Young Adult Connections Articles
“Welcome to our Newsletter Archive! Here, we’ve gathered insightful articles from our monthly Catholic203 newsletters. Dive into stories, reflections, and experiences from our young adult community. Enjoy the read and deepen your faith journey with us.”
Young adult profile: Colin Petramale
STRATFORD—A cornerstone of Ignatian spirituality is finding God at work in all things, great and small. And it’s also a cornerstone in the life and work of Colin Petramale.
Petramale recently began a new role at the Diocese of Bridgeport as the Director of Discipleship for the five Catholic parishes in Stratford. A role that’s part of the Seton Collaborative, it gives him the opportunity to collaborate with the parishes in their respective ministries. In doing so, he recalled the words of Rowan Williams, the once-Archbishop of Canterbury, who said in ministry “it really helps if you actually believe in God.”
“I feel that way about ministry,” Petramale said. “It really helps if you actually believe in God, if you actually believe that ‘I’m not the author of life, but I’m given this life to share with other people’ … to lean on the wisdom of God’s people in the universal sense, to really determine how I can best minister in this world and how I can best find the face of Christ in everyone I encounter.”
In both his professional and personal life, he finds himself trying to see God at work in all things, especially in places we might not ordinarily look.
“Something that means a lot to me is trying to find God in the poor, and to act accordingly: to believe not only in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, but also in the Real Presence of Christ in the poor, as Jesus talks about in Matthew 25,” he said.
Petramale’s concern for the poor also stems from one of his favorite Church icons: Servant of God Dorothy Day. He admires Day’s devotion not only to Christ, but her devotion to social justice and serving God’s people—especially when it came to a key question faced by her Catholic Worker movement: should they give to the poor indiscriminately?
“Do we distinguish between the ‘deserving poor,’ as they’re known, who are maybe trying to work but things just aren’t working out for them, and the ‘undeserving poor,’ those who maybe don’t work or aren’t able to work?” he recalled. “And she decided that we give indiscriminately, that Jesus on the cross ultimately took away our privilege of deciding who was worthy and unworthy.”
Petramale also finds himself inspired by the work of St. Ephrem of Syria, a Doctor of the Church. According to Petramale, St. Ephrem distinguished himself from the other early Doctors of the Church because he didn’t write doctrine or logical arguments for the existence of God—he wrote poetry.
“He was this poet in the middle of early Church history when so much of what we consider to be settled doctrine now in the Church was being fought out in these very logical ways,” he said. “And Ephrem was like … ‘Hey guys, I get all the logical arguments, but come check out this
poetry I wrote, because it’s very beautiful , and maybe poetry helps us unlock the mystery of God in a way that logical arguments can’t quite do all the time.’”
As a young adult working in the Church, Petramale occupies an interesting position. He observed that even in a time where he and his young adult peers are seemingly more connected than ever, many have also never felt lonelier.
“Young adults are really in a time of increased isolation, because these wonderful phones we have can bring us so much, yet separate us from one another,” he said. “The statistics are really clear that young adults are more depressed than ever, more anxious than ever and lonelier than ever.”
Admittedly, Petramale said, he doesn’t have all the answers to solve these problems that young adults face. But he does think the Church offers something unique that can maybe begin to combat those difficult feelings of isolation.
“What the Church offers young people in particular is the body of Christ,” he said. “As a community of faith, we can share the hopes, dreams, joys and struggles that we all face, and we can come to know that we’re not alone.”
NORWALK—Being a person of faith between the ages of 18 and 29 isn’t exactly popular these days. In fact, according to the Associated Press, 43 percent of Americans in that age bracket identify as atheist, agnostic or with no religion in particular.
And yet, within that reality, there are beacons of hope for people of faith. And one of them was certainly present at the Annual Young Adult Mass and Social at St. Matthew Parish in Norwalk on September 30.
The annual event, organized by the Diocesan Young Adult Council, draws together young adult Catholics from all across the Diocese of Bridgeport for prayer, Mass and friendship. It also serves to encourage them to keep the faith close to their hearts in a time when many of their peers are not doing so.
“Young adults are not only the future of the Catholic Church, they’re also the present,” said Steven Velardo, chair of the Diocesan Young Adult Council. “Having a time when they can come together and pray and fellowship is truly invaluable to the Church and its future generations.”
One of the goals of the annual young adult Mass, of course, is to fill a church in the diocese with Catholics in their 20s and 30s to worship and fellowship together. But to Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, one of the goals of Christian life is quite the opposite: to empty.
That example, according to the bishop, was first set by Christ himself.
