Pastoral Ministry with Young Adults Requires Good Mentors

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS—Like a good college quarterback, effective military chaplains should mix up their game plan to reach young adults with the Gospel and the sacraments. That’s the message from Mark Moitoza, Vice-Chancellor and Director of Evangelization of the Archdiocese for the Military Services (AMS). In a presentation to chaplains and priests gathered here for an archdiocesan convocation, Moitoza said “emerging adults”—typically people between the ages of 18 and 23—are as different as the individuals who make up their age group and not easily boxed into a single category of religious belief systems. Moitoza said that diversity in religious outlook raises the need for chaplains to be more socially adaptable when approaching and ministering to this particular segment of the Catholic community, which makes up a substantial portion of the United States armed forces.

Moitoza, in describing the underlying values gap that exists between many of today’s emerging adults and anyone trying to share faith with them, borrowed a quote from Dr. Christian Smith, professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame: “We can no longer presuppose the present generation presupposes the presuppositions we hold onto.” In other words, nothing can be taken for granted, not even the basics of Catholic teaching.

Moitoza cited research from Smith’s book, Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults, finding that today’s emerging adults fall broadly under six types of attitude toward God. Here is the breakdown: 1) 30% are selective adherents who decide for themselves what they believe, say and do, picking and choosing some Christian teachings while disregarding others; 2) 25% are religiously indifferent and neither care to practice religion nor oppose it; 3) 15% are committed traditionalists who embrace an established mainline tradition; 4) Another 15% are spiritually open, receptive to and at least mildly interested in spiritual matters, but not enough to pursue or commit to any particular faith; 5) 10% are irreligious, many of them atheists, who distrust religion in general and may even make fun of religious beliefs and practices; and, 6) 5% are religiously disconnected and don’t care one way or the other about religion.

Moitoza advised the chaplains and priests that in order to cut through such a vast mix of religious confusion and misunderstanding, they should view emerging adults not as a single age group, but as different individuals and groups whose age might be the only thing they have in common. He recommended the clergymen approach these young adults on their own terms. Moitoza said young adults today are essentially a “moving target,” much more like active steamships cruising out of port than the popular media perception of passive individuals on a lazy river just letting life happen to them.

Moitoza said, “It is up to all people, lay and ordained, in Military Catholic Faith Communities to listen to young adults and then also share why they believe. Emerging adults need witnesses who will share their authentic encounters with Jesus Christ and who will willingly share how their practice of the faith transforms their daily lives.”

Moitoza also encouraged the chaplains and priests to make full use of the social media that are so popular among young adults, such as Facebook and Twitter, and he recommended specific online Catholic programs including,,,, and

Moitoza pointed out that the military lifestyle only compounds pressures on young adults in all service branches as they struggle to cope with a high tempo of operations and multiple deployments. He challenged the chaplains and priests to prepare themselves for dealing with five specific major problem areas identified in Dr. Smith’s new book, Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood: individualism and confused moral reasoning, excess spending, consumerism and over-concern for material comfort; addiction to alcohol or other substances or activities; sexual promiscuity; and a tendency to disengage from civic and political life.

The AMS convocation in San Antonio is one of several held annually for the benefit of the approximately 270 military chaplains and priests serving the U.S. armed forces. This year, the AMS has also held convocations in San Diego, California and Washington, D.C. and will hold another next month in Rome, making it easier for chaplains and priests based closer to those locations to attend.

As the nation’s only archdiocese without geographical boundaries, the AMS endorses priests for on-site ministry at hundreds of locations throughout the country and around the world to Catholics and their families in the U.S. armed forces, VA Medical Centers and overseas civilian posts. Worldwide, an estimated 1.5 million Catholics depend on these priests to serve their spiritual and sacramental needs.