Veni fills young adults’ longing for Catholic community
January 13, 2022
The following article was written by Rachael Tvrdy, who helped found Veni, a new group for young adults in the archdiocese. She also serves as marriage preparation and enrichment coordinator for the Archdiocese of Omaha.
SIDEBAR: Read this Q&A from Father Eliot Schwer on the importance of Veni.
Nearly 100 young adults trickled into St. Cecilia Cathedral, many solo, on a cold December night.
Every candelabra was lit, and the immense sanctuary glowed with the warm candlelight, inviting those inside to leave the world behind for a moment and transcend into a higher reality.
Father Michael Voithofer, pastor of St. Benedict the Moor Parish in Omaha and founder of Ablaze Ministry, strummed an acoustic guitar and led those in attendance in songs of praise before the Blessed Sacrament. Then he spoke, reminding those who attended that God wants deep intimacy with each one of them.
Other priests were available for the sacrament of Reconciliation. After worship at the cathedral, many continued on to a gathering at a nearby home.
Those at the inaugural event for Veni – a citywide initiative for young adults – were brought together by Providence and mutual longing. A deeply-felt need for community among young Catholics was being answered.
Marcus Shields, of Plattsmouth, said he had been attending an evangelical church near his home despite recently converting to Catholicism because he couldn’t find a community like the one he had experienced in college.
This experience is undeniably too common. Many young people who share an authentic, Catholic community through FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) and Newman Centers throughout the country feel displaced as they enter parish life after college. Graduates often feel the dramatic shift from being part of a dynamic faith community to a lack of connection in parishes.
Father Dan Andrews, director and pastor of the St. John Paul II Newman Center in Omaha, became interested in Veni after seeing a need for a faith community for young people once they graduate.
“It’s not always easy for them to find stable community in parishes,” he said.
“Each year at the JPII Newman Center, we send out a lot of alum excited about their relationship with Jesus and his Church. It makes sense that one healthy thing leads to another. Veni gives them an opportunity to connect and share life with peers across the city.”
“My hope is that God raises up leaders to provide a solid young adult movement in Omaha,” Father Andrews said, “one that contains not only prayer and fellowship, but service, formation and fun.”
The idea to launch Veni came from a few minds coming together with the same dream in their hearts.
As with many great projects, timing was key.
Father Eliot Schwer, in residence at St. Cecilia, reached out to me in August, relaying that he had an inspiration to start a citywide holy hour for young adults at the Cathedral.
Coincidentally (or God-cindentally), an archdiocese team had been invited to Kansas City by City on a Hill, a Catholic young adult movement there that hosts social and spiritual events across the city.
A group of young adult parish leaders from Omaha spent the weekend there with others from dioceses across the country, strategizing and sharing ideas on how to build up young adult apostolates in an organic, non-programmatic way.
One of those most stirring events we attended was a hugely popular candlelit, vigil adoration hour, hosted bi-monthly at a Redemptorist church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Father Andrew Mattingly, the chaplain of City on a Hill, invited the attendees afterward to a neighboring house party, where hundreds gathered.
Having the opportunity to experience that event made me want to recreate the same event here in the Omaha metro area. I thought, “Our archdiocese has so many beautiful churches that could host such an event, yet the only church befitting to host a centralized event such as this is our Mother Church, St. Cecilia.”
Imagine the great shock I had when I received an email from Fr. Schwer, who, not knowing the recent turn of events, had offered to host the same event: a candlelit holy hour for young adults
The email read:
“The Lord brought to my mind how I had experienced, in Denver and St. Paul, MN, a holy hour with music and confessions put on by local seminaries and what a powerful witness to the community that was within the local church and that it was not just for one parish but all young adults in the metro area. I feel led to pursue the possibility of being part of starting something similar in Omaha.”
The Holy Spirit had spoken.
SENSE OF BELONGING
Soon a small team was formed to execute the launch. Lauren Hankes, resident manager at the St. John Paul II Newman Center, promptly joined the project, offering her gifts of communication and social media coverage.
Many young adults practically live online, so we knew we needed a strong online presence. Hankes created the new branding, and started new accounts on Instagram and Facebook, easily recognizable as “ArchO Young Adults.” Coupled with a broad social media launch, we recognized the far-reaching value of word-of-mouth invitations. Most younger generations will not attend an event unless personally invited by someone they know. Gen Z and millennials particularly do not join groups or participate in an activity, unless they feel a sense of real belonging.
In my own line of work, marriage preparation, it is a task and challenge to offer young, engaged couples an authentic welcome into the life of the Church. Since many parishes currently do not have hospitality or young adult volunteers directly reaching out, Veni creates an opportunity to experience that welcome and belonging beyond what the parish is offering.
As a result, a hospitality team was formed. Several young adults volunteered to greet those who walk in, start up conversations, and redirect them to the afterparty, generously held at a parishioner’s home.
Anything worth doing takes a team effort, and this effort couldn’t have been done without each person’s gifts and generosity. And according to Shields, who now has volunteered to lead the hospitality team, Veni is an effort that is necessary and life-giving.
“I was excited to attend Veni to meet other Catholics throughout the Omaha area,” he said. “It feels necessary for us to come together to experience God. We are all called to have a relationship with God and with one another, and Veni is a way of fostering both of those connections.”
If you wish to attend or invite others to Veni, it will be hosted on the second Friday of every month, 7:30-9 p.m. at St. Cecilia Cathedral, with a social gathering afterward. All young adults (single, married or consecrated) who are 22-39 are welcome to attend Veni, as the meaning in Latin simply bids: “Come!”
Please note that the Jan. 14 gathering was canceled because of the COVID-19 surge, but Veni will resume on Feb. 11. Other dates are: March 11, April 8, May 13, June 10, July 8, Aug. 12, Sept. 9, Oct. 14, Nov. 11 and Dec. 9.