WASHINGTON (CNS) — Young Catholics are not just the future of the Catholic Church, but are its present. This was the message from participants in a June 8 National Black Catholic Congress webinar.

The webinar included four panelists, all active Catholics: Avery Daniel, Nathalie Borgella, Ashley Morris and Lasheka B. Morris, who was the main facilitator. The overall theme was “Young Adults as the Present Presence of the Church.”

Lasheka Morris said she did not become a Catholic until 2011, although as a child she attended Catholic school from kindergarten to eighth grade. When she joined the church, she said, it “felt like home.”

“We are present and happy to share our gifts, but often feel patronized,” she said about young Catholics. “Young adults need to lead. We, the church, do not have the luxury to wait on a future reality already realized in front of us.”

“Young adults are looking for love and evangelization,” added Morris, who lives in Atlanta. A wife and mother, she is currently in graduate school working on a master’s degree in nutrition and wellness.

The webinar began with a line from Scripture. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.” (1 Timothy 4:12).

That Scripture quote echoed throughout the hour webinar in speakers remarks.

“You don’t have to be an elder to be involved in the church,” said Borgella, a graduate of Spellman College. A first-generation college graduate and the daughter of Haitian immigrants, she’s a member of the Haitian Catholic Community of Atlanta.

“My engagement started at a really young age, filtered in my college experience,” she said.

“We have to be very open to serving,” even if “it appears that the church always caters to elders,” Borgella said.

“Don’t limit yourself, whether it’s altar serving or lecturing. Young people have wisdom and can lead with the power that can save lives. You don’t know how your leadership style can touch believers and nonbelievers. Don’t limit yourself,” she added.

All the panelists felt the church often undervalues or ignores the opinions and different perspectives of young adults while catering to the older generation, sometimes leaving young adults to feel that life in the church is not for them.

“Young people want to do what the Lord calls us to do,” said Daniel, who is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. He’s only the fourth African American seminarian for the archdiocese. He earned his master’s degree in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 2019, graduating magna cum laude.

“The Lord wants us to enter more deeply into a closer relationship with him,” he said. “Living the Christian life, one of friendship and love is how we’re open to our vocation. A vocation isn’t choosing a job, it’s much more fundamental.”

The panelists all agreed it’s young adults who are going to build up the church and suggested the church invest in resources for Catholic young adults to keep them engaged in the church and create events for them to mingle, get to know each other. The panelists expressed dismay that many Catholic youth seem to become less involved in teen ministry after their confirmation.

When the panelists were asked what they think young adults can do specifically to be involved in the church on an everyday basis, Ashley Morris said he doesn’t think it has to be an everyday thing but being active consistently is the goal.

“We have to be clear on young adult engagement. Challenge ourselves to do more than just attend Mass. Don’t be a Jonah and go one direction when God tells you to go another,” said Morris, who is associate director of the Office of Intercultural and Ethnic Diversity of the Atlanta Archdiocese. “Be realistic as to what young adults can do. (It’s) more than just church. Make sure church is alive and vibrant for the next generation.”

He added: “We have to continuously build up the church for now and the future.”