By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator

(Second in a series)

For the Catholic Church, learning to communicate with millennials can be as frustrating as learning a new language.

But young Catholics assured church leaders that consistent effort and honest, timeless messages of hope, acceptance and support do not need translation, can be understood and keep them engaged.

The church can begin its outreach by explaining its traditions and history to young Catholics and trust they are interested, millennials and post-millennials say.

Trey Parker, a sophomore at Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University in Baton Rouge, said he enjoys Mass and looking at it through the perspective of its Jewish roots.

“I see how it (the Mass) is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. It’s not just a loaf of bread, that’s God up there on the altar,” said Parker.

He believes the church does a good job in reaching out to young Catholics. Although he believes the church is important, he added it does not do enough in helping youth cultivate their faith so they have the tools to make wise decisions.

Having “gone from youth group to youth group” in his teens, Parker said he discovered he had to do most of his faith formation on his own and share it because it wasn’t going to be handed down to him.

He said in his experiences in various church parishes a personal encounter with Jesus and the intellectual component of the faith was not emphasized enough.

“I participated in a lot of parish functions, and I don’t think they are pushing young people,” Parker said. “I don’t feel that as a young person I can push any barriers to know ‘Yeah, it’s possible for me to be a saint … that it’s possible to reach the height of holiness.’ ”

He added, “The youth are burning … they are burning … they are seeking purpose, they are seeking fulfillment … One of the saddest things is that the church does offer (the way) to the fulfillment of the human person, but it isn’t effectively communicated to the youth and that’s why a lot of people leave the church seeking that fulfillment.”

Such fulfillment can be found through practices such as eucharistic adoration, which is a top-mentioned tradition of the church among millennials.

“My favorite tradition of the Catholic Church would be adoration,” said Danielle Magruder, 22, a member of St. Albert the Great Chapel and Student Center in Hammond.  “There is something so powerful to me about being in the true presence of Christ. I remember experiencing adoration at Steubenville on the Bayou and it is forever instilled in my memory.”

For Hunter Williams, 19, a graduate of Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, his good experiences at Immaculate Conception Church in Baton Rouge leads him to say “this is my home” even though he is now a sophomore at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

“They treat me like family,” said Williams.

He said the church should continue to work on its social media presence while encouraging adults to invest in the lives of young Catholics, which is beneficial for everyone.

“We’re all learning at the same time,” Williams said.

Such frequent positive encounters with the Lord are essential for young Catholics building careers and families.

Aubrey Jones and wife, Lindsey Robinson-Jones, also members of ICC, are busy balancing their faith with their careers and raising two children, Robinson, 10, and Reese, 7.

Aubrey, a prevention specialist for the I CARE Program for the East Baton Rouge School System, said the church should broaden its platforms for young people to voice their concerns, including having a presence in traditional Catholic media outlets and a place at the church table when it comes to making decisions.

“As an educator, the new classroom is student driven and mainly facilitated by the teacher. Our church must work to catch up with the current times,” said Jones.

He acknowledged it can be hard to consistently meet with young people because of their obligations outside of the church, but he encouraged the church to still extend the invitation.

He further recommended the church be more transparent on its past transgressions, such as clergy abuse cases.

“We live in the information age and there is still a mysterious cloud that looms over our church concerning those issues.  This is a large reason why many young people are inactive or have departed from the church,” Jones said.

Young Catholics confirmed they hear the church’s variety of messages directed to them, but what they seek most is a humble, heartfelt appeal, “We need you.”

Tuan and Allison Pham, parents of young children and parishioners of St. Aloysius Church in Baton Rouge, said the church makes great strides in reaching out to young Catholics through Bible studies, activities geared toward young Catholics with similar interests and concentrating on the specific needs they raise or are important to them.  But they urged the church to strengthen its efforts to reach young adult Catholics, especially after they graduate from high school.

“We do feel like there is an involvement gap in parish community life for young Catholics between college and when they start families.  All of our parish communities and the church overall should focus on activities and ministries that reach this age group. We should all take ownership of this and make better efforts to meet and greet all, including young Catholics, into our churches,” said Allison.

She said recruiting young people in “casting the net” will keep them engaged while bringing home non-active Catholics.

“Take the lead from the active young professionals involved in the church as to how better reach those that are inactive.  Find out what draws them in and keeps them and work to reach others with those suggestions,” Allison said.

The Phams, and other Catholics, urged the church to embrace, not be afraid of, young Catholics and their ideas and opinions, because they love the church.

“I think that the heart of the church, especially the bishops, in that regard is in the right place, but there’s still a disconnect. So much has changed so fast with the millennial generation and even Gen Z that it’s hard to keep up with what the needs are,” said Hailey DeLaune, 27, a member of St. Margaret Church in Albany and campus minister at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Hammond.

She encouraged the church as a whole as well as its institutions to ask young adults their opinions directly and more often.

“I feel like we’re kept out of the loop and generalized and talked about more often than actually talked to by older generations of Catholics,” DeLaune said.

She assured church leaders they simply want the church to be its best.

“Young practicing Catholics just need to feel needed in the church. Not like we’re waiting in line to take the place of the ‘old folks’ when they vacate their positions. We want to be invited to be involved now. To feel like our thoughts and opinions and ideas are valid despite our youth,” DeLaune said.