This month, the magazine is highlighting several ministries that are among the many that receive funding from the Catholic Ministries Annual Appeal, which kicked off on Jan. 30-31, 2016 The CMAA’s goal this year is $6.7 million, and the theme is “Chosen by God’s Grace.” In this particular story, Alexandra Fedosenko and Kayla Jacobs – appointed late last year as co-ordinators for the diocesan Young Adult Ministry Office – talk about the young-adult landscape in an interview with Carlos Briceño. The new director of the diocesan Young Adult and Youth Ministry Office, Sheila Stevenson, began in her new job on Jan. 19, 2016.
I was blessed to be raised in a Catholic home. My parents made countless sacrifices so that my siblings and I could receive a Catholic education and be raised in the faith. We were very active in parish life and participated in events and prayer opportunities at Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Parish [in Homer Glen]. My mother often volunteered, and I would watch my dad take care of elderly parishioners by preparing meals for them in our home to deliver to them at Divine Liturgy on Sunday. I was formed through those years of prayer and experiences. I was blessed to be in a home with faith, and through the grace of God, I have embraced it throughout my life. That’s not to say I have not had rough challenges or my family doesn’t have struggles. I am surely a sinner in need of God’s abundant mercy, but I’m grateful to call the Church home, where we experience the sorrow of the cross and joy of the resurrection.
I was raised Catholic loosely. I would go to Mass on Sundays, but I didn’t understood what was going on, and I didn’t consider myself Catholic. But I was very interested in the idea of religion. My home parish didn’t have a youth ministry or anything like that, so I would go to Protestant youth ministry events and Bible studies with my friends. I remember attending them and only believing in bits and pieces of what they were saying, so I would go to a whole bunch of different denominations to try and understand a fuller picture. I felt in my heart that what I was hearing was only part of it.
I ran cross country in college, which is how I found myself at a Catholic University in Chicago. The school was founded by the Sisters of Mercy, who are very active in peace and justice and Catholic Social Teaching. I was raised with a strong sense on serving others and fighting for justice so learning about Catholic Social Teaching was really eye opening for me. Meeting the Sisters of Mercy and hearing about Catholic Social Teaching got me interested, but I still didn’t consider myself Catholic. I was just, like, “These sisters are cool. Catholic Social Teaching is cool. I like that. That’s in line with how I feel about faith and life.”
Then I took a Christian sacraments’ class; it was my freshman year, and I learned about the Eucharist. I remember it very powerfully. The professor explained transubstantiation and how Catholics believe the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. It was a very academic explanation and way of learning about the one thing that would change the course of my life. I remember sitting in the back row being so impacted and feeling like everything just made sense. The answer to the fuller picture I was looking for is the Eucharist.
I’m not one to jump into things. It took years of discernment and asking more questions. That professor, thank God, is an extremely holy man, and he ended up being my advisor. I changed my major from business to religious studies and have been blessed with many opportunities to learn my faith more deeply. Now here I am.
And why is this ministry so important to you?
I like to think of young adult ministry as the road to Emmaus. We read in Scripture that after Christ died there are two people leaving Jerusalem who are traveling to Emmaus. They’re conversing. They’re debating. They’re talking about everything that has occurred with the death of Christ, and now His body is no longer in the tomb. It’s the third day. They don’t know what’s going on. Where is He?
Christ comes alongside them. He starts to open up the Scriptures to them. He breaks the bread and gives it to them. They come to recognize Him! Their hearts are burning within them. Then, they set out at once to share the news.
Young adult ministry parallels the Road to Emmaus. In young adult ministry we are able to travel with young adults as companions on the journey. Jesus draws near and walks with us. We often have numerous questions as we experience transitions in our lives. He is with us on the road and can open our eyes. He makes our hearts come alive and gives us the courage to set out and share the Good News.
In meeting young adults in the diocese, one common trend I have found is that we all desire community. Being a young adult, especially in the world today, can be one of the loneliest things out there because, up until that point in your life, you’re already built into a community. Once you hit adult age you have to try to find a community and figure out who you are and then who you can be within a community. It could be really tough sometimes. Young adult ministry is so important because it could really be a great place for community and companionship, which could really help us all on our faith journey.
