more about the Church
and its teachings, especially those pertaining to married life. It can
be a "journey of faith which is similar to the catechumante (RCIA)."37
Here are some key principles upon which to build strategies:
- Rejoice with couples as they make this commitment to each other for life; this is a very special moment in their lives.
- Challenge them lovingly and gently to greater growth in Jesus Christ rather than prejudge them.
- Present couples with a clear and dynamic presentation of authentic Catholic teaching on human sexuality, marriage, and family.
- Emphasize the sacramental dimension of
marriage. While most engaged couples experience joy and life, as well as
a certain amount of struggle, they may not connect those feelings to
the gospel message.
- Help couples understand that the wedding is the beginning of a married life requiring continuous growth and understanding.
- Be sensitive to the cultural traditions of our
diverse Catholic community—including those of the families of
origin—when addressing questions of age, ritual/ceremony, and readiness.
- Be aware of the family dynamics of marriage
preparation. Many unresolved issues between children and parents can
come to the surface at this time. Weddings bring celebration and joy,
but also stress and tension. Take every opportunity to encourage
communication and, if necessary, reconcilation.
- Encourage couples to consider becoming involved
in the parish where they are married or in the parish where they will
be attending Mass.Invite active young couples to accompany them to their
first parish event or service opportunity.
- Refrain from developing unnecessary rules and regulations that can alienate people of good will.
Here are some strategies for preparing couples for marriage:
- Involve clergy and married couples in the
marriage preparation team—this approach is most effective. Invite the
priest to play an active and substantial role.38
- Recruit married couples as mentors to meet with
engaged couples. These mentors should be skilled in pastoral ministry
with young adults and should understand the developmental tasks of
people in their late teens, twenties, and thirties.
- Offer multi-session programs that include
structured time for talking with each other. They can continue the
dialogue between sessions.39
- Discuss subjects that are meaningful to engaged
couples during marriage preparation such as theology of the sacrament,
communication, commitment, conflict resolution, the role of religion
(especially for interfaith marriages), values, children, and natural
- Use proven premarital inventory tools such as FOCUS or PREPARE.40
- Pray for couples in marriage preparation during
the general intercessions at Mass and consider inviting engaged couples
to receive a blessing from the community.
- Work collaboratively with the appropriate
diocesan offices to administer different aspects of the marriage
- Provide guidelines for marriage preparation and
procedures for obtaining dispensations that are sensitive to the
cultural implications of impediments and annulments, so confusion and
misunderstanding are avoided. Pastoral ministers need to be aware of the
pastoral application of these guidelines, which can be made available
at campus centers, parishes, and military chaplancies.
The following are most helpful in clarifying church teaching on marriage and family: The Documents of Vatican II, Familiaris Consortio, Letter to Families
, and recent documents from the Pontifical Council for the Family on human sexuality and marriage preparation.
As with marriage preparation, preparation for the sacrament of baptism
of children is an opportunity to evangelize young adults and to
strengthen their relationship with Christ and the Church. An effective
preparation program continues the ongoing formation of parents and
provides an opportunity for a closer relationship with their local
community. Effective strategies include the following:
- Create opportunities for mutual support among parents seeking baptism for their children.
- Plan programs that take into consideration the
time constraints of parents with infants and young children and that are
sensitive to people's cultural traditions and practices of piety.
Sunday morning may be more effective than an evening session.
- Be aware of and sensitive to those who have
been married outside the Church. Baptismal preparation can begin a
process of welcoming people back to the Church.
- Provide families with the opportunity to have
their children baptized at a Sunday eucharistic celebration. For
pastoral considerations, a separate celebration of the sacrament may be
- Involve parents and family members in the
ritual as much as possible. Consider providing a printed program to
increase participation during the celebration of the sacrament.
Do not be afraid to go out on the street and into public places like the
first apostles, who preached Christ and the good news of salvation in
the squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed
of the Gospel (cf. Rom 1:16). It is the time to preach it from the
rooftops (cf. Mt 10:27).
John Paul II, Homily at WYD Vigil, 1993
3. Vocation Discernment
As we discussed earlier, many men and women respond to God's call of
vocation during young adulthood. Families, parishes, military chaplains,
and campus ministers can help young people discern their vocations. In
particular, consider these strategies:
- Hold seminars, workshops, and
overnight retreats in a spritual setting to discuss vocation
discernment, and commit resources for follow-up.
- Involve priests, deacons, religious, and
lay ministers as mentors and spiritual guides for young men and women
discerning their vocations.
- Develop a vocations committee in the
parish, on the campus, or on the military base. Catholic organizations
and movements can also develop vocations committees.
- Urge clergy to discuss vocations in their homilies and on other occasions.
- Invite young people to take a sabbatical year to do volunteer community service.
- Invite young adult coordinators to be members of the vocations team.
Return to Contents Page