Journeying Together Presentation -  November 2022 USCCB General Assembly

On November 16, 2022, Most Rev. Arturo Cepeda, auxiliary bishop of Detroit and chairman of the Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, and young adult ministry leaders, Rudy Dehaney of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and Cecilia Marie Flores of the Diocese of Orange, California, together  addressed the Fall General Assembly of the U.S. Catholic Bishops to present the lessons learned through the Journeying Together process, its national gathering “Alive in Christ” in Chicago earlier in the summer, and their hopes for the outcomes moving forward. What follows is the transcript of their historical address.

Most Rev. Arturo Cepeda (Opening Remarks)

If we journey together, young and old, we can be firmly rooted in the present, and from here, revisit the past and look to the future… Together, we can learn from one another, warm hearts, inspire minds with the light of the Gospel, and lend new strength to our hands.” (CV 199)

Such are the words of Pope Francis in Christus Vivit, which inspired the participants in the “Alive in Christ: Young, Diverse, Prophetic Voices, Journeying Together” earlier this summer in Chicago. In fact, for the past several years, we have done just what Pope Francis suggests: We have rooted ourselves in the reality of the present as it is being experienced by young adults and those who minister among our young people now; but we also explored the historical memory from the perspective of every cultural group and dared to dream of where can go in the future. This process included mutual learning and listening, intentionally creating safe and “sacred” spaces where young people can feel listened to and the warmth of belonging, the inspiration of our faith tradition, and actively working on future-focused projects.

Over the course of two years, from mid-2020 through mid-2022, we met regularly over zoom for hard, but necessary, conversations about faith and life, about the joys and sorrows afflicting young people today, their relationship with the Church, about the need for inclusion of young voices in all our deliberations, and about the valuing of the gifts young adults bring to the Church and, on behalf of the Church, to the society and communities where they live and operate. We also had an opportunity to dive deeper into the issues that young people raised up to our attention and that were of deep concern to them: immigration, racism, climate issues, and social justice work.

Despite the new wave of COVID cases around the country and the massive flight cancellations and delays of the early summer, 335 young adults, ministry leaders, and bishops were able to come together for a four-day in-person encounter experience in Chicago. We had a planned schedule, to be sure. However, the synodal nature of the process allowed us to adapt the program as challenges arose – which they did – and to address the issues with directness and pastoral responsivity. This was, to me, one of the highlights, and one great outcome of this synodal model. It isn’t perfect but is effective. Or, in the words of Archbishop Nelson Pérez, during the closing homily, “it was real.”

We prayed together, broke bread together, learned skills together, and worked on action planning together. The trust we had built up over two straight years of zoom meetings helped us navigate any rough waters we encountered. Journeying Together demonstrated that there is a strong thirst for inclusion, addressing historical trauma and current wounds, an acknowledgement of gifts, and for innovation in formation and accompaniment of young people. It also revealed that young adults of all cultures are serving and want to serve and be an integral part of our Catholic Church.

We discovered that there is excellent leadership currently among the young within all our cultural communities – and we didn’t have to dig far to find it through the Journeying Together process. In most cases all they needed was to be seen and heard, an invitation to serve, and a word of encouragement.

We also learned that young adults are not all in the same place. They have different needs and lived experiences. Spaces need to be created in faith communities at the local level to cultivate a sense of belonging for all. Perhaps most importantly, we saw what Pope Francis has been telling us all along: that young people are not a commodity or goals on a strategic plan. Rather, they are protagonists in the history of our faith and in the Church’s mission of evangelization, working side-by-side with us as their shepherds.

In that spirit, I will stop talking and yield my time to two young adults who have been actively engaged with the bishops in this process. Let me introduce to you Cecilia Flores from the Diocese of Sacramento and Rudy Dehaney from the Archdiocese of Baltimore.­­­

Mr. Rudy Dehaney, Archdiocese of Baltimore

Director/Campus Minister, Faith Formation Center, Northeast Catholic Community/Notre Dame, Baltimore, Maryland; Co-Chair, Journeying Together Post Event Task Group

Thank you, Bishop Cepeda and the conference of Catholic Bishops for this opportunity to speak at the plenary session today about this journeying together process. I want to start today with a story. This story begins with my personal background and ends with a response to one of those real moments in Chicago mentioned and what we can take from that experience. As a young adult lay minister born and raised in Baltimore to Jamaican parents, I carry my faith and culture everywhere I go. I love different aspects of my work and life, but for those who know me, one of my greatest passions is music.

