Local Church leaders work to recapture the millennial generation

Conference offers tips for evangelizing those who ‘show up to Mass in ripped skinny jeans’

Moira Cullings

According to a Pew Research Center study, 58 percent of younger millennials who are Catholic believe in God, 86 percent believe in heaven and 41 percent pray at least daily. Yet, only 26 percent attend religious services each week.

“One of the reasons I think Millennials have left the Church is because of the weight that it carries,” said Adam Henrichs, Executive Director of Creatio, a program that offers young adults opportunities for hiking adventures, mission trips and pilgrimages.

“They have a fear of being lumped into a specific category, especially if that category has been tagged as hypocritical, judgmental, or tolerant of sexual abuse,” said Henrichs.

“I see a lot of my millennial friends becoming ‘spiritual, but not religious,’” he continued, “and I think this is because they recognize the vast emptiness that our hearts have without God, but, at the same time, don’t want to subscribe to an ‘uncomfortable label.’”

Fortunately, Catholic leaders across the country are determined to win this generation back for the sake of the Church’s future.

The Millennial Church Conference took place in Denver on Sept. 19. Photo by Brandon Ortega

“What will move the hearts of this generation is not the latest encyclical and it’s not the bishops’ statements and all of these things,” said Pete Burak, Director of i.d.9:16, a ministry located in several states that offers young adults opportunities to gather and receive faith formation with the intent to build communities of disciples.

“What’s going to move the hearts of this generation is people on fire with the love of God who are willing to die to see others come alive.”

Burak spoke to local Catholic leaders at the Millennial Church Conference on Sept. 19 at Risen Christ Parish. He was joined by Pete and Emily Burds, as well as Sarah Kaczmarek.

Attendees included parish and ministry leaders across the archdiocese. At the conference, they learned more about the positives and negatives of the millennial generation, as well as simple ways to make them feel more welcomed in the Church.

Helping millennials ‘cultivate’ faith-filled relationships

Many organizations are already working to meet Millennials where they are, including Creatio, which focuses on offering young people a more lighthearted way to grow in their faith through single to multiple day outdoor adventures that build genuine friendships and allow participants to talk about their faith.

Christopher Lanciotti, Creatio’s Formation Director, hopes the opportunity gives young adults the chance to feel heard — something he believes they lack within the Church.

“Outdoor experiences, especially our backpacking trips and pilgrimages, give participants hours upon hours for personal conversation and the chance to build relationships where they can feel heard and understood and literally ‘walk together’ with others who want to help accompany them on their journey of faith or towards the faith,” he said.

Parishes are also working to reach millennials, and Nativity of Our Lord in Broomfield is no exception.

What’s going to move the hearts of this generation is people on fire with the love of God who are willing to die to see others come alive.”

Jacquie Fankell, Nativity’s Director of Communications, has found that deep down, this generation desires authenticity and belonging.

“Although this desire may manifest itself in superficial ways, like a preference for craft beer over light beer, at our core is the true desire of the human heart that longs for meaning and, ultimately, for God,” she said.

When it comes to getting more young adults involved in the parish, Fankell wants them to realize that parish life isn’t the same as “Campus Ministry 2.0,” she said. “We are not surrounded by people our same age anymore.

Christian Meert and Lucy Rodriguez chat during a break at the Millennial Church Conference. Photo by Brandon Ortega

“Many relationships in parish life are intergenerational, but these relationships are so worth taking the time to cultivate,” she continued. “I would encourage people of all generations to take time to engage with, listen to, and develop relationships with others of any age or background.”

Don’t forget the ‘why’

In his talk during the conference, Burak explained that another issue is many young people feel like they were taught the faith but never learned “why” they should believe it.

They were simply lectured about the rules, “as opposed to a living God who loves and who’s real, who sets them free, who has an incredible hope of glory for them, who’s paved the way for new life,” he said.

Burak explained to Denver Catholic that there’s a probable explanation for this lack in formation.

“One of the reasons why I don’t know if the ‘why’ is often presented is because I’m not always sure that we all have fully embraced the Lord and let him transform our life with his love,” he said.

Although Catholic school teachers, religious educators and parish staff are responsible for better explaining our faith, Burak emphasized it’s a two-way street, and millennials also need to take greater ownership of their role in the Church.

Pete Burak speaks to attendees about their responsibility to reach out to young adults during the Millennial Church Conference. Photo by Brandon Ortega

“We’re longing for human interaction and authentic human relationships and ultimately a family atmosphere, yet we often fight it when it’s presented to us,” he said, “because we’re skeptical, we’re scared, we’re cynical and we’re wounded by other false or manipulative [things] that have wounded us in the past.”

