Men and women in their late teens, twenties, and thirties are among the least active voters in the United States, but they can also be among the most passionate and energetic Americans on a variety of issues. Furthermore, over the last several years, these young adults have been increasingly involved in volunteer work and community organizing movements across the country.
In Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility, the bishops of the United States remind us: “In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation” (no. 13). The decisions we make as citizens about who leads us and what policies are enacted have important moral and ethical dimensions. The values of our faith should be our guide to public life.
When developing activities and educational programs, those who work with young adults should be aware of trends such as declining church attendance and involvement in parish life and a widening gap between Church teaching and beliefs or perceptions of young adults. Programs for young adults should include both a rich catechetical component and a strong evangelization component. This is to ensure that young adults are not just formed in their faith, but also engaged and excited about these issues and about the Catholic tradition which teaches them. Below are some suggestions that may prove helpful in these regards.
Programs can be implemented on either the parish or diocesan level, and can be as simple or elaborate as the leader chooses. They can be incorporated over several weeks and months, or they can be the focus of a single event or gathering, depending upon how much time is available.
Many of these suggestions can be used specifically for men and women in their late teens, twenties, and thirties, or they can be done in an intergenerational context with people of all ages. However, given the interest of many young adults in social networking, keeping these activities focused on young adults or certain demographics of young adults may be ideal.
When developing content and schedules for the familiar Theology-on-Tap program (or any other similar speaker-and-social series for young adults), consider adding a Faithful Citizenship component. Local Catholic civic leaders and public officials are excellent choices for speakers, as are community organizers, policy experts, and local activists. These speakers might talk to young adults about how their faith influences their work in government or the political sphere. It is extremely important to ensure that all programs and events are nonpartisan. Before inviting any political officials or candidates to speak at your event, make sure such events are consistent with diocesan policy. It is also important that all candidates be invited to any event. A helpful resource to assist you is Do’s and Don’ts: Political Responsibility Guidelines to Keep in Mind during Election Season. For discussion-oriented Theology-on-Tap sessions, leaders may consider using the various themes in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship as the presentation topics or in a regular series of programs. The Coffee Discussion Guide and General Discussion Questions are two resources on the Faithful Citizenship website that can be used to help spark discussion in small groups after a presentation.
Young Adult Prayer Vigils
Using the themes from Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, leaders can organize a series of prayer vigils over a period of weeks, months, or other regular intervals. There can be prayer vigils for an end to abortion, poverty, war, or the death penalty, for immigrants or victims of terrorism, for policies that respect the environment, human rights, or the family, and for the resolution of many other issues addressed by the bishops in the statement. These prayer vigils can be done during the daytime or by candlelight in the evening, at local churches or outside of businesses, government facilities, hospitals, or any place fitting the occasion. Vigils outside of church property should be in accordance with diocesan policy and all the legal permits and permissions required by the local municipality should also be attained.
Voter Registration Drive
Active young adults at a parish or diocese can lead and run a voter registration drive at mass or in other civic settings. Young adult presence at the registration table is a witness to peers and other adults that voting is important to young people. As part of the registration drive or after Mass or other Catholic events, young adults can also hand out copies of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. Learn more about voter registration and education.
Young Adult Small Groups
Host small-faith-sharing groups on Faithful Citizenship using the Adult Education and Small Faith Community Sharing session plans. Small groups can be organized among collegians, singles, engaged or married couples, families, or among Catholics with shared lifestyles such as commuters, stay-at-home parents, graduate students, and so forth.
Young Adult Prayer Service for Faithful Citizenship
Organizing a special prayer service for young adults with an emphasis on Faithful Citizenship would be a great way to involve young Catholics outside Sunday worship. Prayer services can be held around national holidays or memorials (Memorial Day, Independence Day, etc.) or certain feast days of saints who are associated with civic life or with one or more of the various issues important to Catholic voters.
To attract young adults, it is good to develop the service in a unique style that would appeal to those audiences such as Liturgy of the Hours, gospel, meditation, taize, or praise and worship. Especially with collegians and twenty-somethings, it is recommended that such an activity would include good use of technology and audio-visual components. The prayer service should also be led by young adults or by the peers of the target audience (i.e. collegians, singles, couples, etc.).
Make sure that the young adults you serve are aware of new resources on the Faithful Citizenship website (www.faithfulcitizenship.org) that will be of special appeal to this age group. Catholic Social Teaching podcasts and a Faithful Citizenship video make use of technology to reach this audience. Other websites, such as Busted Halo (www.bustedhalo.com), an outreach of Paulist Fathers, angles many of its stories and information toward adults in their late teens, twenties, and thirties searching for spiritual answers and is a great source for information and discussion on many of the issues contained in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.
Young Adult Mini-Conference
Consider hosting a one-day mini-conference for area young adults using Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship as a guide. The conference format, as opposed to the retreat format, is more informational and networking focused. This activity would be great for busy young adults who cannot commit to a weekend retreat. The flow of the conference would be determined by the leaders; however, the sections could be easily adapted from the Faithful Citizenship statement. Scripture readings and discussion questions related to different sections of the statement are also available in the Adult Faithsharing Sessions at www.faithfulcitizenship.org in the “Parishes and Schools” section. Local speakers, experts, and Catholic leaders would be excellent presenters, and a mini-conference might easily appeal to young adults outside of the parish community.