What are some of the obstacles young adults face in terms of getting closer to God?
Loneliness is a big one. Modern society is not in line with Catholic moral teachings in a lot of ways. There are a lot of temptations out there, and if you’re lacking the community or lacking the connection to the Church, it’s a lot harder to say “no” to those temptations.
I think unemployment is also a big plague. It’s very hard to get a job right out of college because you don’t necessarily have the job experiences that most businesses are looking for. That has a lot of negative impacts on feelings of self-worth. That puts a lot of doubt into people and causes a lot of struggles in other aspects in life.
Another obstacle for young adults is that the Church, in general, doesn’t necessarily know how to minister to young adults in a lot of ways. It’s kind of difficult for young adults to feel connected to the Church if churches are having meetings in the middle of the day and not considering what a typical young adult schedule looks like. I am really grateful for Bishop R. Daniel Conlon who is really trying to address this issue in our diocese.
Broadly speaking, like all people, young adults struggle with sin and evil. At times our culture can also provide obstacles that make it challenging to become closer to God, such as individualism and materialism. Our materialistic culture teaches that higher salaries and expensive items are the recipe for happiness. That’s tempting for young adults who desire happiness as they try to search for meaning and passion in life. Individualism is also a serious challenge among young adults in the United States.
How would you define individualism?
Individualism involves focus on the individual without any reference to the community whatsoever. As Catholics, we understand that God has created each individual with precision and purpose in a beautiful way, and He knows us each by name. We’re unrepeatable, and at the same time we’re made for union and communion with others. Unfortunately, our culture forgets that we are created for one another, to be a reflection of the Trinity. For young adults it is tempting to focus merely on oneself and to create a personal bubble. That doesn’t bring fulfillment though because it’s not how we are created to be.
What are some of your hopes for the ministry?
My hope is to follow whatever God has in store for this ministry. I think He’s calling us to have a vibrant young adult ministry in the diocese so that we can be deeply united to Him and one another. My dream is that we can embrace whatever He has planned for us.
My hope for the ministry is to build some sort of sense of community amongst young adults in the diocese and to help young adults and everyone we encounter to have a deep relationship with Christ. To help people encounter Christ and Christ in each other and to have a very prayerful ministry with the people we are ministering with and to.
What are ways you hope young adults throughout the diocese help you all out?
I hope that all young adults will feel welcome and know that you’re welcome no matter where you’ve been in the past and what you are currently experiencing. I hope that we will get to know you so that we can be your companions on the journey towards eternal life. Please feel welcome to call us or email us. We want to hear about your hopes and needs.
Giving us honest feedback; it will help us to shape a successful young adult ministry. Another way they can help is by taking initiative in their local communities, which a lot of young adults in the diocese are already doing. I’ve been meeting wonderful young adults who are starting young adult ministries at their parishes or who are taking leadership roles in their communities, parishes, and various diocesan committees.
What have you learned in your faith journey that you hope other young adults learn, too?
For me, because the Eucharist was such a big part of my faith journey, the thing I want young adults to keep remembering is that Christ is very present to all of us. He’s not some far-off being that we can’t get close to. He is literally with us every day in the Eucharist.
I’ve been reflecting about the parable of the lost sheep lately. Something that I’ve learned in my faith journey is that we each are the lost sheep at different points in our lives. I envision the sheep off, lost and a wreck, torn up by sin or broken and trapped and gnarled. Just remember that Christ is always actively pursuing you. He leaves the 99 to find the one. It’s always important to remember that Christ doesn’t wait for you. He’s actively chasing after you, and He loves you so deeply – even if you are standing there, and you’re thinking, “I’m a mess. I’m broken. I keep messing up.” Know that He’s there. He’s with you, and He wants to carry you and to shepherd you beyond your fears and doubts and bring you to abundant life here on earth and eternally.
I invite you to embrace the merciful Shepherd. In His embrace we find that peace and happiness that we so desperately yearn for. He gently asks us to look at ourselves, to convert and believe. Know that He desires to be united with you forever.