Minnesota missionary helped in youth synod preparation

| October 19, 2018 | 0 Comments
Suness Jones hopes her work as a delegate at the Vatican in 2017 will help Church leaders better understand the needs and concerns of young people.

Suness Jones hopes her work as a delegate at the Vatican in 2017 will help Church leaders better understand the needs and concerns of young people. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

While serving as a missionary with Minnesota-based NET Ministries at a parish in Texas, in fall 2016, Suness Jones received a personally addressed email from the Vatican.

“I was shocked,” Jones said. “I just happened to check my email and didn’t really believe it.”

She had been invited as the lone American young adult delegate to participate in the first preparation meeting in 2017 at the Vatican for this month’s Synod of Bishops on “young people, faith and vocational discernment” and the 2019 World Youth Day in Panama. The Vatican had asked the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to recommend participants.

Jones had previously worked with the USCCB in youth and young adult ministry. She interned for the organization under Paul Jarzembowski, assistant director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. Jarzembowski also attended the 2017 Vatican meeting.

Jones contacted NET program director Dave Rinaldi about the opportunity and received approval from her NET team supervisors leave for a week in April 2017 for the meeting. NET missionaries serve on a team from October to May seven days per week putting on retreats for youth or serving youth at a parish or school. The team typically stays together the whole time except for a Christmas break.

“NET was really good about working with me on it,” Jones said about going to the Vatican. “They were really excited for me. I knew that my first priority was on the road [with NET], so I was prepared to not go and just be happy with being asked.”

In Rome, Jones joined 150 young people and another 150 accompanying adults from around the world at the meeting with cardinals and Pope Francis to prepare for the Synod. In small group sessions, delegates discussed issues they faced and shared with the cardinals how they experienced the Church, the challenges of young people and youth, and young adult ministry today.

Jones said her small group included delegates from Africa, Australia, Central America, Europe and South America as well as the Holy Land. Their discussion helped to shape a working document now guiding the bishops at the Synod, which runs through Oct. 28. Jones said that it’s part of the Synod process for the Church to listen to the needs and concerns of young people in an effort to better engage them in the Catholic faith.

“What I see is the youth really yearn to be connected to something bigger than themselves, and they want to be influencers, and they know that they can make a difference, and they don’t know that the Church is a place that they can do that,” Jones said. “I’m really excited for the synod to open the Church as a place for youth to grow in those areas and to have those desires fulfilled, to be able to realize their potential.”

She said her international peers shared similar challenges, although youth ministry differs from country to country. With her experiences in campus ministry or youth ministry in California, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Texas and Washington, D.C., Jones has seen the variety of youth ministry in the U.S. alone. She is now a NET team supervisor based in West St. Paul.

“I really have hope that what we came up with in our documents from those meetings is something that’s going to be part of the change,” she said, of young adults being more engaged in the Church.

A California native, Jones found her own place in the Church and became Catholic while attending JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, California. She said campus ministry there influenced her.

“I just entered into youth ministry with a bang and said, ‘I love Jesus, and I want to make him the center of my life,’” she said.

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