Young Adult Service Projects
Being faithful citizens means putting our faith into action. One of the most important ways to emphasize this aspect of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship with young adults is to sponsor one or a series of service projects related to Catholic concerns about poverty, life issues, the environment, senior care, housing, or other issues. Aiming the service project directly at young adults of certain ages makes the programs more appealing for those who are looking to serve those in need as well as network with a peer community through structured activities.
Many Young Adult Ministry programs do a great job offering service opportunities on a regular basis. However, too many Young Adult Ministry programs do not effectively engage participants in social analysis and education. Before and after service activities, through time set aside for reflection and discussion, young adults should be encouraged to examine the underlying causes of the immediate problems their service efforts address. For example, before and after serving those who are hungry, young adults can be asked to reflect in small groups on excerpts from Faithful Citizenship that relate to the issue and relevant CST principles. Participants can discuss root causes of problems, such as why people are hungry and what opportunities our society offers for us to change those conditions. Likewise, young adults should be encouraged to become involved in advocacy and political responsibility education. It is important to demonstrate to all Catholics that voting and helping to shape policies that protect human life and promote justice and peace are part of what it means to be an active Catholic.
Debate and Discussion Nights
During the election year, bringing young adults together around special events can help create dialogue and discussion on the issues mentioned in Faithful Citizenship. “Debate and discussion nights” during the presidential debates or gatherings on the nights of the conventions and on election night itself can create community among young adults and provide a forum for a facilitated conversation on the issues. Food and refreshments can be served to enhance the social networking and fellowship of the young adults in attendance.
Because of the polarizing aspects of a debate or other televised political events, ground rules should be set for a healthy conversation during these kinds of events. The gatherings may attract young adults from various political perspectives but all should be encouraged to keep in mind that the goal of the activity is to achieve a better understanding of the issues and the Catholic perspective, not to provide a forum for opposing sides to battle with each other.
Young Adult Movie Night
Gather young adults together for a popular movie about social issues, American history, or political figures, followed by a discussion or presentation on the topics raised in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. Serve popcorn, treats, or other refreshments during the movie and set aside some time after the showing to talk in small groups or as a large group about what issues the film brought to light, and to raise questions based on Faithful Citizenship.
Young Parents Sessions
Bring together young adults who are parents to discuss Faithful Citizenship issues that are important to their lives such as life issues, the economy, the environment, job security, and others. These can be done in collaboration with baptism preparation or faith formation with young children. Ideas for encouraging discussion on Faithful Citizenship within families can be found in the Family Guide to Faithful Citizenship.
Promote Activism and Involvement
Young adult Americans live in the wealthiest nation in the world, and even if young adults are not themselves rich, they can do their part to eliminate poverty and to promote human life and dignity through activism, volunteerism, and involvement. It is important to help all Catholics understand that voting and helping to shape policies that protect human life and promote justice and peace are part of what it means to be an active Catholic.
Parish and diocesan leaders can encourage community and civic participation among young adults who have the time and energy, and provide resources for political activism on the issues raised in Faithful Citizenship. Young adults should be encouraged to lead and participate in "lobby days" sponsored by state Catholic conferences, parish letter-writing campaigns to decision-makers about issues of justice and peace, and other advocacy activities. For ongoing information about advocacy opportunities, contact your diocesan social action or pro-life office, your state Catholic conference, or the USCCB.
General Suggestions for Parish and Diocesan Ministry to Young Adults
Infuse the Civic Responsibility Message into What You’re Already Doing
Prayers and Liturgies: Opening and closing prayers at parish masses can include special intentions for those whose lives are at risk, for those suffering from injustice, for political leaders who make important decisions, and, close to the election, for those who will be voting for our leaders. Sample general intercessions are included in the Ideas for Prayer and Liturgy.
Regular Faith Sharing Meetings/Events
In addition to offering new events focused specifically on the Church’s teaching on civic responsibility, existing programs can weave this topic into other discussions. For example, if small faith sharing communities are already meeting on campus, they could focus on Faithful Citizenship as part of one of their regular sessions.
Promote Citizenship but Avoid Partisanship
Young adult ministers can play an important role in promoting Faithful Citizenship. However, it is not appropriate for parish and diocesan leaders to promote partisan positions on candidates or parties. For more information, see Do’s and Don’ts: Political Responsibility Guidelines to Keep in Mind during Election Season in the Diocesan and Community Leaders section of the Faithful Citizenship website.
Do What You Can
Efforts to share the Church’s tradition of civic responsibility can be as simple as asking a couple of questions during a meeting or as sophisticated as a campus-wide voter education campaign. The first step for most parish and diocesan leaders is to become familiar with the basic message by reading the bishops’ Faithful Citizenship statement and the brochure that summarizes it. Then decide what is realistic in your unique context, and do as much as you can to weave this message into your Young Adult Ministry outreach, formation, and evangelization programs.