By David Karas | Correspondent
When Millstone resident Denielle Balint graduated from college and moved further into adulthood, she found herself missing her past youth group participation. But the 25-year-old wasn’t just missing the social interaction.
“I really miss that sense of community,” she recalled thinking. She also noted that she hadn’t been opening her Bible enough, so she began talking with friends about how they could come together to celebrate and grow in their faith, both as fellow Catholics and young adults.
The result of those conversations is Young Adults in Faith, a group from parishes in the Monmouth and Ocean County areas who gather on a regular basis for Holy Hours, Bible studies, dinners and other events designed to foster faith and fellowship. The group organized a Holy Hour for a few members last summer, and since then, both the membership rolls and the event calendar have increased.
“We started doing Bible studies and we kept inviting people – and it just kind of grew,” said Balint, who is a member of St. Monica Parish, Jackson. “It is about bringing young adults together who are already in the faith, and then evangelizing young adults who are outside of the faith.”
Presently, the group holds monthly Holy Hours and regular Bible study gatherings, some with dinner or other social events included. Programs are held in various parishes and venues, and some members host gatherings in their homes. Balint said members enjoy the small group settings and the intimate and open conversations that can take place.
“People like to feel that they belong to something bigger than them and one other person,” she said, “but they also want to feel that intimacy when they are a part of something.”
Some 15 members will typically attend a given program, Balint explained, though there is never a limitation on how many can attend. When gatherings are held in larger venues such as parishes, invitations are more broadly shared, including in parish bulletins. The group also has a presence on various social media platforms, a critical part of the goal to meet fellow young adults where they already are and to spread the word.
Community of Faith
Member Laura Cugini, 22, recently graduated from college and is a member of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral Parish, Freehold. She was concerned about missing out on the fellowship and faith solidarity of her campus ministry program, and was introduced to a member of Young Adults in Faith. She was immediately drawn to the group.
“My faith is important to me because my relationship with God has given me strength when I was weak, hope when I was discouraged, and comfort when I was sad or lonely,” she said. “The faith of the members of YAIF is a binding treasure we all share. We have a great group of members that are of similar mindset, which is often comforting when growing up a young Catholic in today’s society,” she said.
Cugini noted that each of the members is in a similar position on their own faith journey.
“I think we as a group are still learning and growing in our faith, and each person that attends an event brings a new thought or perspective,” she said.
Father John Large, parochial vicar in St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan, who provides spiritual direction and guidance for the group, has helped secure space for various programs and worked with members to add more organization to their efforts.
“Young adults are an important demographic for the Church,” said Father Large. “I believe that many young adults are open to growing in their Christian faith and are mature enough to make a commitment to follow Christ. They just need the right environment to learn more about their faith and be encouraged by other young adults.”
He sees Young Adults in Faith as helping to provide such a venue for young adults.
“I think that we’ve been effective in connecting young adults together and giving them a venue to nurture their Catholic faith and encourage each other,” he said.
Using Their Talents
Gabriella Furmato, director of community relations and program host for the Domestic Church Media Foundation, Ewing, and a young adult herself, has been involved since the beginning. She noted that many members plan their calendars, and even their college course schedules, around group gatherings.
“It was born out of prayer, friendship, and a desire to grow closer to God,” said Furmato, a member of St. William the Abbot Parish, Howell.
She also noted that members lend their God-given talents to the group – with some being missionaries, leaders, graphic designers, those in the tech field and others with a gift for hospitality.
Matthew Marzorati, a member of St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson, and creative director at True Goodness Films, is one of those members who has lent his skills to the cause.
“I was a little nervous because I didn’t know what to expect,” he said, “and needless to say, I love it.”
He now helps with the group’s website and videography.
Balint sees the clear importance of engaging young adults in their faith.
‘There is still so much hope out there, and a lot of young adults don’t see that and don’t understand that,” she said. “To experience someone who is on fire for Christ is just an amazing thing, and to be on fire for Christ is just so much more.”