Institute teaches young adults about leadership

By Enedelia J. Obregón
Senior Correspondent

Approximately 30 young adults from the diocesan Pastoral Juvenil attended this summer’s Fe Y Vida Summer Institute at St. Edward’s University in Austin to learn about leadership and to build a deeper understanding of their ministry and faith.
Music, liturgy, training new leaders, lay ministries, formation and the dynamics of the Pastoral Juvenil were just a few of the topics of the workshops they attended.
Miguel Sánchez, coordinator of the diocesan Pastoral Juvenil Hispana, said the institute is necessary for these young adults who will be the leaders of the growing Hispanic population in the diocese.
“We keep hearing that Hispanics are the future of the diocese, but we are already the present,” Sánchez said. 
He noted that studies show about 40 percent of Catholics in the U.S. are Hispanic. That compares to 25 percent in the 1980s. 
Among youth, the numbers are higher: 55 percent of U.S. Catholics under 30 are Hispanic. Hispanics account for 71 percent of growth in the Catholic population since 1960. These numbers come from a three-year study published in 2011 by the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, which studied parishes with Hispanic ministries.
In the Diocese of Austin, about 40 percent of the Catholic population is Hispanic.
Sánchez said his newly created position was established by the diocese with those demographics in mind.
“My duty is to nourish their formation when it comes to matters of faith,” he said. “Human intellect is wasted if they do not have training.”
Joel T. Gordillo, 19, a parishioner at St. Louis Parish in Austin, said “Wow!” when asked about his experience at the institute. He said he learned a lot at the institute, which attracted young Hispanic adults from around the country.
“It motivated me a lot,” said Gordillo, who has been involved with the Pastoral Juvenil for about a year. “I learned leaders don’t have to do everything. It’s a shared leadership. We serve God; it’s not a competition as to who can do more. We need to give the glory to him.”
Gordillo said it opened his eyes as to how different being a missionary disciple is from just being a church-going Catholic the way he was in Mexico, where he was born. Many people, he said, attend Mass out of habit.
“This was the first time I really prayed,” Gordillo said. “It’s great when you are given the tools to serve God and others.”
Briceida Hernández, 18, a parishioner at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Austin has been involved with Pastoral Juvenil for about a year. She enjoys being around other young people who like to have fun while learning about and growing in their faith.
“Young people are a lot alike,” she said. “We ask a lot of questions and want to know why things are done a certain way or why the church teaches certain things. I feel this is when I really started living my faith.”
Hernández said the institute motivated and encouraged the group to grow in faith as well as teaching them how to reach out to others.
Gloria Sánchez, a parishioner at Cristo Rey Parish in Austin, became involved after attending an Easter retreat last year. She learned young people need tools to grow in faith and what it really means to be Catholic.
She said those tools are needed because it can be difficult to live their faith, especially due to peer pressure.
“It’s about ‘what will they say,’” she said. “Many people ask why you’re not perfect if you’re so involved.”
Hernández said she even experienced conflict within her family about her involvement in so many church activities.
“If you let it, that can affect you,” she said. “You have to really think about why you are doing this.”
Lázaro Garduño, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Parish in Austin, said some of his friends teased him about wanting to be a priest and they slowly grew apart.
“They don’t invite me to parties any more –– only when I’m the designated driver,” he said with a laugh.
That teasing, however, planted a seed. Garduño is praying about and discerning his call to the priesthood.
Garduño, who has been involved with the group for a couple of years, thought he had a reasonably strong faith foundation.
“I learned we need to strengthen ourselves and discern how we want to serve others and our parish and beyond,” Garduño said. “It really encouraged me to educate myself and others.”
He also learned the importance of being in relation with others and to not be afraid of evangelizing others.
He said young adults also have a responsibility to educate themselves so they can educate others.
“I have trouble reading and writing,” Garduño said. “But the reality is we need to prepare ourselves because that responsibility is right around the corner.”
Victor Estrada, a parishioner at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Austin, has been involved with the group for about four years and first got involved at the parish level after being invited to Mass by someone at a dance.
“I ignored him,” Estrada said. “I hadn’t been to Mass in seven years. I always used work as an excuse.”
At another dance he got asked again. This time, he accepted the invitation to Mass and the various parish groups.
“The first time I attended Pastoral Juvenil, I stayed,” he said. “I received a good welcome and felt very special.”
Estrada said he was very timid at first, but slowly he started participating and soon he was taking on leadership roles.
“I started feeling alive,” he said. I started to be a real Catholic Christian.”
The more he learned, the more he wanted to learn. This was his second time attending the institute.
“Leaders study a lot and sacrifice a lot,” he said. “It demands a lot, but it strengthens me. We are the not the structure of the church. But we have to be church. The challenge is to take it to the ends of the world.”
Estrada said young adults are at the stage in life when they have a lot of anxieties and questions. If those questions are not answered, they will leave the church and find answers elsewhere or stop looking.
“Católico ignorante, seguro Protestante” or “ignorant Catholic, for sure a Protestant” is the refrain several of in the group responded in unison.
“If you don’t know how to respond when others ask you about your faith, it’s easy to falter,” Estrada said. “This is why we need to help each other by learning and bringing what we know to others.”
For more information about Pastoral Juvenil in the Austin Diocese, contact Miguel Sánchez at (512) 949-2466 or

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