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Cultures of Formation conference unites leaders of church, youth life

| Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A three-day conference dedicated to examining cultural influences on young people and equipping the church with a renewed missionary creativity started Monday in McKenna Hall.

Themed “Cultures of Formation,” the conference is hosted by the McGrath Institute for Church Life, which brought in speakers including Bishop Robert Barron from the archdiocese of Los Angeles, Nicholas Carr — a technology and culture writer and previous finalist of the Pulitzer Prize — associate director of youth ministry for the archdiocese of Atlanta Katherine Angulo and filmmaker Joe Campo.

John Cavadini, director of the McGrath Institute, said the conference is bringing in people from different areas of youth culture to try to propose a paradigm shift in ways the church can engage young people.

“A lot of times, parishes hire a youth minister or a young adult minister, and then that’s that,” Cavadini said. “That’s really not enough at all. Instead, we should be thinking about all of the cultures that are associated with the church like the family, the Mass [and] church-schools, as all of these are cultures that form young people, and we should think of them more intentionally as cultures of formation.”

As a resource that reaches out from the University to the church, the McGrath institute is trying to make the church’s spiritual wisdom accessible to renew Catholic leadership and imagination, Cavadini said.

“A lot of the people who do the real work of the church aren’t in the spotlight, but we’re giving them an opportunity to share their views and their ideas,” he said. “I think that some of these people have worked hard and have labored and are very creative but are not well-known. What personally excites me the most is giving them a little chance at the spotlight.”

Leonard DeLorenzo, director of undergraduate studies at the McGrath Institute, said the idea for the conference began to develop two years ago when Pope Francis dedicated the upcoming Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, an annual congregation held by the Pope, to the theme of young people, the faith and vocational discernment.

“We wanted to host a conference that helps to prepare for that [synod] to help especially the American church, bishops, pastoral leaders and scholars in the academy to think deeply about this important topic and give our best efforts in terms of our intellectual effort and our ministerial effort to thinking about how to support, engage and really guide young people into the fullness of the Catholic life,” DeLorenzo said.

The conference’s theme was chosen, DeLorenzo said, to think about the kind of environment created in parishes, schools, liturgies and family life that can influence young people to encounter and respond to God’s call.

“There’s a lot of things in our lives that might be inclining us in other directions and kind of deafening us or blinding us to the richness of the faith,” he said. “So how do we create the right kind of conditions and cultures to make it easier for young people to be Catholic — not to make the Catholic faith or life easier, but to make it easier to recognize and respond to it?”

Though the keynote lectures by Barron and Carr are ticketed, DeLorenzo said, Barron’s was live streamed through social media Monday and Carr’s will be live streamed to the lower level of McKenna Hall on Tuesday afternoon. He said all other sessions are free to attend.

With about 550 participants attending — including 26 bishops, leaders from all across church life and college campus ministers — DeLorenzo said the conference is bringing together people who provide leadership for the life of the church in different ways to think about a critically important issue.

“I suppose the outcome is to think about the cultures that we’re creating and not simply about the program or the messages that we might try to get across,” he said. “It might actually involve really deep, kind of substantial, almost seismic shifting type work in all aspects of church life.”

The people coming together for the conference, DeLorenzo said, all have a fundamental trust in the power of their faith, which he thinks will help present and represent the beauty of the Christian faith for generations to come.

“It’s pretty easy to get into a mourning mode in the church that we’re losing this and we’re losing that and people are leaving the church,” DeLorenzo said. “And it’s all true, we have to take this really seriously, but we also have to look joyfully at what we’ve received and what we have to pass on because it’s the most beautiful thing that there is.”

DeLorenzo said engaging the church and opening up the University for it is consistent with what University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh said Notre Dame is — a place where the church comes to do its thinking.

“I’m excited, I suppose, about living up to Fr. Hesburgh’s vision of Notre Dame and allowing the McGrath Institute for Church Life to be the host for that at Notre Dame,” DeLorenzo said.

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About Kelli Smith

Kelli Smith is a junior at the University of Notre Dame. Originally from El Paso, Texas, she is currently serving as Associate News Editor at the Observer and is pursuing a double major in political science and film, television and theatre with minors in journalism and computing.

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