“The second person of the Blessed Trinity, when he entered creation, emptied himself of God: the glory and honor that is due to him by right since he is God himself,” the bishop said. “He willingly shed all so that he could take the frail, broken humanity you and I share not to crush it, but to caress it. Not to overwhelm it, but to accompany it in a perfect union in one person that is divine, so that he might, as St. Paul sings, live that humanity to exaltation.”
Similarly to Christ, the bishop said, Catholics are called to a certain type of emptiness in their lives. This is so they, like him, might be filled with the glory of God.
But how are they to do that, and of what are they meant to be emptied? First and foremost, Bishop Caggiano said, was that they should be emptied of their own sinfulness—including the sins that might be unknown to them.
“That is why we gather together as sisters and brothers (in) friendship in Christ: so that those around us who love us can see what you and I cannot see in ourselves,” the bishop said. “We are to empty it out, to seek forgiveness of all that we have done so that we might be filled with grace.”
One of the other things the bishop said young adults should seek to empty out is the lie that we are the center of our lives.
“Discipleship in Christ is to recognize our rightful place, and to whom we owe the gratitude of our very existence and future,” Bishop Caggiano said. “And that’s an ‘empty,’ particularly in a world that wants us to be satiated until we choke.”
And how is that emptiness achieved? According to the bishop, the young adults gathering together in community and prayer was already part of the answer to that question.
“How much you encourage me and give me great hope,” he said. “You have gathered together as
young men and young women because you need each other—as I need you, and you need me—to walk this journey … For we are always tempted to take the place of God in our lives, but also to pray on our knees, so we might recognize that we need to be emptied in order to be filled. And what Christ gives us to be filled is far greater than anything this world can give us.”
Photos’ credited to Owen Bonaventura Copyright © 2023 Owen Bonaventura
Celebrating Our Lady of the Rosary
October is the month of the Holy Rosary, largely due to the celebration of the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary on October 7. This beloved devotion to the Blessed Mother traces its origin as far back as the ninth century, cementing itself in the 13th century in a Marian apparition to St. Dominic.
Since then, praying the rosary has become an important practice to Catholics across the world, including here in the Diocese of Bridgeport. In celebration of the Memorial of Our Lady of Rosary, four of our young adults are showing off their favorite sets of rosary beads, as well as sharing the importance the rosary plays in their lives.
Reimagining What Faith Can Do
BRIDGEPORT—For many years, St. Ambrose Parish was a beacon for the Italian Catholic community in Bridgeport. But after the parish unfortunately closed in the early 2010s, the campus was uncharacteristically quiet for many years following.
But only a few months ago, liveliness and hope returned to the parish grounds in the form of the Fairfield Bellarmine program.
An academic program of Fairfield University, Bellarmine College provides a two-year, tuition-free Jesuit education to students from the Greater Bridgeport area, who will then either enter the workforce with an associate’s degree or pursue bachelor’s degrees at Fairfield or other area colleges. Students have the opportunity to choose academic tracks in the liberal arts, business, computer science or health studies.
As a consequence of the ever-evolving Catholic faith, sometimes old buildings need to be refitted for new purposes. This was the case for St. Ambrose’s main sanctuary, which had to be remodeled to house classrooms and other areas for its new students.
And in the former St. Ambrose Parish, old and new worlds truly collide. The classrooms have 21st-century technology and a sleek, contemporary feel. But in between classes, students make their way through the hallways, which still house the stained-glass windows and Stations of the Cross of the former parish.
Bellarmine’s inaugural Class of 2025 began classes in early September, and were there to celebrate the institution’s official ribbon-cutting event on Friday, September 15.
Founded on Jesuit principles, the Bellarmine program is a first-of-its-kind program in Jesuit higher education. And Fairfield University hopes the program is the first of many across the United States.
“This is a momentous day for first generation, minority learners, and for working class academics on so many levels. It is momentous, it is revelatory and it is a day of manifestation,” said Dr. Pamela Tolbert-Bynum Rivers, Fairfield’s associate dean for academic affairs. “From this place of authentic care, on this holy hill that was consecrated more than 100 years ago by the people of St. Ambrose and the indigenous people before them, we bear witness to what our students bring to us. And to our students, know this: we see and we esteem the God-given gift of who you are and who you are becoming at Fairfield Bellarmine.”
Ana Aguirre, a student in Fairfield Bellarmine’s first cohort, addressed her fellow students and those gathered for Fairfield Bellarmine’s ribbon cutting ceremony. She expressed her gratitude for the program, noting how it could change the lives of many young people who call the greater Bridgeport area home.
“This campus is dear to me because it represents progress, education and opportunity,” Aguirre said. “It shows how education can change lives. I extend a heartfelt thanks to Fairfield University, the Diocese of Bridgeport and to our partners who turned this vision into a reality.”
Teacher by day, youth minister by night: Meet Katrina Pesta
NORWALK—Whether it’s in the classroom or in the parish, Katrina Pesta brings her Catholic faith to everything she does.
