In a general audience address on September 25, 2013, Pope Francis said, “Wherever we go, even in the smallest parish, in the furthest corner of this earth, there is one Church; we are at home, we are with our family, we are brothers and sisters. And this is a great gift from God!…. The Church is just like a family: the members may be far way, spread around the world, but the strong bonds that unite us all hold firm regardless of the distance.” On a daily basis, the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM) serves to unite those in Catholic youth ministry from every corner of the United States. “We are really an alliance,” says Executive Director Robert J. McCarty, “of like-minded individuals and organizations who have a shared vision and who bring our own unique resources and gifts to the table.”
For the NFCYM, that vision is to “participate in the mission of the Catholic Church by advocating for and supporting Catholic youth ministry on the national, diocesan, and local level.” The NFCYM, governed by Board of Directors from fourteen regions in the U.S. and a national staff of ten, serves as a unifying platform for 175 U.S. Dioceses and 65 collaborating members, which allows the organization to offer resources, leadership training, conferences, and networking opportunities for those involved in youth ministry.
The organization’s most visible initiative is the National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC), held in the odd years. The NCYC attracts nearly 25,000 participants and will next be held this November in Indianapolis, Indiana. “The NFCYM could not do on its own,” says McCarty, “This Conference is a reflection of the invaluable work of the Church.” The three-day Conference consists of Holy Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, Reconciliation (offered by nearly 400 priests), the presence of 35 Bishops, training sessions for youth ministers and parents, workshop/discussion opportunities for youth, well-known Catholic keynote speakers, Praise and Worship, and exhibitions by NFCYM partners.
“We have strong relationships with those who are involved in ministry formation, such as Franciscan University of Steubenville and Boston College, those who provide resource material such as St. Mary Press and Ave Maria Press, and many religious communities whose charism is working with young people,” says McCarty, “It is really through the behind-the-scenes partnerships like these that the NCYC comes to life.” The resources and discussions at the Conference are all geared towards allowing youth ministers and youth to gather and bring back to their home parish and community new tools and materials to help young people grow in their Catholic formation.
In a survey of the NCYC conducted in February 2012, the summary of results offer an enlightening and encouraging glimpse of the participants attending the Conference:
> More than 95% said that being Catholic is important to them, with two out of three respondents saying that being Catholic has been important to them for a long time
> 70% indicated that being Catholic is very important to their parents
> 72% have families that talk about religious or spiritual things weekly, with 54% of those reporting that their families talk about such things several times a week
> 76% attend Mass every week
> 85% have received the sacrament of Confirmation
> 68% attend public school and 29% attend Catholic school
The survey found that the “religious upbringing as a child was among the greatest influencers on their Catholic faith.” Besides the impact of immediate family, interactions with a youth minister also had a great influence on religious formation.
To ensure that youth ministers have a specific avenue to grow in their learning, in the even years, the NFCYM hosts the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry (NCCYM), which caters to 3000 participants. As the largest conference in the country for adults who minister to and with Catholic youth, the NCCYM is geared for a wide range of people from youth and campus ministers, religious education leaders, clergy and religious, young adult ministers, performers, and artists. This conference consists of talks and breakout sessions, dynamic prayer and worship, networking opportunities, and hundreds of resource exhibits.
Oftentimes youth programs are the first to get cut when parishes or dioceses are required to trim budgets. Recognizing the hardships faced by youth ministers and youth themselves, the NCFYM began the Catholic Youth Foundation USA (CYFUSA) in 1989. The CYFUSA has helped offer financial assistance to youth and parish delegations that could not otherwise afford to travel and attend the NCYC. In addition, the Annual Grants Program also “awards financial grants to parish, diocesan, and national initiatives…designed to train youth and coordinators of youth ministry, to develop new approaches to comprehensive youth ministry, and to respond to the needs of today’s young church.”
“The NFCYM is a unique experiment in Church ministry that is effective,” says McCarty. By gathering together organizations, individuals, resources, training, and finances, the NFCYM has been able to unify those with a common vision to work together as a family. The effect has had a positive effect in building the training of those ministering to youth as well as enhancing the experience of the faith for Catholic youth.
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