National Conference in Tampa Fires Up Youth Ministers

Thousands of people from across the United States who work with young people gathered for the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry (NCCYM) from December 6 – 8 at the Tampa Convention Center.  The conference was planned in part by the Diocese of St. Petersburg Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, headed by Ryan Phelan.

The Conference inspired, educated and strengthened youth ministers so they can they return to their parishes better prepared to serve young people. This mission aligns well with the Diocesan vision of Courageously Living the Gospel which asks 100 percent of parishes to establish or enhance youth ministry by July 1, 2020.

Youth ministers from the Diocese of St. Petersburg participated in the conference and they learned more about the Church’s perspective on youth ministry and acquired new skills.

“It was incredible,” said Nora Bourke, assistant youth minister at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish. “We kept hearing about the need to encounter and accompany the youth and the importance of providing simple experiences that invite young people to encounter Christ.”

The conference helped her to reflect on the simple encounter of Jesus with the woman at the well.

“Through that conversation, Jesus revealed his true identity and the woman was transformed and she told others of her experience,” said Bourke. “Courageously Living the Gospel encourages us to follow more closely this example of Jesus.”

In October, bishops and youth delegates from around the world met in Rome for the Synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. Some of the Synod’s participants led a panel at the NCCYM to discuss the results.

All panelists agreed with Synod recommendations that the need to accompany, recognize, and listen to young people is key. Bishop Frank Caggiano, Diocese of Bridgeport, talked about the disciples and their journey to Emmaus. Jesus walked with the disciples, even though they did not recognize him and were walking down the road in the wrong direction. Jesus did not judge them but accompanied the disciples on their journey until the Word of God caused a burning in their hearts and they went in the direction that Jesus needed them to go. Jesus’ accompaniment is an example for all.

After the keynote panel discussion, there was a special luncheon for diocesan leaders featuring further comments on the Synod from Father João Chagas, Leader of the Youth Section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. He emphasized the importance of accompanying young people on their journey. Father Chagas stressed that we need to listen to young people – to help address all of the energy in their hearts. Intergenerational dialogue is also key – the young people have the energy and enthusiasm and the elderly have the wisdom to help them harness that energy. Lastly, he spoke on the importance of being authentic and building relationships to have dialogues and conversations.

Three other goals of Courageously Living the Gospel relating to youth and young adult ministry, include:

  1. In support of enhancing youth ministry opportunities, the Diocese will hire three diocesan regional Associate Directors of Youth and Young Adult Ministry by July 1, 2019.
  2. The Diocese will establish a new Catholic elementary school (location to be determined) to open for the 2021-2022 school year.
  3. Student participation will increase by 1,000% (4,000 individuals) at established campus ministry communities and new Catholic student communities will be created for all local colleges and universities in the Diocese by Easter of 2021.

(photos courtesy of NCCYM)