The phrase Catholic Youth Work
covers a wide range of activities carried out with young people, usually in the name of the Catholic Church
and with the intention of imparting the Catholic faith to them and inviting them to practice and live out the faith in their lives. Activities in the field range from small scale youth groups
attached to parishes or Catholic schools, to large international gatherings, such as World Youth Day
. It is a field which has evolved much over recent decades, especially in comparison to more formal methods of education
within the church. Nearly all dioceses
and a great deal of parishes have some form of youth provision running, although a great deal of areas particularly in the developed world are finding youth work both more difficult and rare as the numbers of young people regularly practicing the Catholic faith continue to decline. In contrast, though, the new and exciting developments of recent decades and particularly the influence of the new movements within the Church are ensuring that youth work continues to be an active and fruitful field.
As with youth work in many Christian communities, Catholic youth ministry is normally conducted by a combination of local priest pastors and lay volunteers. Some parishes, particularly in more affluent parts of the world, may well employee lay professionals on a full time basis as well. In some areas of the Church, such as North America, there will be full time youth officers
at the deanary
level. Some of the time these will be lay professionals and some of the time they will be priests or members of religious congregations. The advantages to employing priests in these roles include the reduced salary costs, their ability to minister the sacraments and their guaranteed theological knowledge. The shortage of priests in many areas, however, mean that dioceses are increasingly turning to religious or lay people, who as well as being a little more flexible, will also often be able to breakdown the barrier that is often perceived between priests and church congregations.
Mission teams, residential centers, and new movements groups will normally be staffed largely by lay volunteers and professionals, perhaps with a priest in charge. School chaplaincy, on the other hand, is largely split between lay, religious and clerical practitioners, depending on the area in question.
Training and Qualifications
The issue of training and qualifications for Catholic youth workers is normally a sticky question in many parts of the world. The advantages and generosity of lay volunteers, for instance, is often augmented in the minds of some people by their lack of catechetical and theological knowledge in comparison especially to priests and also by their lack of training in informal education in comparison to secular youth workers. Many systems to educate and train youth workers have appeared and youth workers are able to participate in schemes for catechists (such as the CCRS
in the UK). Also many youth workers in the Church are increasingly opting for secular training. On the whole though, the Church still lacks a formal and widely recognized system of training and achievement for youth workers. Although a new Foundation Degree
in Youth Work/ Youth Ministry (with professional JNC recognition)is starting September 2007 at Newman University College
. This will be the first of many across the UK.
Range of Activities & Ministries
There are a variety of different activities which are classed as Catholic youth work. They include the following:
Parish based youth work
A great deal of parishes have groups which cater to young people in some way or other. These may be designated 'youth groups' of 'youth clubs' or may be groups for particular young people within the parish such as altar servers or those about to receive confirmation, for example. Whether or not all groups for, or including, young people in parishes can be considered among the realm of youth work is debatable as many will be catechetical
or organised around particular duties rather than holding to the established methodology of informal education.
Catholic Residential Youth Work
This involves the focused work done normally for just a few days where a course or retreat is run for a group of young people in a residential retreat center. Normally this work is very transitory work and residential centers can expect to work, in some cases, with thousands of young people a year. Young people are normally sent on retreat by a school or parish and thus the work is normally secondary rather than primary input. Catholic residential youth work is particularly popular in the UK, where an established network of thirteen centers exists, including Castlerigg Manor and SPEC Centre
'Mission teams' is the term used to describe groups of youth workers who spend a period of time (usually around a week) in schools or parishes running a program, normally fairly kerygmatic in nature, with a group of young people. The transient nature of these programs makes this field somewhat similar to residential work, however the increased costs of maintaining mission teams combined with the difficulties in recruitment mean that they are normally not as widespread.
This is particularly popular in the UK and Australia and other countries where Catholic Schools are common, but struggles to receive recognition in many areas where the role of full time lay people within the Catholic Church is still not properly respected or provided for. Chaplaincy involves a dedicated youth worker acting as a lay chaplain to introduce an element of youth work provision into a school so as to back up the school's Catholic ethos and complement the mainstream educational work of the school.
Area (Diocesan/ Deanary) Youth Work
Many dioceses or deanaries will employ a coordinator to look after youth initiatives for a group of Churches. This is especially important in areas where not every parish can afford a full time worker. Typically these coordinators, who may be a priest
, a religious brother
will be responsible for training local volunteers and assisting them in setting up local youth groups, organizing large events or pilgrimages such as to World Youth Day
, and building links between parishes and other local Catholic bodies such as schools.
Movements such as Youth 2000
and various organizations connected to the Charismatic Renewal
, will normally run either local groups not connected to parishes or schools, or larger annual events. Normally these groups will aim to enforce a certain part of faith in young people or a certain tradition or style. One of these new movements is LIFE TEEN
, "leading teens closer to Christ"; a parish-based program centered around the Eucharist
, Contemporary Christian Music
, relational ministry and catechesis
. The largest Catholic youth organization in the world is CFC-Youth for Christ
, with around 200,000 youth members in 160 countries.
World Youth Day
A global event held every 2-3 years and attended by the Pope
. The event in the Philippines in 1995 was attended by over 5 million people, making it the largest Christian gathering ever. The last event
was in Sydney
, Australia in July 2008 and the next one will be in Madrid
, Spain in 2011.