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National Dialogue Report: Implications for Catholic Colleges and Universities


The final report of the National Dialogue on Catholic Pastoral Ministry with Youth and Young Adults offers critical insights into working with youth and young adults.

By Jose J. Matos Auffant


In 2017, the National Dialogue on Catholic Pastoral Ministry with Youth and Young Adults began a wide-ranging listening and reflection process, focused on enhancing the Church’s ministries with young people.1

From July 2018 to December 2019, a leadership network of over 80 Catholic organizations and institutions hosted local conversations with youth, young adults, parents, and ministry leaders. Their purpose was to listen to the realities facing them today.  The conversations provided a rich and detailed portrait of the current state of ministry with young people: Almost 10,000 individuals participated in about 450 structured conversations over the course of 18 months.

Different sets of questions were created for unique audiences and listening contexts: those who were engaged and those who are disaffiliated from the Catholic/Christian faith; those who had gone through the V Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry process; and those who participated in consultations in advance of the 2018 Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.  The rich responses were processed for further study and reflection — a vast effort to include young people’s voices at the table to discern next steps.

The National Dialogue report that is the result of these consultations shows particular trends that can influence education and ministry with young people: 

  • The young people in these conversations are actively engaged in their faith, yet still struggle with the Church.
  • There is incredible diversity among youth and young adults in terms of culture, ecclesial perspective, spirituality, and lived experiences.
  • An awareness of and response to this diversity may at times be lost in ministries with a diverse community of young people.
  • Young people and ministry leaders want more listening, as was found in the model of the National Dialogue, the V Encuentro, and the Synod.
  • By and large, the participants wanted to see Church leadership and their fellow Christians be more authentic and less judgmental and divisive.
  • The young people in these conversations have a very strong sense of mission: They want to change the world.

Participants from over 80 Catholic organizations and institutions took part in National Dialogue conversations.


What does all of this mean for Catholic colleges and universities? Here are a few direct suggestions from the executive summary:

More intentionally connect the life of faith with the lived experiences of young people. Even active young people feel the Catholic Church does not show how faith is relevant to their daily lives, transitions, and lived experiences.

We all need to do more synodal listening to one another. The recent experiences of the Synod, the V Encuentro, and the National Dialogue show that synodality2 is essential, especially listening to those from the peripheries and bringing in the voices of those who are not sitting around the table.

Address the “authenticity gap.” Many voices expressed that the Church needs to show more empathy and authentic engagement with the young, rather than empty platitudes or impatient judgment of the young and the disaffiliated.

Increase the investment in accompaniment. The Church must train more people in “the art of accompaniment” with youth and young adults, especially in the area of mental health.

Expand ministry with young adults. All age groups noted the Church’s significant lack of attention to young adults (ages 18-39) and expressed a strong recommendation to deepen, invest in, and expand this ministerial area.

Reimagine faith formation. There was regular encouragement to move away from a classroom model and toward more relevant learning models featuring mentorship, small groups, accompaniment, faith sharing, and authentic witness.

Transform ministry leadership. It was evident from the feedback that the Church needs to seriously address the formation, support, and resourcing of ministry leaders and create a culture of collaboration and unity across ministerial and ecclesial lines.


Different trends also emerged among distinct age groups. In particular, young adults asked the Church for a more integrated and relevant approach to faith and everyday life; more guidance and accompaniment during young adult transitions and vocational discernment; and more ministry opportunities for them as young adults, inclusive of increased funding and support for this ministerial area.


For Catholic higher education, the task now is to compare and contrast the findings of the national process with voices on each campus...


For Catholic higher education, the task now is to compare and contrast the findings of the national process with voices on each campus to see where the similarities are, as well as discover important differences and unique needs. While many campuses participated in this effort, the vast majority of Catholic colleges and universities were not engaged from the beginning with this important initiative. A good challenge might be to replicate the structured conversation models among students and recent graduates of the institutions that did not participate in the first round.  Another good challenge would include online and in-person opportunities where campus administrators, faculty, staff, and students share their insights on what the Church needs to do to engage with young people.

Catholic higher education is in a privileged position to support young people seeking to connect life and faith, discerning their call in life and deciding best pathways to change the world. The opportunities are vast in campus ministry as well as in academic offerings to prepare college students to share in the life of the Church on campus and after graduation.  Many courses, conferences, workshops, retreats, and speaker engagements may explore key findings of the report when dealing with transformations urgently needed in the Church.  The structured conversations developed for the National Dialogue can be adapted as an important means of recording the voices of young people in Catholic higher education, whether engaged or disaffiliated, creating additional spaces of inclusivity, participation, and empowerment.

National-Dialogue-reportIn Christus Vivit, Pope Francis emphasized that “missionary outreach on the part of schools and universities include a fresh experience of the kerygma, wide-ranging dialogue, interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary approaches, the promotion of a culture of encounter, the urgency of creating networks and an option in favor of those who are least, those whom society discards. Similarly important is the ability to integrate the knowledge of head, heart and hands.” (CV 222)

Working with, and not just for young people is key to acknowledging, engaging, including, and accompanying them as integral members of our faith and learning communities in Catholic higher education. May the voices of young people continue to be included in the discernment to rejuvenate the Church each step of the way.

Read the complete report at


Jose J. Matos Auffant is executive director of University Ministry at St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, and vice president of the National Catholic Hispanic Network de Pastoral Juvenil Hispana (LaRED). He participated in the National Dialogue and V Encuentro processes.



(1) The core collaborators of this unprecedented initiative include the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM), the Catholic Campus Ministry Association (CCMA), the National Catholic Network de Pastoral Juvenil Hispana (LaRED), the National Advisory Team on Young Adult Ministry (NATYAM), and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) also was part of the process, as were a number of its member institutions.

(2) According to the Vatican website for the upcoming 2022 Synod, synodality is not explicitly defined in Vatican II, but rather an expression to describe the life of the Church “as communion when all her members journey together, gather in assembly and take an active part in her evangelizing mission.”