Pre-Synod Gathering on Youth

Alumni Named to Vatican Pre-Synod Gathering on Youth

Date Published: Feb. 26, 2018 

Katie Prejean

Nick LopezOn Jan. 25, 2018, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced that University of Dallas alumni Nick López, BA ’12 MTS ’16, director of campus ministry at UD, and Katie Prejean McGrady, BA ’11, were selected to serve as delegates at an upcoming pre-synod gathering in Rome. The March meeting is in preparation for the October Synod of Bishops called “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” As a result of their expertise in youth and young adult ministry, López and Prejean were put forward by the USCCB Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth and confirmed by Cardinal Joseph Tobin, C.S.S.R., and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M.

After receiving his bachelor’s in theology from UD, López studied at the Claremont School of Theology for a year and interned in the USCCB youth and young adult ministry office. He was a parish young adult minister and has served as an Ann and Joe O. Neuhoff School of Ministry Catholic Biblical School instructor. López is a guest columnist for the Catholic News Service’s In the Light of Faith Series and has appeared on Relevant Radio. He took on the role of UD’s director of campus ministry this past summer.

Since her graduation, Prejean has served as a parish youth director and a religion teacher in the Diocese of Lake Charles, Louisiana. She is a popular youth speaker who frequently travels to retreats, conferences and rallies and has been interviewed by a variety of Catholic media networks, including EWTN, Catholic TV, Radio Maria and The Catholic Channel.

Both alumni believe a synod on the youth could not come at a better time.

“Young people today are hungry: they want to be seen (hence the rise of social media), they want to be heard (and their ideas and opinions are valuable), and they are yearning for love (both to receive and give it),” said Prejean.

"As much as I think there is a small spark or renaissance in this particular generation’s natural reaction against secularism, our young people today need to be guided and empowered by church leadership for their zeal to be able reach its potential."

“As much as I think there is a small spark or renaissance in this particular generation’s natural reaction against secularism, our young people today need to be guided and empowered by church leadership for their zeal to be able reach its potential,” said López. “Whatever renaissance there may be is still not overwhelming the amount of people who are leaving the church. I’m looking forward to us having that particular conversation, since it is on youth, young adults and vocations. How do we bring back young adults who have left the faith? And how do we keep those in the church from leaving? As much hope as I have for our generation, the numbers coming in aren’t matching the numbers leaving. How do we bring those who have left back home?”

For Prejean, that task entails leading young people straight to Christ, who sees them, hears them and loves them abundantly.

“The best youth ministry happens when youth ministers and teachers and pastors really get out of the way and just get young people to Jesus. When we teach young people to pray, read Scripture, attend to and love the sacraments, and invite them to serve others, we get them to Jesus best,” she said. “So, I hope the pre-synodal gathering really addresses the practical ways to help inspire and create authentic encounters with Jesus.”

"I hope the pre-synodal gathering really addresses the practical ways to help inspire and create authentic encounters with Jesus."

These authentic encounters do not always come to fruition, according to Prejean, and she hopes the pre-synod will address that difficulty while also looking to an area that seems to be filling the void in young people: culture.

“What is it in the culture that fills the gaps in young people’s lives, and how can we, the church with the fullness of Truth, fill those gaps better?” she asked.

López devotes much of his ministry to answering this particular question. Just as UD’s Core curriculum studies the cultural works of ancient Greece and Rome or medieval Tuscany, López uses modern culture to address the needs of today’s young adults.

“I don’t think the culture has ever been as pervasive as it is now. You carry around the digital age with you on your phone all the time,” he said. “Knowing how to live in this culture at this moment is more important than it was in the past because we just can’t remove ourselves from it. We can’t separate our faith lives from our cultural lives. My approach is that of St. Paul, who preached at a time when temples and statues of pagan culture still stood, but he was able to demonstrate the beauty of Christ within that culture. We don’t need to obliterate one to have the other.”

López hopes the conversation can also address how to better minister to the largest and fastest-growing demographic in the global Catholic Church.

“A majority of those being baptized are Hispanic or Latino,” said López. “Even within the Spanish-speaking realm, there is a large spectrum of experiences, which is both beautiful and a challenge. Just as you have Irish Catholics or German Catholics, there are Mexican Catholics, Cuban Catholic and Dominican Catholics with specific pastoral needs.”

While Prejean looks forward to gaining insight into how youth ministry happens worldwide, she has two specific hopes for her trip to Rome. One relates to her ministry, while the other reminds her of her time at UD.

“Very selfishly, I hope to meet the pope at the pre-synod,” said Prejean. “And then again, selfishly, I’m hoping to pop over to Due Santi for a quick visit. It will be 10-day for the spring Romers while I’m there, so I know campus will be quiet, but just to see it again and pray in the chapel and walk through the vineyard would do some good for this ever-Rome-sick heart.”

López and Prejean both credit their undergraduate educations with preparing them to meet the needs of young people and articulate substantial answers to deep questions.

“Obviously, UD gave me a solid, orthodox and wide-ranging theological knowledge. I could articulate what we believed, why we believed it, and how to practically live those theological realities,” said Prejean. “My degree in theology from UD has served me remarkably well in helping young people know and understand the faith. And young people want those answers, grounded in substance.”

López said the same, while also coupling the merits of his undergraduate theology education with his Master of Theological Studies (MTS) from the Ann and Joe O. Neuhoff School of Ministry. The intersection between both curricula was critical to his formation as a minister.

“I cannot imagine a better undergraduate program in academic theology than UD provides. The School of Ministry does an amazing job of teaching students how to practically apply theological concepts, which you need if you want to go into ministry,” said López. “You get the full academic theological formation from the undergraduate theology program and then the best practical formation in the School of Ministry.”

“I do not think I could be as effective a minister if I hadn’t been able to attend both schools,” he said.

In Prejean’s case, although she learned much from the classroom, the most valuable gift UD gave her was not academic.

"UD taught me how to live well, as an educated individual, and being able to share that with young people has been incredibly valuable."

“It was the formation of the person. UD taught me how to read well, think critically, and write with precision and clarity,” she said. “But most importantly, UD taught me how to live well, as an educated individual, and being able to share that with young people has been incredibly valuable. It is a balance and blend of the goodness and strength of a solid, thoughtful, liberal arts education and the joy, frivolity and passion for friendship and fellowship.”

 


Photo credit: Pope Francis walks with World Youth Day pilgrims as he arrives for a July 30 prayer vigil at the Field of Mercy in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See POPE-POLAND-WYD-VIGIL July 30, 2016. 

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