Most recognize me as the guy who is always wearing his headphones and who is singing a song for any and every occasion. It is these moments that I am happiest. Growing up, I was exposed to many different types of music but on Sunday mornings, Gospel music could be heard at home or at Church later at my home parish of Blessed Sacrament. I still like to sing my favorite hymns to clap to at random moments in a week or share my passion and love with others as part of campus ministry at Notre Dame Maryland. Gospel, a style of music shared with other faith filled African Americans, holds great cultural, historical and faith significance to me and has greatly shaped who I am today.

For many fellow young adults from the Black Catholic cultural family, it holds that same significance. So, as we were in Chicago and casually gathered together as a group on that first night, we were speculating and anticipating what songs we would hear the next day at Mass and started to sing a few of our favorite songs. You could hear us at the hotel bar area singing very loudly songs such as Total Praise or Hallelujah, Salvation and Glory.  As we would sing together and remember the songs we grew up on, there were genuine moments of joy we had in our hearts together that night.

And so, when we did not hear the following day those songs that we thought represented our culture and our history at Mass, we felt disappointed over the missed opportunity of authenticity. This is not the first and only time we have felt this way being in Church spaces, as this type of thing happens all the time. It’s not even unique to our culture. You can say that you get used to it, but you never really do. You do learn to somewhat live with the expectation that nothing will really change. But is it something that can be fixed? In this instance, would it be possible? Turns out, it was. All the relationships needed to make it happen were already in place.

A group of young adults from the AA/Black cultural family invited Cecilia over that night in the Hotel bar area to be a listening ear on how we felt. She heard us lament and sing another round of renditions of songs such as Total Praise and Hallelujah, Salvation, and Glory again for all to hear. And so, Cecilia, as the good person she is, told her good friend Archbishop Perez, who could also hear us singing, what she heard from us. And through those built relationships, we were given the opportunity to sing at the closing Mass in which Archbishop Perez was the celebrant. With only 30 minutes of rehearsal, what were to sing? That’s right: Total Praise and Hallelujah, Salvation and Glory. We have been rehearsing all of this time it seems and we were ready and willing to step up in the moment for an authentic encounter that we felt true to our culture and faith and made for a powerful experience to all who were there and a part of our Journeying together experience.

This story is a representation of some of the “dreams” young adults, active in both their faith and culture, envision and work towards honesty, awareness, acknowledgement, inclusion, and healing. In these dreams and others are why Cecilia, I and young adults from across the US engaged in this process of journeying together with many of the bishops here. My story and this experience are but one of many. We all carry our own experiences, histories, challenges, and gifts from God that we bring to this Church. Waiting to be in a relationship with someone to be heard. To truly know that all are welcome, served, and loved by God.  To see the recognition and dismantling of systems of racism, violence, and marginalization wherever they occur. Hearing our stories told and acknowledging cultural elements that shape our lived reality while honoring the faith we collectively share. We spent time in Chicago to talk about these dreams and how we can make it happen together, to be Catholic in the truest sense of the word.

Thank you for this time and I will turn it over to Cecilia.

Ms. Cecilia Marie Flores, Diocese of Sacramento

Community Organizer. Chair, Young Adult Multicultural Advisory Committee, Journeying Together

Thank you to the USCCB and in particular to the Committee on Cultural Diversity for convening the Journeying Together process and persevering through the pandemic, and all of the bishops and who journeyed together with us along the way. As my brother Rudy shared, throughout this process, there were moments of joy, but also moments of hurt and tension - which perhaps appeared and felt chaotic.

In the midst of it all, the Holy Spirit revealed to me a greater reality happening that brought me great joy and hope. It was the joy of seeing shepherds being shepherds, and disciples of the Lord being disciples. As young adults expressed their pain, elders listened and supported them, and Bishops tended to their flock in real time. This isn’t the church we experience everyday - more often we experience rejection, division, and clericalism. But the Church that we long to have and be existed during this process, in those spaces, and in those moments.

I was reminded of a principle heard often in community organizing in difficulty, turn to wonder: I wonder what it would be like if we could live church like this every day? I wonder what could happen if young adults felt seen, loved, heard, fought for, and trusted? And I wonder what it would take for us to get there?