Although challenging, Burak believes it’s crucial for the Church to unwaveringly seek to captivate this generation.

I would encourage people of all generations to take time to engage with, listen to, and develop relationships with others of any age or background.”

“If you think about every aspect of the Church’s life right now, it will look radically different in 15 years if we don’t engage this generation,” he said. “There’s no statistic to suggest that they’re just going to come back on their own like previous generations.”

For Henrichs, one of the best things for the Church to do is “to raise up saints in our own time,” and that, he said, starts with simple acts of kindness.

“I think our parishes, Catholic apostolates and organizations need to be the examples of Christ to millennials,” he said, “radically loving them and accepting them, even when they show up to Mass in ripped skinny jeans.”

COMING UP: Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

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Seeking justice, transparency and accountability, archdiocese voluntarily enters agreement with Colorado attorney general

Initiatives include independent investigation and independent reparations program

Mark Haas

With a desire to “shine the bright light of transparency” on the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors within the Church, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has announced that the three Colorado dioceses have voluntarily partnered with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children.

In a joint news conference on February 19 at the attorney general’s office, it was also announced that the three dioceses will voluntarily fund an independent reparations program for survivors of such abuse.

“The damage inflicted upon young people and their families by sexual abuse, especially when it’s committed by a trusted person like a priest, is profound,” said Archbishop Aquila. “While this process will certainly include painful moments and cannot ever fully restore what was lost, we pray that it will at least begin the healing process.”

It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Discussions for these two initiatives began last year with former Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, and then finalized recently with Weiser. Both Coffman and Weiser praised the dioceses’ willingness to address this issue.

“It is well known that child sexual abuse is a societal problem that demands attention and action,” said Weiser. “I am pleased the Church has recognized the need for transparency and reparations for victims.”

Coffman added: “Childhood sexual abuse is not specific to one institution or to the Catholic Church. The spotlight is on the Catholic Church, but this abuse is indicative of what has happened in other institutions. We want to shine a light on what has happened.

“[The dioceses] demonstrated their commitment to acknowledging past abuse by priests and moving forward with honesty and accountability.”

The independent file review will be handled by Robert Toyer, a former U.S. Attorney for Colorado. His final report is expected to be released in the fall of 2019 and will include a list of diocesan priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors, along with a review of the dioceses’ handling of the allegations. The report will also include an evaluation of the dioceses’ current policies and procedures, something that was not included in other states’ reviews, such as the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report.

“We in Colorado have found our own way in the wake of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report,” said Weiser. “We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, alongside Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, speaks during a press conference announcing a comprehensive joint agreement with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to conduct an independent review of the dioceses’ files and policies related to the sexual abuse of children at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center on February 19, 2019, in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Archdiocese of Denver)

“This is not a criminal investigation. This is an independent inquiry with the full cooperation of the Catholic Church,” said Weiser.

Since 1991, the Archdiocese of Denver has had a policy of mandatory reporting of all allegations to local authorities. The procedures were further strengthened by the 2002 Dallas Charter to include comprehensive background checks, zero-tolerance policies, safe environment training, and training for children as well.

“This independent file review presents an opportunity for an honest and fair evaluation of the Church in Colorado’s historical handling of the sexual abuse of minors by priests,” said Archbishop Aquila.  “We are confident in the steps we have taken to address this issue and that there are no priests in active ministry currently under investigation.”

We have a set of dioceses here who came to the table to develop appropriate solutions that are collaborative, committed to transparency and put victims first.”

The independent reparations program will be run by two nationally recognized claims administration experts, Kenneth R. Feinberg and Camille S. Biros, who will review individual cases and make financial awards to victims who elect to participate. The victims are free to accept or reject the award, but the Colorado dioceses are bound by what the administrators decide.

The program will have oversight provided by an independent committee chaired by former U.S. Senator Hank Brown. More details will be announced in the coming months, and the program will officially open closer to the release of the final report.

This is similar to a program instituted by former Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput in 2006. Archbishop Aquila said it is important for local Catholics to know the program will be funded by archdiocesan reserves, with no money being taken from ministries or charities at parishes, annual diocesan appeals, or Catholic Charities.

“With humility and repentance, we hope the programs announced today offer a path to healing for survivors and their families,” Archbishop Aquila said.

And acknowledging how painful this has been for everyone in the Church, Archbishop Aquila said he hopes this is step towards restoring confidence among the faithful.

“Helping people to restore their trust, to live their faith, that is essential,” said Archbishop Aquila. “And to help them have a deeper encounter with Jesus Christ, so that is my goal in all of this. I know that healing is possible in Jesus Christ.”

For a copy of the full agreement and a detailed FAQ, visit archden.org/promise.