Diocese ignites bold new initiative to re-engage young adults in the Church

By David Cooley.

It’s called the Frassati Project and it is an ambitious program being implemented in the Diocese of Covington by Brad Torline, the new young adult ministry coordinator in the Office of Catechesis and Faith Formation. Mr. Torline has been working as a member of that office since August.

“The Frassati Project is a new major undertaking in our diocese to re-engage young adults in the life and mission of the Church, but, most especially, the life and mission of the local parishes,” Mr. Torline said.

According to Mr. Torline, the project is structured to build a close-knit community of young Catholic men and women in Northern Kentucky and revitalize Catholic culture in their lives, ultimately leading to an authentic sacramental way of life.

“It is all about building a community among young adults, identifying leaders and making sure those leaders from across the diocese are connected and supporting each other on the diocesan level,” Mr. Torline said. “We will empower those leaders to start and sustain their own young adult groups at their respective parishes.”

The Frassati Project gets its name from Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, a Catholic man who lived in the early 20th century and died at the age of 24. He is known for how he put his pious beliefs into action, his amiable character and his devotion to the Catholic faith. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on May 20, 1990, and dubbed the “Man of the Eight Beatitudes.”

The Frassati Project is organized as a three-tiered structure of events and Mr. Torline plans to follow this “Win,” “Build,” “Send” model through the events the Office of Catechesis and Faith Formation will host throughout the year.

“The idea is to win young adults over through cultural and social events, build them up through formational and sacramental events; and, finally, send them out with the tools they need to evangelize and strengthen parish life, through retreats and small parish groups,” he said.

In a society that appears to be growing more and more hostile toward religion and the continuously rising number of young people who don’t associate themselves with any particular belief system (known as “the nones”), Mr. Torline acknowledged that there is a lot of work to be done and winning people over is sometimes a process that doesn’t happen over night.

“When trying to engage young adults and millennials, we cannot deny that there has been intellectual attacks on the Church. Many people don’t think it is rational to have faith anymore. Most young adults, when surveyed after leaving the Church, give an intellectual reason. I think there are also people out there who want to believe but just don’t think that it is intellectually viable anymore. We have to address those issues on some level, and in a systematic, thorough young adult ministry.”

The cultural and social events that the Office is planning to host tend to put the richness and beauty of Catholic culture on full display.

“The Catholic Church has always been big on feasts and celebrating life,” he said, “and so we are planning socials around the Church’s liturgical calendar.”

Mr. Torline said that once the young adults have had that cultural experience that draws them in through fellowship and beauty (something that wins them over), they’ll be given opportunities to take a step deeper in that second tier — build.

“The second phase is basically engaging them on the level of the mind and heart. We’ll host events where we can discuss life’s most important questions, where we can begin to address some of the intellectual issues and help young people grow in confidence in the Church’s intellectual tradition and the rationality of believing,” said Mr. Torline. “And as they get more comfortable with their faith they will be more open to that sacramental experience of Christ.”

Each year in the spring and fall there will be a series of “win” and “build” events; in the summer and winter there will be what Mr. Torline calls “Frassati retreats.”

“The social events are designed to get people more interested. They will start meeting other people and having serious conversations about the faith and become more open to it and eventually attend a Frassati retreat in the winter or summer,” he said.

“The hope is that, once they reach this final tier — ‘send’ — they will start a small group at the parish and invite a couple people that are open to the Church and take them through the whole cycle. The idea is to keep everything going and growing.”

Isaak A. Isaak, director of the Office of Catechesis and Faith Formation, said that his office is striving to follow the vision Bishop Roger Foys, as well as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has laid out for young adult ministry.

“As the director of Catechesis I always look to the bishops, especially our bishop, as resources. As an office, we have to ask ourselves how we can be keepers of the bishop’s vision,” Mr. Isaak said. “In 1996 the USCCB published a document called ‘In Sons and Daughters of the Light: A Pastoral Plan for Ministry with Young Adults’ where they offered three invitations to young adults: holiness, community and service.”

Mr. Isaak said that a young adult minister is called to show young adults the many opportunities the Church offers that can lead young adults to holiness.

“The bishops are aware that young adults seek community, they seek companionship in terms of their faith journey. They want to connect with each other and are searching for identity among their peers. There are many ways to get involved with the community, through both spiritual and social events,” Mr. Isaak said.

“And service is important, too. The Catholic Church is known by its service, and young people are good resources for serving the community and being engaged in the community.”

Mr. Isaak said that “In Sons and Daughters of the Light” also outlined three goals for young adult ministry: connecting young adults with Jesus Christ, with the Church, with the mission of the Church in the world and with their peer community.

“For me, that question of how to connect with Jesus is crucial; it goes back to the question of how to be holy,” Mr. Isaak said. “The other thing is connection to the Church. We must connect young adults to their own parish communities and help them recognize that it is like a family, where there is so much available to them.”

Mr. Isaak said that he is very excited about where young adult ministry is headed in the diocese.

“It can be very difficult to bring young adults to ministry, but it is important. It reminds me of what Pope John Paul II said at World Youth Day in 1995: the Church must be a traveling companion to young people. We can’t wait for young adults to come to our church, we have to meet them where they are and reach out to them.”

The Office of Catechesis and Formation is working to build a core team of representatives from every parish in the diocese to help launch and continue The Frassati Project. Anyone interested (even if you are over 39) is encouraged to contact Mr. Torline at (859) 392-1590 or btorline@covdio.org.