Why is Change Urgent?

“Give a person a fish and she/he will eat for a day; teach a person to fish and he/she will eat forever.” (Chniese proverb)

Hunger is universal but not all hungers are physical. People of all ages hunger for nourishment beyond our physical needs. How do we satisfy the longings of the human heart? The longing for meaning? For understanding one’s place in the world? For making sense of the world around us?

How do we help our young people fill their hunger for the divine? For something or Someone bigger than they are?  How do we help our young people find Jesus, who, in turn, hungers for their presence? How do we help young people satisfy their hunger with Jesus who says, “I am the Bread of life; the one who comes to me will not hunger”? (John 6:34)

There is an Urgent Need

 There is an urgent need in our society and in the Church to help our young people know, love and serve Jesus.  The National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) reports that while many of our Catholic young people believe in God and in Jesus, and even in his social teachings,  few are able to articulate their beliefs in coherent ways.  For example, few are able to connect their inherent beliefs with faith practices that are traditional in the Catholic Church.  Statistics show that participation in the sacramental life of the Church is declining rapidly at all levels. Relatively few adolescents remain engaged as practicing Catholics after the sacrament of Confirmation. This poses huge pastoral challenges for the church at local, diocesan and national levels and especially for the long-term faith development of the young people themselves.

Committed Discipleship

How do we help our young people become committed disciples of the Risen Lord, who invites them to fullness of life?  How do we help young people already committed to following Jesus in their daily lives deepen and continue that relationship?  How do we speak to young people who have great differences in education and experience?

These questions motivate many adults, parents, and those involved in the pastoral mission of the Church to do something different. They especially stir the imaginations of catechetical leaders in parishes and Catholic schools to think and act differently. The questions point to an issue of critical importance for the Church, not only in one locale or place, but throughout the country.

What Can We Do?

How can we respond to this challenge that may seem beyond our ability to do anything about he situation?

Out of deep concern for our young people, three major Church organizations dedicated to the faith formation and education of young people have joined together to form The Partnership for Adolescent Catechesis (PAC).  Together they are seeking to respond to this challenge of adolescent faith formation through a national initiative on adolescent catechesis.  This initiative seeks to assist the Church in the United States by highlighting the challenge before us and offering an innovative response, rather than a program.

It is impossible to impose a single program across the country dedicated to deepening catechetical involvement of adolescents. We have learned through experience that a single program will not work for everyone. 

What is needed is a change in mindset and approaches, not another program that becomes the latest buzz word then dies out after a strong start. Parishes and dioceses need a long-term and sustainable process that engages young people in their faith. How do we do that in our dioceses, parishes and schools?  How do we engage young people truly to become disciples of the Risen Lord in our day?

 What is presented here is something more basic, more local.  It is now time to teach our young people to fish so they will eat for a lifetime. 

In the following pages, the Partnership for Adolescent Catechesis will  introduce you to a process aimed at helping local churches develop their own process for inviting and engaging young people in the life of discipleship.  You will learn how important it is to have a community of faith involved in the religious formation and education of our adolescents.  You will see that neither a strictly doctrinal approach nor a simple experiential approach can help to form adolescents into disciples of the Lord. 

You will learn how to become fishers of adolescents, at the local level. In a matter of speaking, you will learn how to fish in a new age…how to help your local church help itself in reaching, feeding, leading young people to greater faith in Christ Jesus.  The fruit of such discipleship shows itself in greater commitment to, with, and in the community of faith we call the church.

Our young people are hungry.  It is our privilege and responsibility to learn to fish so we can feed them lovingly and with the best we have to offer.  In so doing, we hunger for the fruit such feeding may bring about: that they may teach others to fish as well.

Next: What we know.