June 23, 2014

In the first 10 years after graduating from high school, most Catholics who were involved with the Church will no longer be affiliated with it, says a youth organizer from the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.

"Young adults are falling off the map. We are hemorrhaging faith," says John Beaulieu, the university's director of partnerships and engagement.

"The Church is trying to respond to that and the university wants to support that by providing opportunities for young adults to gather, to pray, to talk very bluntly and very clearly about the issues of their generation and culture," Beaulieu said in an interview.

Having hosted weekend conferences for high school students for years, Steubenville has launched Encounter, a young adult equivalent to the youth conference. Encounter events are meant to keep Catholics engaged with the Church.

Encounter is for Catholics age 19 to 29, with some sessions during the conference subdivided by age to better accommodate the issues of a 20-year-old versus that of a 28-year-old, for example.

Everything from sex to marijuana is up for discussion, said Beaulieu, and with different speakers, it won't be a replica of the youth conference.

The first Encounter was held in St. Charles, Mo., May 30 to June 1, with 550 young adults in attendance.

"What that says to us is that there's a great hunger for these kind of conferences. People are willing to invest in order to get there," Beaulieu said.

With 47,000 people attending the university's 16 youth conferences across North America, the hope is that as the teen population ages, it will feed into and grow the young adult conference.

Encounter promises to make more time available for young adults to mingle.

"We know one of the cries at the heart of young adults is community. They are very fractured, even as they get more connected through technology, they become more isolated in their actual life experience," Beaulieu said.


Once out of college it is harder for young adults to connect with each other, he said. "Unfortunately, I don't think there's enough ways where the Church tries to engage young adults and provide these places where they can plug into the Church."

In Canada, the Steubenville Atlantic conference, which has been running for eight years, is experimenting with the addition of a young adult track to the regular conference.

On July 4-6 in Halifax, Steubenville Atlantic is inviting up to 200 young adults to attend an Encounter-based program.

"The same desire that we have to do the young adult track is driving the desire for the Encounter weekends," said John Stevens, regional organizer for Steubenville in Halifax.


"Young adults out there who still haven't found their sense of place in the Church, sense of their Catholic identity and mission and need a place to do that with their peers."

Stevens said the response sometimes has been "I'm interested and I want to go, but I just don't want to sign up right now."

Young adults are uncertain about where work and life will lead, which is "very reflective of the young adult reality right now," he said.


Beaulieu said, "True Catholic evangelization is not just bringing young people to a relationship with Christ, it's bringing people to a deeper relationship with the Church. And so our youth conference is all sacramental based.