PROVIDENCE — Three Rhode Island youths were among hundreds who participated in the Catholic University of America’s National Catholic Youth Leadership Forum, a virtual gathering held June 28-30.
In keynote speeches, witness talks, and small-group breakout sessions, the forum participants delved into key themes regarding youth and young adults and their place in the Church that Pope Francis reflected on in his 2019 post-apostolic exhortation, “Christus Vivit.”
“There were some great discussions in our small groups about how we can bring the youth into the Church and get them involved in the liturgy of the Mass,” said Olivia Marcotte, 15, a parishioner at Holy Trinity Church in Woonsocket.
Marcotte, who will be attending the tenth grade this year at Mount St. Charles Academy in Woonsocket, participated in the forum, which was sponsored by Catholic University’s School of Theology and Religious Studies and the Light the World! Summer Institute.
Dioceses across the United States collaborated with Catholic University by nominating local youths to join the virtual forum.
“There were some great talks on the importance of mentorship and relationships between the youths and adults in the Church,” said Marcotte, who added that she is hoping to bring some of the insights she gained from the three-day event back to her own parish.
Marcotte said the first line of “Christus Vivit” — “Christ is alive” — underscored the forum’s central theme.
“That’s what the most important message is, I think, honestly, in the Catholic Church right now, and it’s something that we all should be focusing on,” Marcotte said.
Along with Marcotte, Olivia Kline, 18, a parishioner of St. Philip Church in Greenville, and Grace Barden, 17, a parishioner at St. Michael Church in Smithfield, also participated in the national youth Catholic forum.
“This forum allowed the young participants from our Diocese an amazing opportunity to interact with youth from around the East Coast and explore their faith while providing insights into their hopes and dreams for the Church,” said Louise “Duce” Dussault, the director of Catholic youth ministry for the Diocese of Providence.
“The ability as a youth to be deeply ‘heard’ by bishops who head USCCB committees, ministry and institutional leaders and university students serving as small group leaders was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Dussault said.
In a virtual setting, the forum’s participants not only explored the key themes of Pope Francis’ landmark document on youth and young adult ministry, but also sought to learn from one another about the different realities facing Catholic youth throughout the country. They sought to develop key points and takeaways to share with leaders in their parishes that could empower youths to have more active roles in their faith communities.
“I feel a lot of young people want to devote themselves to the Catholic faith but are not sure how,” said Barden, who will be entering her senior year this fall at Smithfield High School.
Barden said she was looking forward to the event and learning more about how young people can interact with their faith and be involved in the Church during their high school and college years.
“Certain parishes are better than others at engaging young people,” Barden said. “I feel there are a good amount of programs out there that are meant to reach out to youths, but they kind of have to be sought out.”
Kline, who will attend Franciscan University of Steubenville this year after having graduated from Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro, Massachusetts, said she was “humbled and honored” to have been invited to participate in the forum.
“I liked the breakout sessions the most,” she said. “Those were great. It was the same group of people throughout all three days, and you got to connect with them. I gained some new insights I wouldn’t have otherwise thought about.”
A key takeaway from the forum, Kline said, is that Jesus is alive in today’s youth, who are being called now in their present state of life to be devoted, intentional, Christian disciples.
“Christianity is a person who loves me immensely,” Kline said. “Christianity is Christ.”