High school students discuss future of the Church in the archdiocese

| November 18, 2019 | 0 Comments

Archbishop Bernard Hebda poses for photos with high school students from St. Therese of Deephaven at the Nov. 16 Archdiocesan Youth Day at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights.
JOE RUFF/THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Nearly 1,000 high school students put their smartphones to special use Nov. 16 at the annual Archdiocesan Youth Day of prayer, music, Mass and faith formation.

Encouraged by Archbishop Bernard Hebda and Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens, they keyed into a link that had two questions everyone was encouraged to answer online: What is working well in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and its parishes, and what are its challenges and opportunities?

The same questions are being asked of all Catholics in the archdiocese as part of the two-year pre-Synod process Archbishop Hebda launched in June. He and Bishop Cozzens have been engaged in Prayer and Listening Events across the archdiocese to inform the topic of the Archdiocesan Synod, a weekend event planned for May 2021 and designed to shape the archbishop’s pastoral priorities. At AYD, they modified the Prayer and Listening Event format to invite feedback from teens.

After hearing what a synod is and about the wide-ranging preparations for the Archdiocesan Synod, the teens spent time in prayer and small group discussions. Then, about a dozen teenagers chosen by youth leaders were invited to share their thoughts aloud with the archbishop. They didn’t hesitate.

Stepping up to a microphone in the packed gymnasium at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, one teen suggested that parishes could be more welcoming, and another asked for more rigorous faith formation to help youths answer questions about the Church.

One teen said unity among Church groups should be stressed, making the Church more attractive to young people who see some groups emphasizing particular aspects of the faith over others.

Several teens praised gatherings such as AYD but suggested creative follow-up is needed to keep young people interested in the Church. “How can we get the youth to come, and how can we get them to come back?” asked one.

Another suggested some homilies could be shorter, prompting Archbishop Hebda to laughingly reply, “Thanks for those comments. They were kind of gutsy, with my long homily today.”

The archbishop thanked each teenager for his or her comments and stressed the importance of everyone’s participation.

“Just know how grateful I am to be able to hear from you,” the archbishop told the teenagers. “Not hearing from you would be a great absence, a large gap, a great lack.”

Many of the teens were grateful to be asked and eager to participate. During the small group sharing, hundreds of teenagers seated on folding chairs in the large gym quickly turned to small groups of eight, huddled together and quietly talking with one another.

The tapping of cell phones became part of the scene as teens responded to the bishops’ invitation to offer their suggestions online.

“It’s awesome, it’s great,” said Lauren Tatro, a 15-year-old sophomore at St. Michael-Albertville High School and a member of St. Michael parish, both in St. Michael. “I think it’s awesome they (Archbishop Hebda and Bishop Cozzens) are including the youth in deciding about the future, letting their voices be heard.”

Archbishop Hebda explained that a synod is the faithful of the Church accompanying one another on a pilgrim journey. It is each person listening to the experience and suggestions of the others, with everyone praying for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, he said.

Pope Francis is stressing the need to walk alongside one another as a Church, the archbishop said. That idea is coming to the forefront even as participation in the Church among young people has been in decline, Archbishop Hebda said.

“What are those things that as a Church we need to do to be more Christlike, in our service, as a community, teaching the faith, evangelizing?” the archbishop asked.

“All of these things prompted me to say ‘I think we need to do a synod,’” he said. “We can put our heads together, listen to one another and then ask ourselves, ‘What is the Holy Spirit asking us to do?’”

Matthew Sell, a 17-year-old senior at Trinity School at River Ridge in Eagan and a member of St. Bonaventure Parish in Bloomington, also noted the bishops’ desire to hear from youth. He said he went online with his comments, which included praise for what he sees as the archdiocese’s emphasis on the Eucharist as the real presence of Christ, and a suggestion that parishes place more emphasis on the need for vocations in the Church.

“At big archdiocesan events like this, it (the need for vocations) is mentioned, but at individual churches it doesn’t seem to be,” Sell said.

Quinn Benolkin, a 14-year-old freshman at Lakeville South High School in Lakeville and a member of St. Nicholas Parish in Elko New Market, said she likes how her parish supports Catholic schools. “It gets youth more involved in the Church,” she said. “A challenge is keeping youth involved when they reach high school age.”

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