Encouraging young people to become involved in programs that increase their spiritual and social development should be the top priority of the church, representatives of 65 Roman Catholic churches in the San Gabriel Valley area have decided.
"We need to feel that we are a part of the church, not only our parents, but us," Allison Brown, 15, told more than 750 participants at the first of five regional convocations that the Los Angeles Archdiocese will hold to begin setting priorities for the next five years.
"In 30 or 40 years, we're the ones that are going to be running the churches," said Brown, a member of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in La Puente. "My peers are going to be the popes and the bishops."
Responding to Brown's plea, the delegates voted Saturday to urge the archdiocese to require that each church hire a full-time youth minister and start a youth ministry.
They also recommended that at least one homily (sermon) a month be directed toward young people and that more personnel and finances be made available for the training of teachers, counselors and youth leaders.
The same priority was recommended by the San Pedro regional convocation on Sunday.
"I think family life and youth are probably always going to be on top," Msgr. William J. Barry, director of the Los Angeles Archdiocese pastoral council and co-chairman of the convocation task force, said during an interview this week.
"(The church) is the place where children are nurtured and developed," he said. "The family is seen as the primary unit."
The San Gabriel convocation grew out of a yearlong priority-setting process that included an unprecedented survey last May of 320,000 of the archdiocese's almost 3 million Roman Catholics.
Offered a list of possible priorities--ranging from traditional religious concerns to social justice--68% of respondents picked "providing help when families are in trouble from marital problems, drugs, alcohol, detention, violence, etc."
Respondents also put a high priority on helping the suffering in the world and on youth problem areas, such as drugs, gangs and pregnancies.
A "parish (spiritual) renewal program" was deemed the least important item on the questionnaire. Also low on the list was preparation of youth for confirmation and the planning of special Masses for certain age, language and ethnic groups.
Response From Valley
More than 72,000 people in the San Gabriel region responded to the archdiocese survey, most of them agreeing that promoting family life and values should be the top priority.
However, San Gabriel Valley parishioners were more specific last weekend in targeting youth problems.
"They (the delegates) were saying that they were very concerned about family life today, the pressures and influences that are acting as deterrents to young people growing up to be responsible adults," said Vivian Gabehart, associate director of the convocation staff.
"They were pointedly saying that the youth today needs stronger family ties . . . stronger leaders," Gabehart said.
The San Gabriel Valley delegates, who met at Bishop Amat Memorial High School in La Puente, also said they thought the church should work to improve worship services.
"It's sinful that (during the homily) we bore our audience," said Pam Wagner of St. Dorothy's Church in Glendora. "People many times have left our church because they say, 'I get don't get anything out of the Mass.' "
The delegates suggested that those who deliver homilies be taught how to relate Scripture to everyday life and that a liturgical committee be established in each parish.
Other high priorities included promoting religious education for adults, improving the quality, accessibility and affordability of Catholic education and supporting family life by encouraging growth in spirituality and social well-being.
Lower on the list were improved communication among the laity and the clergy, public relations outside the Catholic community to evangelize and educate the public and a program to promote ethnic and cultural awareness.
The San Gabriel Valley group formulated its own priorities after results of the archdiocese survey were forwarded to parishes in each of the five regions and were discussed in assemblies.
Each church proposed its own priorities, expanding or refining those in the survey, Barry said. Delegates from each church will attend convocations, such as the one last weekend in La Puente, where regional priorities will be established.
"While the goals may have the same title, the objectives that the different regions will select as to how to accomplish those goals may have a different flavor," Barry said.
Top 10 Objectives
The top 10 goals and objectives from the five regions will be discussed at the Archdiocesan Convocation Nov. 1-2 at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester. There, three representatives from each of the archdiocese's 285 parishes will decide church's goals, Barry said.
The archdiocese will accept a final proposal on Nov. 30.
Some of the delegates at the San Gabriel convocation said they were pleased to be involved in the priority-setting process.
"This is the first time that we've experienced this kind of democratic process in the diocese," said Mary Lou Butler, a member of All Souls Church in Alhambra.
"I think people have tasted participation. And because of the fact that they've tasted it, they're not going to walk away from it," Butler said.
Another delegate agreed. "Everyone has a spirit of 'I want to get going, I don't want to stop,' " said Norma Guzman, a member of St. Louis of France Church in La Puente.