Young adults: Ascend forms new leaders for modern challenges

By Alison Tate
Guest Columnist

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis describes a contemplative vision of modern life that recognizes God’s presence where people are searching for meaning and encouragement. Often these searchers are young people who want to learn more about how they can exercise their faith in their communities, workplaces and homes. 
A Synod of Bishops in 2018 will focus on young people’s search for meaning in their lives. Our own Diocese of Austin Pastoral Plan has presented an urgent call for leadership by new and different leaders. The Diocese of Austin’s response to this need is a resource for young adult leadership development called Ascend: An Emerging Leaders Program.  
Young people of faith have an obligation to engage with the world and uphold a just social order. Leadership is a necessary skill by which this engagement happens. Leadership is not an innate gift that one has or does not have. It can be encouraged, fostered and practiced in young people so that they are ready to share their faith in the modern world. It is vital that young people do not step aside due to frustration or fear. So often overlooked, even in our parishes, the invitation to lead is the first step of enriching the church with the experiences and gifts of young adults. 
Education and training can overcome hesitancy to respond to this invitation. Applied practice in a supportive and diverse cohort of peers strengthens a person’s ability to make a lasting contribution. Specific components such as self-awareness, having honest conversations, conflict management and prayer are all tools that are needed to live Gospel values today. Combined with a community of others trying to do the same, young adults can have immense influence in an unlimited amount of professional and personal settings. 
Ascend was founded in 2015 as the Emerging Leaders Program. Through the work of many inspired young adults and volunteers, each annual class of participants attended a series of retreats and presentations by Catholic business, medical and public service leaders. Fifty-five young adults who participated in the classes of 2015 and 2016 are now using these applied skills of leadership in their careers and in the church. For its third year in 2017, an intentional leadership curriculum was created to invest in the promising potential of those under 40 in the Diocese of Austin. Through retreats and leadership courses held between February and April, the graduates of Ascend 2017 will improve their communities and the church with a concrete response to their faith. 
Young people and those who know young people are invited to consider this opportunity for contributing their unique talents and building a legacy in their church and community. 
Applications for the Ascend class of 2017 are open until Feb. 10. For more information about Ascend, or to apply, visit www.austindiocese.org/ascend or contact Elizabeth Lagoe at elizabeth-lagoe@austindiocese.org or (512) 949-2464.