Young People gather to discuss their faith

Diocese of Portland hosts listening sessions 

By Dave Guthro

Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland

One of the sessions at St. John Catholic Church on Aug. 22.
Courtesy of Dave Guthro

BANGOR—A greater sense of community. More opportunities to learn about the faith. Being invited to participate in the life of the parish. Those were among the desires and recommendations shared by young people during listening sessions held by the Diocese of Portland in August.

Young people from around Maine between the ages of 15 and 29 took part in the sessions, which were hosted by Bishop Robert P. Deeley and held at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church in Scarborough on August 3 and at Holy Rosary Church in Caribou and St. John Church in Bangor on August 22. The latter two were linked through videoconferencing.

“A welcoming atmosphere is very important to us,” shared Vanessa Rehmeyer, age 29, from St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Bangor. “We would definitely like more opportunities for people of different ages to get to know each other.”

“A need for a greater sense of belonging, and communities within communities. I think young people, especially young adults or newly married, new to their vocation, need a lot of support from their parish community,” said Kelsey Eddy, age 25, who attends the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland. “That’s being known, being heard.”

The listening sessions were organized by the diocese in response to an invitation by Pope Francis, who urged young people to “make your voice heard…by your shepherds of souls.” The input from the sessions, as well as from an online survey on the diocesan website, will be compiled by the diocese and submitted to the Vatican in advance of an October 2018 synod of bishops, which will focus on “Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment.”

“What the Holy Father wants to know for the synod is how can we help you come to know Jesus, because that is what the purpose of the Church is,” Bishop Deeley told the young people. “How can we help you to follow Jesus? How can you help us to create the Church that you need, so that you are able to follow Jesus?”

The findings will also be utilized by the diocese in its own planning as it looks for ways in which to better engage young people in the Church.

“We’re asking you to be honest. No one is here to make any kind of judgement whatsoever as to what is right or wrong,” said Maureen Provencher, Diocesan Coordinator of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. “We’re here to listen, and we’re here to share.”

The young people were seated in small groups, determined by age, and asked to reflect upon four questions: “What do you want and need from the Church today?” – “What would help you feel valued and like you truly belong to your parish community?” – “What keeps you or your peers from participating in the life of your parish?” and “What can the Church do to better accompany you in your life’s journey as a young disciple of Jesus?”

There was a wide range of responses, with some opinions expressed by multiple groups. They included the expressed belief that personally inviting young people would lead to their increased participation in the Church.

“How do I make new people feel welcome or others feel welcome in my parish? Well, one is that you can’t just be up at the pulpit announcing events and asking for volunteers or telling people about these events. You have to go up and say, ‘Hey, Joe, did you know there is this event going on on Wednesday, this parish picnic? Do you want to come and be a part of it?’” said Erin Donlan, age 23, originally from Good Shepherd Parish in Saco but currently a student at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine. “If we reach people at an individual level, we get more done.”

“Oftentimes, as youth, we sit back and let the adults take the show, and some of us, like myself, would like to step up and do more in the Church, but we don’t really feel it’s our place. We don’t really feel like the adults want us to. So, we need that invite. We need that push,” explained Mark Pollard, age 17, from the Parish of the Resurrection of the Lord in Old Town.

“Some people, they tend to think of youth as kids, so they don’t realize our potential in the Church, but I feel like, once more youths step up, then they’ll realize what we’re capable of,” said Elissa LaVoie, age 16, from Corpus Christi Parish in Waterville.

Other participants said they were seeking ways to delve deeper into the Catholic faith and some expressed a desire for greater opportunities for spiritual direction.

“We want the full truth of the Church and not a watered-down version,” shared Isabel Sanclemente, age 16, from St. John Vianney Parish in Fort Kent.

“I feel that there is a lack of guidance spiritually and mentally, that sort of thing. We don’t have a lot of spiritual directors or help,” said Sara Philbrick, age 15, from Good Shepherd Parish in Saco.

“The most important thing is for a person to have a deep relationship with Christ. That’s where everything comes from, and everything else that we talked about is rooted in that,” said Rehmeyer.

As to what keeps young people from regularly attending Mass and being involved in their parishes, time and timing were among the most common responses.

“We don’t need things to be different liturgically; we just need to accommodate where we are in life in terms of time, and flexibility, and resources,” said Kelli Antonson, age 26, from the Parish of the Holy Eucharist in Falmouth.

The young people said they welcomed the opportunity to share their opinions and were appreciative that the bishop wanted to hear them.

“When I have kids, I want my kids to grow up in the Church and want them to be involved, not just be pushed to be involved, so getting the Catholic Church to kind of outreach to youth is a good way to start that process,” said Paul Dupré, age 26, from the Parish of the Resurrection of the Lord in Old Town. “It’s a good starting point to be able to help the up-and-coming youth to be able to be involved.”

“I thought it was wonderful!  I liked how there were different ages. It wasn’t all teenagers,” said Hallie Pike, age 16, from St. Rose of Lima Parish in Jay. “They were really deep questions, but they were great questions to talk about.”

In addition to the bishop, several priests and staff members from churches around the diocese attended the sessions, some of them serving as facilitators of the discussion groups.

All the responses, from both the survey and the listening sessions will be collated for use within the diocese and by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which will incorporate them into a report to be sent to the Vatican in time for the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2018. The Synod of Bishops is an assembly of bishops from around the world, who assist the pope by providing counsel on important questions facing the Church.  The synod, which was established by Pope Paul VI in 1965, meets at the request of the Holy Father, whenever he considers it necessary. The pope serves as president of the synod.

This synod on “Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment,” follows other recent synod assemblies on the family, as well as Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia,which celebrates the joy of love in families.

The Diocese of Portland has launched the “Joy of the Family” initiative to help protect, promote, and strengthen marriage and families in our world. A special “Joy of the Family” section has been created on the Diocese of Portland’s website. The section includes a wide range of resources and will be continually updated. To access the section, visit  


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