According to research by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, nearly
one in three Americans was raised in the Catholic faith – but only 24 percent of
Americans describe themselves as Catholic today. The Pew Forum also reported
previously that, of the one in ten Catholic-raised American adults who have
left the Church, many said it was because their spiritual needs were not being
The loss is particularly acute for people in their 20s and 30s –
individuals who are making the transition from a home parish or university
ministry and working through major life changes.
“This is a time when young people need the support of a faith
community and the tools our faith provides, but many Catholics in their 20s and
30s say they don’t feel like they belong,” says Pam Coster, executive director
of Charis Ministries, which provides retreats based in Ignatian Spirituality.
“There is evidence that many young adults are not being reached effectively
by the Church,” Pam adds. “It’s our goal to provide support for them to reflect
on God’s action in their lives, and discover the path to becoming faith-filled
men and women for others.”
“Young adults today are not afraid to question, and many are seeking,
or engaging in spiritual ‘tinkering’ as recent books and articles describe it,”
she continues. “They communicate in new and constantly evolving ways and are
used to creative interaction with each other and the organizations in which
they are involved. All of this has an effect on their spiritual life and
relationship to the Church.”
Founded in 2000 to address these trends, Charis Ministries has
developed retreats based on eight themes chosen to respond to the particular
needs of young adults. Rooted in the Spiritual Exercises, the retreats include
silent reflection, spiritual direction and Ignatian prayer forms – all tools
that can be used in daily life following a retreat.
Importantly, Charis retreats are peer-led. “Young adults provide
the voice, leadership and spiritual inspiration for their peers,” Pam explains.
“The stories of their personal transitions, and faith’s important role in them,
inspire others to seek that same foundation.”
Kurt and Lizzie Conrath – who recently participated in a “Christ Alive
in our Marriage Retreat” in Milwaukee – commend this approach.
“It was exciting
to meet all these other people who are in a situation that’s similar to ours as
a newly married couple, and who are drawn to their faith network as a support,”
“This was a wonderful opportunity to grow in our faith lives both as
individuals and as a couple,” says Lizzie. “Society often portrays marriage as easy, like a fairy tale,
but we know from others that it will be difficult at times and requires continuous
effort from both people. We want to start learning and implementing
healthy habits and building a ‘toolbox’ of ideas to further cultivate our
incorporate our faith more richly into our marriage.”
“What was special
about this retreat was the specific emphasis on targeting newly married couples,”
Lizzie adds. “It shows that the Catholic Church believes that this time in our
lives is crucial.”
“Charis is only one resource for young adult ministry, but it is
a very powerful one,” Pam concludes. “The retreats create a non-judgmental
environment for those in their 20s and 30s to learn about the faith and to be
given tools for discernment, prayer, building healthy relationships and
deepening their relationships with God. Once those seeds are planted, they can
bear fruit for a lifetime!”
"This was a wonderful opportunity to grow in our faith lives both as individuals and as a couple."
- Lizzie Conrath,
Charis Ministries has two full-time and five part-time employees
offering retreats in Chicago and supporting partners in 35 cities in which approximately
140 volunteers serve as Charis team members.
Parishes or other organizations
interested in offering a Charis retreat can contact Partner Program Coordinator
Sarah Jarzembowski (firstname.lastname@example.org) for detailed information regarding fees, training, logistics
and the many ways Charis supports local efforts.
Charis also sends e-newsletters about Ignatian Spirituality,
written by young adults, to past retreatants to support them in their
continuing faith development. A current series on Technology and Spirituality
is an example of how Charis provides experiences and content relevant to young