June 29, 2018

Young adults who love the faith believe parishes need to embrace their generation

Julia Puscas, left, and Meghan Gehrich are young adult Catholics who love and live their Catholic faith. Here, Puscas introduces Gehrich, the youth ministry coordinator at St. Mary Parish in Greensburg, before she shared a faith-related talk with the teenagers who participated in the archdiocese’s Homeland Mission program during the week of June 11-15. Puscas coordinated the program in which teenagers from across the archdiocese spend the week serving the poor and vulnerable in Indianapolis. Gehrich shared her talk in a classroom at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Julia Puscas, left, and Meghan Gehrich are young adult Catholics who love and live their Catholic faith. Here, Puscas introduces Gehrich, the youth ministry coordinator at St. Mary Parish in Greensburg, before she shared a faith-related talk with the teenagers who participated in the archdiocese’s Homeland Mission program during the week of June 11-15. Puscas coordinated the program in which teenagers from across the archdiocese spend the week serving the poor and vulnerable in Indianapolis. Gehrich shared her talk in a classroom at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

Third part in a continuing series
(Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4 | Part 5)

When Pope Francis invited young people to share their thoughts on the Church and their faith, Megan Gehrich and Zach Mocek embraced the opportunity.

The two young adults wanted to explain how much their Catholic faith and the Church mean to their lives.

At the same time, they welcomed the pope’s request—in a 2017 letter to young people around the world—to voice “even your doubts and your criticism.”

Gehrich and Mocek also appreciated knowing that their responses to a survey would be part of the process that Pope Francis will use to guide the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment that will take place in October at the Vatican.

The synod is in response to a critical reality in the life of the Church. It’s a reality expressed in an introduction to the archdiocese’s summary of all the people in central and southern Indiana who responded to the survey: “About 25 percent of our teens and half of our young adults [ages 18-35] do not sense that our Church is adept at listening to their lived situations. This consultation process is a good step in that direction.”

(Related story: How can parishes help young people make major life choices?)

It’s a reality that both Gehrich and Mocek are aware of, a reality they both have tried to change in their service to the Church. So they took advantage of the opportunity to share their insights on the gifts that the Catholic faith offers young people—and what the Church should be doing to have a greater impact on the lives of youths and young adults.

“Working with young people every day and also being a young adult, I feel it is my responsibility to advocate for them, and this invitation was an opportunity to do just that,” says 29-year-old Gehrich, the youth ministry coordinator at St. Mary Parish in Greensburg.

“What an incredible chance to share my thoughts on how important it is for young people to feel that they have an important role and mission within the Church.”

So what are some ways that Gehrich and Mocek believe the Church can improve in the areas of inviting, involving and inspiring young people to a greater connection to the Catholic faith?

‘Where we struggle, where we need to grow’

At 29, Mocek sees the need for a greater focus on welcoming young people, especially at the parish level.

“The way the Church can improve is in its attention to young adults,” says Mocek, who served as a pastoral associate at Holy Family Parish in New Albany before recently taking a position as a hospital chaplain in Fort Wayne, Ind. “When I say that phrase, it conjures up college-aged students home for vacation. However, I feel and have experienced that the young adult [after graduation from college] has no role in the parish.”

He believes that “the single young person feels out of place with families, married couples and older people.”

He sees a similar reality for newly married couples who don’t have children, couples “who are going through the changes of newly married life.”

“There is also a new group of young people that we have not even discussed— the divorced or widowed, whether through the instance of a marriage falling apart too early, or the loss of a spouse through an act of God or military action,” he says. “Where do they fit into our structured, unchanging lives of the parish?

“The wider Church I feel notices these individuals and persons, but I feel like the improvement on these examples needs to be made on the parish level. The local Church can bring it to the attention of everyone, and the parish can be the hub where people come for help and are given it. This I believe is where we struggle, and where we need to grow.”

Gehrich has a similar view.

“One thing that I have heard from others is that some programming could be adapted and added so that all young people can identify at least one organization that they can be involved in at their own parish,” she says. “We have a lot of programs for kids and teens and older individuals, but we need more or updated young adult programming at a parish level.”

Mocek and Gehrich are also in agreement about two other important elements concerning the Church and young people.

They both see the great gifts that the Catholic faith offers young people, and they both see the great gifts that young people offer the Church.

After all, they’ve seen the difference that combination has made in their own lives.

‘What I love about the Church’

“The Church and my faith have always been a major role in my life,” Mocek says. “My family helped out at our parish all the time. I was involved in youth ministry in high school, campus ministry in college, and I worked in campus ministry as a grad student. My wife and I met at a campus ministry function, and bonded over our love for the faith and our experiences in youth ministry.

“These experiences shaped my life and my worldview. It encouraged me to go into Church ministry and give back what I have received from the Church and my faith.”

For Gehrich, her Catholic faith and being part of the Church uplifts her during the good times and strengthens her during the tough times.

“My faith and my experience of Church give me hope,” she says. “I cannot imagine having to navigate the heartache of the world without my faith. As a young person, my faith is something I know can never be taken from me. The Church gives me a place of peace and community.”

It also gives her a universal connection in the world.

“What I love about the Church is knowing that every hour of the day all around the world, people are praying at Mass, people are sharing in faith groups, people are working to inspire students to take their friendship with God to the next level.

“This world gets pretty heavy sometimes, and the Church and my faith mean that I know I have a support system of believers all over the world, and that’s truly powerful.”

‘We are a valuable part of the Church’

What’s also powerful for Gehrich and Mocek is how the Church—at the local level and the global level—is making serious attempts to connect with youths and young adults.

World Youth Day gatherings and archdiocesan youth days bring teenagers together, showing them they are not alone in their faith, Mocek says. And he appreciates how the archdiocese’s Theology on Tap get‑togethers bring the Catholic faith to young adults in informal, social settings.

Gehrich also feels supported by the archdiocese in her efforts to make faith a greater focus in the lives of young people. She cites the work of the archdiocese’s Office of Youth Ministry and the Office of Young Adult and College Campus Ministry.

“They seem to never stop trying to find ways to be innovative with what they provide and offer to young people,” she says. “This is important because in order to continue the growth and prosperity of the Church, we must never settle on something because it has been done in the past.”

She sees Pope Francis leading the emphasis on connecting with young people—first with the invitation to share their thoughts and criticism, followed by the significance of the upcoming synod on young people in October.

“It makes us feel that we are a valuable part of the Church,” she says. “All in all, I feel that since Pope Francis has been our pope, his view and understanding of the roles of young people within the Church has truly been a game changer.

“Because of his leadership, I feel that the Church as a whole is working toward making even more connections with young people. Our Church is a beautiful thing, and even more so when young people are on fire about their faith.”

(For young adults looking for information about Bible studies, speaker series, intramurals and faith communities, check the website of the archdiocese’s Office of Young Adult and College Campus Ministry, www.indycatholic.org.)

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