Candice Gomez (left) and Jessica Bews were among the participants in the first Speak Up! session for the 2018 Synod on Young People. Photo by Jean Ko Din

Youth looking for larger welcome mat

  • September 22, 2017

When a young person enters a church for the first time, it can sometimes feel overwhelming, says 22-year-old Jessica Bews: “It helps to see a friendly face and a personal invitation to feel like they belong in the community.”

Building that community spirit was just one of several themes brought up Sept. 13 at the first of five Speak Up! listening sessions hosted by the Archdiocese of Toronto. Auxiliary bishop Wayne Kirkpatrick presided over the meeting as, one after another, 34 young people, parents, educators and youth ministers expressed their suggestions and concerns at St. Patrick’s Parish in Markham, Ont.

Faith Connections, a young adult ministry run by the Congregations of the Sisters of St. Joseph Toronto and the archdioceses’s Office of Catholic Youth, are organizing the listening sessions in preparation for a report that the archdiocese will submit to the Vatican in preparation for the Synod on Young People in October 2018.

Toronto’s three other auxiliary bishops and Cardinal Thomas Collins will also be holding listening sessions.

As a university student, Bews said she wants to see better programming for people aged 18 to 24 years old.

“There are such amazing programs in place for middle school kids and high-schoolers, then you turn 18 and you kind of hit this barren wasteland,” she said.

Kirkpatrick said one of his takeaways from the session was “a need to be more connected.”

“We are all on our journeys, but we don’t realize we are on the journey together,” he said. “And I go back to the geese that are flying and they are honking at each other. They’re encouraging each other, ‘Keep going! Keep going!’ And that’s what we need to do.”

He engaged with everyone at the first meeting, hopping from one small group discussion to the other and then listening to their final presentations.

Other young people expressed their desire for more mentorship on how to navigate an increasingly more digital world. Some suggested bringing in Catholic speakers workshops on how to use social media in a more positive way and how to have a sense of purpose in a secular workplace.

Youth minister Frank Capisciolto, 39, emphasized the importance of supporting those who want to enter into youth ministry.

“We thought there were some people that wanted to get into ministry and we thought it would be good to support them in their journey in whatever way, financial or maybe support in other ways,” he said.

Candice Gomez, a religion teacher who attended the event, said that these youth programs are great, but the Church also has to consider reaching people at a younger age.

“So that the kids are getting involved in the community and in the Church at Grade 4 or Grade 5 so that it doesn’t get to a point where they’re young adults and they don’t feel like they have a place,” she said.

Listening sessions continued with auxiliary bishop Vincent Nguyen Sept. 19 at St. Isaac Jogues Church in Pickering. Cardinal Thomas Collins will be present at St. Stanislaus Church in downtown Toronto Oct. 2. Bishop Robert Kasun will attend the Oct. 11 meeting at St. Christopher’s Parish in Mississauga. Bishop John A. Boissonneau will hear from young people on Nov. 1 at St. Ignatius Loyola Parish in Mississauga.

Similar listening sessions have also taken place in other dioceses such as the Archdiocese of Ottawa and the Diocese of Hamilton. Several other dioceses have released their own versions of the Vatican’s online questionnaire (

A full questionnaire can also be found at To register for one of the listening sessions, go to

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