Jesus Christ's example of friendship with his apostles is the model for "the start of ministry to young adults in the 21st century," a bishop told 1,000 members of the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry gathered in San Jose Dec. 2.
"Knowing he was to go to the cross, knowing that he was going to see his apostles at their ugliest -- as they left the upper room, he turned to them and said, 'I no longer call you my servants, I call you my friends,'" Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, told the crowded ballroom.
"And that, I believe, is the start of ministry to young adults in the 21st century," he added. "It begins in that love that is accepting, loving, caring and walking with them as friends of one mind and heart, one person at a time."
"For the infant church, Christians did that and brought an empire to its knees. And you and I, my friends, are asked to do the same," Bishop Caggiano said.
Living as a loving community sharing a "fire for Jesus," he said, is the same challenge that "exists in our time."
That is what it will take "to become credible in the eyes of the world," said Bishop Caggiano.
Episcopal adviser for the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry since 2013, the bishop has an extensive history of outreach to youth and young adults said.
Last July, he was among a number of bishops who addressed World Youth Day pilgrims in Krakow, Poland. He also has delivered talks at previous World Youth Days -- in Sydney, 2008; Madrid, Spain, 2011; and Rio de Janeiro, 2013. He currently serves on four U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' committees, including the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.
The federation met Dec. 1-3 at the San Jose Convention Center. Its national meeting was held simultaneously with the Northern California Faith Formation Conference.
In his remarks, Bishop Caggiano said that "as we reimagine ministry among young adults, we must also rise to the challenge that Pope Francis is giving to you and to me."
"Our Holy Father speaks of becoming a people of mercy and compassion. It seems to me that this is the beginning of this odyssey of renewal," he told the assembly.
Being "intentionally welcoming" will mean "not being afraid to let our young adults ask questions without fear of being shut up" and letting them have ownership -- "skin in the game" -- with opportunities for leadership and service, he said.
"Every community will have a different recipe for renewal," Bishop Caggiano said, but each must be intentional in outreach and he said the ministry to young adults will then "be a leaven for the renewal of the whole church."
But the way will be hard, he said. The early Christians, many martyred, "realized that suffering is the privileged path to let Jesus into their lives," Bishop Caggiano said. "So what's the challenge? The challenge my friends is that ministry in the 21st century is not for the faint of heart. Ministry in our age and time is going to demand that you and I be willing to suffer for love."
"We cannot do it without prayer. We cannot do it without Eucharist. We cannot do it without sitting before the word of God, and we cannot do it without each other," he said, "But we can do it."