The issues that surfaced from the Journeying Together process echo and deepen what we young adults have been saying over the past several years and can be summarized in two points:

1.            Our stories, our cultures, and our lived realities are important and must be considered when discussing our pastoral care.

2.            Creating sacred space for conversation, fostering personal relationships and intergenerational dialogue is desperately needed.

Journeying Together provided us the opportunity to address these issues, and from the process emerged a new community of leaders with a desire to embark on mission to share their gifts with the Church and the world. Perhaps you are all asking, so what happens now? Often when Church leadership has not provided what we needed, we have taken the steps to meet our own needs. We who participated in this process are committed to giving our all to meet the needs surfaced by our brothers and sisters. This has already started and is taking on many forms: creating virtual communities, holding post-event gatherings, forming regional support groups, and providing resources to replicate the process we underwent.

But most importantly - we are committed to model and embody the community that we wish to build in the church, recognizing that the change starts with us. With me, with all young adults, with our elders, but also with you, our shepherds, our fathers.

My Bishop, Jaime Soto of Sacramento, once said during a college Baccalaureate mass:

To converse is human. To converse well is divine.

God created the world with a conversation.

We are part of God’s ongoing conversation with the world.

He has something to say to the world, and that is why we are here. 

May your conversations be an extension of God’s creative work.

May they build up and not destroy.

We have all heard that young adults are leaving the church. However, there are also amazing ministries being led by young adults throughout the US. And though we may seem jaded and discontent with church leadership, the reality is that this reveals something deeper - that we have a deep desire to be in relationship and conversation with you all, our shepherds, our fathers. To be known by you. To be loved by you. To be called by our names, fought for, and guided by you. There are countless young adults who deeply love our Lord and our Church, who are ready and willing to step into leadership that need guidance, mentorship, and support. Your support. Your encouragement. Your trust.

On behalf of all the young adults that Rudy and I represent, I now invite you, our shepherds, our fathers, to turn to wonder - What would it take for the young adults under your pastoral care to feel seen, loved, heard, fought for, and trusted by you? How can you enter an on-going conversation with them? And how can that conversation be part of a collaborative and co-creative relationship with the Divine?

Our journey together is not over - and we look forward to continuing it with all of you. Thank you.

 Bishop Cepeda closing remarks: 

Thank you, Rudy, and Cecilia. Thank you for your witness, thank you for your questions, and thank you for your service to the Church. I am happy to hear all the emerging ideas that are coming forth from this process. And thanks to all who participated both in Chicago and in the virtual process for your collaboration in this shared mission with us, your bishops.

In this process, we have learned that:  we cannot make plans for ministries with youth and young adults – or any ministry in the Catholic Church, for that matter – without also looking at the rich diversity of cultures, communities, and expressions of faith present in our young Catholic population – and –  we must be more attentive to the wounds and what still needs healing and reconciliation. We also came to learn that this dialogue – and any planning for ministry – needs to be done in an intergenerational way.

The Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, which has been collaborating with us on this initiative, is currently working on a draft of the Conference’s National Pastoral Framework on Youth and Young Adults, which should come before you in the coming year. We hope that lessons learned through Journeying Together and the wisdom of young people will be integrated into this important document.

However, another important lesson is that we need to connect and make room for young people in all the activities and work of the Church in this country, whether they relate to ministries with youth and young adults. In each of our Catholic communities and in every one of our initiatives, there must be a radical infusion of young voices from all cultures.

I am happy to know that this is already taking place in our planning for the Eucharistic Revival and that there exists a multicultural young adult advisory group at the Conference offering us creative ideas and new directions, but it cannot stop there. Let’s commit to finding new ways to foster their protagonism in our Church at all levels!

A group of staff and volunteers are working hard to finalize the Proceedings after our encounter event in Chicago, as well as preparing a toolbox for those looking to replicate this Journeying Together model at the local or organizational level. They should be ready within the next few months. 

Finally, let’s not forget the call that Pope Francis made in his message to all participants in the Journeying Together process and especially to us as shepherds. It is the Holy Father’s hope that “under the guidance of their pastors, young people will be generous and active protagonists, committed to serving the poor, caring for our common home, and spreading God’s kingdom of justice, mercy, and love.