New Zealand’s Catholic bishops have approved a proposal to re-establish a national structure for youth and young adult ministries.

Palmerston North Bishop Charles Drennan, secretary of the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference, said a council for young people “will assist NZCBC with articulating a national vision for youth and young adult ministry and also will strengthen the possibility of implementing national projects and sharing of best practice”. He noted that the council’s name had not yet been settled and that the bishops would be looking for a Te Reo Māori expression of the mahi (work) of the council.

“There are many benefits from having a national structure,” Bishop Drennan added, “including the sharing of best practice, the stimulation of shared ideas and strategies as well as a coordinated approach to a dynamic involvement of as many as possible in the build-up to the [2018] synod in Rome.”

The proposal was raised before the NZCBC on the first week of May by Auckland Catholic Youth and Young Adult ministry team leader Teresa McNamara and Wellington archdiocese Young Church Ministries member Isabella McCafferty.

The two represented New Zealand at the international meeting in Rome on the upcoming Synod on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment organised by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life and the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

The new council met for the first time on May 22 in Wellington and discussed how they can engage youth for the 2018 synod which has a theme, chosen by Pope Francis, of Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment.

“The bishops want this [process] to be an experience of faith for all young New Zealanders, not just those who may be directly involved in the synod itself,” Bishop Drennan said.

Ms McNamara said many of the people working in youth ministry feel that “without that body, there is not the same impetus to work together nationally to take big steps forward in the ministry”.

The National Council for Young Catholics was dissolved in 2008 as part of the restructuring of NZCBC. It was replaced by the National Office for Young People but that, too, was closed down around 2012.

“The spotlight on young people, particularly in the next 18 months, because of the synod provides us with an opportunity to work collaboratively. We want
ed a framework to be able to do that,” Ms McNamara said.

The re-established council will meet two to three times a year. Each diocese will have one permanent representative who can take along a second person, depending on what is on the agenda.

“It gives us some flexibility as to who goes to that meeting. It also ensures that we have some people that are consistently at the table while allowing experts in any particular field or any particular question or topic of conversation to be engaged and available at that meeting,” Ms McNamara said.

Apart from the synod, the bishops also expressed concern for Year 13 students who are transitioning to university and how ready the tertiary chaplaincies are in engaging them.

“We are all aware that there are lots of gaps within the ministry. One really clear gap is how do we connect young people who are in Catholic secondary school when they end year 13 and move on to university or tertiary studies or work? How do we make sure that they stay connected to God and connected to a faith community at that time?” Ms McNamara said.

“That is one of the challenges that the bishops asked us to look at: how do we make that transition much smoother.

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