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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXVIII, No. 2
Pentecost 2013

Habemus Youth!

Faith and Hope are Alive in Young Catholics

by Tracy Frelk

March 13, 1:00 in the afternoon. I fortuitously — or, perhaps, providentially — asked my boss if, in the event of the election of a pope while I was at work, I could leave early. She said yes. Not an hour later, I received the text, “white smoke.”

“You’re lying,” I responded, wholeheartedly believing it.

“No, really. Come.”

I went. I’ve never packed my backpack so fast. My gait was somewhere between a walk and a run as I tried not to look like a complete maniac on campus, but also tried to give the impression that I’m-in-a-hurry-please-please-please-don’t-slow-me-down.

I arrived at the Catholic Campus Ministry building in record time. People were already gathered around the television. I’ve rarely seen so many genuine grins all in one place. We were hugging, crying, laughing. We hung our papal flag out on the front of the building, hoping cars passing by would notice and understand. The joy and the excitement were tangible.

People kept pouring in until our little library was fit to burst. We watched the screen on the edges of our seats, the noise level swelling every time the curtains of the St. Peter’s balcony seemed to move. We were all there, together, a collection of college students from some rather diverse walks of life. No one had told us that this is what we had to do when the pope was elected. No one had demanded that we run from our classes and our lunches to see who the next Vicar of Christ would be. But we were all there anyway.

There is something supernatural about that. Not all of us were devout Catholics. Not all of us are devout Catholics. But everyone — the whole world — was watching the papal election. Take the secular news media, for example: they don’t watch the election of the Archbishop of Canterbury like this, or even the elections of international political leaders. There is something about the election of a pope that is irresistible. There is something there.

I am convinced that Catholicism is the only religion that can really haunt people. I see it on a regular basis on a college campus. My professors, my peers, the subjects I am taught — all seem to have an intense curiosity about Catholicism. I don’t think I’ve gone through a single course without it being mentioned at least once. I’m sure that academia has plenty of reasons for this: the Catholic Church is historic, it’s one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, etc. But I don’t think that explains the mass interest regarding the papal election. There’s something more there.

I’ve heard it said that the Catholic Church in the United States is dead. I offer this account and these observations as proof of the exact opposite. The Church is alive. She is truly alive in the youth. Perhaps that’s hidden for a while. Certainly not everyone can see what I am blessed to see on a daily basis: normal, capable young people voluntarily and wholeheartedly serving their Mother Church, and serving her first. More than that, not everyone can see the young people who, even though they may have left the Faith for a time, come back. They come back to events like the election of a pope — curious and wondering and unable to let go of this thing called Catholicism.

In a quiet corner of Fredericksburg, Virginia, these young Catholics freely gathered around a television to watch Pope Francis appear on that balcony. They celebrated and toasted together.

I believe that, through this scene, the Holy Spirit was encouraging me to hope. Hope in my generation. Yes, it is very hard to be young in this day and age. Our generation is wounded and lost and suffering. We can see that very clearly, and I think it makes it exceedingly easy to lose hope when all we can see are the lost sheep.

But don’t forget about the young people in Catholic Campus Ministries across the country who gather to watch papal elections. Don’t forget about the millions of young people who go to World Youth Days. Trying times create great saints. Our generation is wounded, but saints will arise in proportion to the need.

Catholicism cannot be denied. The world, as much as it may try to degrade and reject it, can’t forget about it. Even in apparent defeat, the Church is alive. The youth, too, are alive in her. For the majority of his thirty-three years on Earth, Christ lived a “hidden life,” a private life largely unrevealed to us.

He continues that hidden life in the Eucharist. We can’t be afraid of the hidden life of the youth, which is the hidden life of the Holy Spirit. Though we can’t always see the good in this young generation, we must have faith that the Holy Spirit is working, quietly and efficiently. He is there in our generation, even when we don’t see Him. The saints of every generation are usually hidden until long after their deaths, but that hardly means that they weren’t present to their peers, to their times.

Christ couldn’t work miracles in the town where there was no faith. Neither can He work miracles for us if we have no faith. We must trust that He is working, even in a country and a people that seem utterly lost. If we don’t trust Him, He can do nothing for us. If we don’t have faith, He can do nothing for that “unbelieving and perverse generation” (Matthew 17:17).

My peers’ witness to their faith and to the Church, both witting and unwitting, gives me hope. Love the youth. Pray for the youth. We know for a fact that God has not abandoned His Church or this generation, so we also know that He is working in a hidden way. Pray for this generation that has Christ hidden in its heart. With great faith, He can bring forth great fruit out of great evil. Hope for this great fruit in the rising generation, because the seeds are there, and God has so ordained it that He requires us, requires our faith, in order to make them grow.

Blessed John Paul loved — loves — the youth. He told them at World Youth Day 2002, “Trust Christ because Christ trusts you.”  Let us pray with him that this happens. Let us pray for more faith and hope in our own lives, so that through us Christ can bear His fruit wherever He desires it. He wants saints from this generation. He wants great things from this generation. Let’s trust Him more, and better, and remember the mission that He has, in turn, entrusted us with. He’s entrusted it to the youth, too.|


Tracy Frelk is a senior at the University of Mary Washington. Originally from Northern Virginia, she is the oldest of seven children. During this academic year, she served as the student president of the UMW Catholic Campus Ministry.

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