Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Teens Seek More 'Youth Friendly' Liturgies: Sponsors See Youth Conference as '17,000 Pieces of Good News.' (Biennial National Catholic Youth Conference, Nov 20-23, 1997 at Kansas City, MO)(Cover Story)

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Teens Seek More 'Youth Friendly' Liturgies: Sponsors See Youth Conference as '17,000 Pieces of Good News.' (Biennial National Catholic Youth Conference, Nov 20-23, 1997 at Kansas City, MO)(Cover Story)

Article excerpt

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Organizers who brought thousands of Catholic teenagers here Nov. 20-23 wanted to discern the voice of the young church, and the yearning it seemed to speak most clearly was for more youth-friendly Sunday liturgies.

"Kids get bored with going to Mass," said D. O'Hara, 17, of Kansas City, Mo., expressing a commonly voiced sentiment among participants in the biennial National Catholic Youth Conference. "It's supposed to be a celebration, but if it is, it's one of the worst parties I've ever been to. Nobody gets up to have fun. We need to have more celebrating."

Hearing such perspectives was part of the purpose of the conference, sponsored by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministers. The event -- the nation's largest gathering of Catholic youth -- also aimed to build leadership skills BO that the 14,000 teens and 3,000 adults who took part can invigorate parish youth ministry programs. Over four days in Kansas City's Bartle Hall, delegates discussed what it means to be a Catholic teen today -- and how teens might contribute to shaping a more dynamic church.

On the positive side, participants spoke of the value they attach to their identity as Catholics and of their respect for the church's moral teachings. They sought ways to apply the enthusiasm and creativity of young Catholics more integrally in parish life.

While desire for change in the liturgy bubbled up in informal conversations, in working sessions, in liturgies planned by the youth, and in a dialogue between 23 bishops and 300 teenagers, that desire did not center on many of the issues familiar from adult debates. Participants didn't have much to say about restoring Tridentine observances or correcting postconciliar "abuses." Instead, they said they were seeking more energetic and involving liturgies, regardless of the form they take or the language in which they are celebrated.

Often-heard suggestions for improving the Sunday liturgy included:

* Better and more modern music -- including occasional use of musical styles that appeal to youth, such as alternative, pop and rap.

* Involving laity, especially youth, more extensively -- including delivering homilies.

* Activities that get people up out of their seats and doing something -- whether it be dancing, clapping or moving around and interacting.

"I have a big problem with the kids at our church not taking part in the Mass," said Miranda Daugherty, 17, of Youngstown, Ohio. "Change the tradition a little bit ... make it fun, so we can understand it and want to be part of it. Don't be so strict, loosen up and let people enjoy themselves."

"Make it more like this," said Andy Pace, 14, of Kansas City, Mo., referring to the involving style of liturgies at the conference, "instead of just sitting down listening to the old guy speak. This is fun."

Attendance at the conference was up to 60 percent this year, attributed by organizers to stirrings in parish youth ministry dating back almost two decades, as well as the energy generated by Pope John Paul II's visit to World Youth Day in Denver in 1993. This year's gathering was part music festival, part high-tech trade show, part big-tent revival, and part nonstop lunch break at the biggest Catholic high school in America. There were concerts, workshops, testimonials, interactive computer exhibits, service opportunities and most of all virtually unlimited opportunities for Catholic youth to hang out with other Catholic youth.

"There's an incredible energy here with all the kids," said Lauren Flamingo, 17, of Stromsville, Ohio. "There's a real sense of unity. It's so much fun meeting kids from all over the country."

One focal point over the four days was the "Forum on the Voice of Youth," which brought 300 teens and 23 bishops together in one room -- though the prelates shuttled in and out -- for several hours of conversation. …

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