The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 1, 2000 Issue
Bishop Banks' Corner

Bishop Robert J. Banks
Bishop Robert J. Banks

Between teens and the Boomers

Young adult Catholics can, and do, change the world in which we live

By Bishop Robert Banks

Last week, I had an enjoyable get-together with a group of about 100 young adults at St. Joseph's Church in Appleton. We began with Mass and then adjourned to the nearby Jones Park for a cookout, games and music. I began to fade when the games and music started, but I made sure I lasted through the cookout.

The best part of a young adult gathering is that the young adults do it all. They plan it, organize it, carry it out and clean up. It is not just an older version of a teenage or high school outing.

"Young adult" covers a lot of territory, from the recent high school graduate through the 30-ish parents of very young children. Although I am willing to consider anyone 55 and under as young, because 55 marks the beginning of that new baby-boomer generation, "young adult" activities usually are aimed at those in their 20's and 30's.

Back 40 years ago, when I was a young priest, I don't remember there being much emphasis on young adult activities. The focus was on the CYO and teenagers. By the time young people reached their mid-20s, many of them were married parents. They were fair game for the regular parish organizations like the Holy Name Society or the Christian Mothers.

Things are different today. At the gathering last Saturday, part of our conversation with the young adults, as we feasted on brats and beans, was the fact that young people today often plan to put off marriage and parenthood until the late 20's or even the early 30's.

Another factor is the reluctance of people of any age today to join societies. One well-known sociologist has commented on the fact that people don't even like to join bowling leagues. It is no wonder that all organizations, from the Knights of Columbus to the Christian Mothers, have difficulty recruiting younger members.

Even more troubling for churches is the drop-off of interest in organized religion among those whom we call "young adults." I remember in Boston when we had the first archdiocesan gathering of young adults, the most common comment by those who came was that they were surprised so many young people were interested in church. The same comment was made by a couple of those who came to the Jones Park gathering.

It can happen that a young adult Catholic who takes religion seriously enough to go to church regularly will feel he or she is the only one in the office or workplace who does. It is a great help when these young adult Catholics find out that there really are other young adult Catholics.

This is one of the reasons that our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has promoted World Youth Days and has given himself so generously to taking part in the activities of those days. World Youth Days are aimed principally, not at teenagers, but at the youngest of the young adults. The Holy Father wants these important members of the Church to see and to be encouraged by being with hundreds of thousands of young people from all over the world.

Bp. Morneau has been our episcopal representative at the World Youth Days in Poland, Denver, Paris and Rome. Each time, he has returned with stories of young people who were amazed and enthused by being part of such a tremendous celebration of the Catholic faith. For a year after the celebration in Denver, I continued to run across young people from our diocese who were present for that celebration and who still spoke of how it lifted up their spirits and their interest in Church.

Here in northeast Wisconsin, it is important that we help young adults to provide opportunities where they can come together to encourage one another in their faith life. You will notice that I put the responsibility on the young adults rather than on diocesan staff. We do have Sr. Peg Gabik working on young adult activities in our diocesan office, but the leadership for any young adult activity has to come from the young adults themselves. And it does.

When I talk about young adults, I am not thinking of people whom we have to help, or whose hands we have to hold. I am thinking of people who can and do change the world we live in. We see it in science, politics, sports and so many other areas. We have seen it in the history of our Church. Beginning with Jesus, who probably began his public ministry when he was in his 20's, and moving on to famous saints like Francis and Therese of Liseux, to name only a few. And we shall see it as our Church moves through the present and into the future.

The task of us old-timers is to make sure that our young people hear the Gospel, meet the Lord, feel the Spirit. The Lord will do the rest.

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