But while her day job as a middle school teacher isn’t at a Catholic school, Pesta still integrates essential aspects of her faith into her work, reminding her to look at each student through the lens of Christ.
“My Catholic faith always reminds me how to be kind, patient and accepting in my day-to-day life,” she said.
Pesta is also the youth minister at St. Matthew Parish in Norwalk, where she’s also a parishioner. This dual role of teacher and coordinator has positioned her at the crossroads of education and faith, making her an integral part of the young adult community in the Diocese of Bridgeport.
But while her ministry is focused on younger Catholics, Pesta still sees the importance of supporting Catholics beyond their years in school. She particularly observes two major times when younger Catholics tend to walk away from their faith: post-Confirmation and post-high school.
“The Diocese of Bridgeport has a network of young adults that are on fire, but also struggle to deal with balancing their career and faith,” she said. “By building up young adult ministry in the diocese, members of the community see that there is a way to live by their faith but also participate in the ‘typical’ activities that young adults prioritize.”
Pesta describes her relationship with her Catholic faith as a very personal one. She says she looks to the Lord to guide her in her everyday life, and that means how she lives out the faith might look different from day to day — especially when it comes to service.
“Of course I attend Mass every Sunday but I also feel like God’s purpose for me is to serve others,” she said. “Sometimes that means organizing a service project for my youth group but sometimes it just means that I need to listen to those around me and serve them in that moment. Standing up for those who may not have a voice or the confidence to use it allows me to consistently put my faith in action and walk as a disciple.”
Pesta often finds herself turning to the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. To her, it’s a reminder that she can bring forth good in the world through service, which can also help her see past darkness. She also has a deep devotion to St. Maximilian Kolbe and — like any good Catholic teacher — St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
Teaching and ministering to young people takes up quite a bit of Pesta’s time. But when she’s not working with youth, she loves reading, going to the beach and spending time with her dogs. She also loves live music and describes herself as a “diehard Swiftie.”
Service is a common theme in how Pesta lives out the Catholic faith. But she’s also adamant about sharing the “universal” aspect of the universal Church.
“I really want young adults to understand that there is a place for everyone in the Church,” she said. “Especially in the Diocese of Bridgeport, the bishop makes such an effort to embrace everyone. As a Church, we need to do the same to grow our faith and our love for each other.”
Diocese delegation visits World Youth Day in Lisbon
BRIDGEPORT—It may have taken place a year later than anticipated, but now it’s in the books: the Diocese of Bridgeport sent a group of 61 people from 24 parishes in 13 towns across Fairfield County to attend World Youth Day 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal.
Originally created by Pope St. John Paul II as an opportunity for young people “to search for an encounter with God, who entered the history of mankind through the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ,” this year’s World Youth Day was the 16th such celebration. The first World Youth Day took place in Rome in 1986.
Subsequent World Youth Days have taken place every two to three years, in cities across the world, in 13 different countries across five continents. Italy, Spain and Poland have each hosted two World Youth Days, while Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Panama, the Philippines and the United States—and now Portugal—have hosted one each.
At the conclusion of this year’s World Youth Day celebration, Pope Francis mentioned two upcoming celebrations for young people in the Church. First was the upcoming Jubilee Year, which will take place in Rome in 2025. The second was the next World Youth Day, which will take place in Seoul, South Korea in 2027.
The Diocese of Bridgeport has a history of sending a delegation to World Youth Day, including to more recent celebrations in Panama City and Krakow, Poland. The latter delegation, sent to World Youth Day in 2016, consisted of more than 300 pilgrims—the largest in the diocese’s history.
This year’s delegation to Lisbon was smaller—11 teenagers, 24 young adults, 10 seminarians, five priests, one religious sister and 10 adults—but that doesn’t mean they’re inexperienced. According to Dr. Patrick Donovan, director of the Institute for Catholic Formation and the diocesan pilgrimage director, the delegation’s leaders have nearly 30 years of ministry experience and World Youth Day attendances under their belts, from the 1993 gathering in Denver to the most recent one in Panama City in 2019.
One of the delegation’s leaders is Susan Baldwin, who has many years of youth and young adult ministry to her name. She’s been to World Youth Day celebrations in Panama City and Krakow, and just made her third World Youth Day Trip to Lisbon.
One thing that particularly strikes Baldwin each time she attends World Youth Day is seeing the unity among the young people—drawn together by their faith in the universal Church.
“It is amazing to see youth from around the world praying together, singing together (and) sharing their wares that they deliberately bring to trade,” she said. “They share their cultures, take photos together and eat together. They go to catechesis, they visit churches and, yes, they do have fun.”
While Baldwin is a World Youth Day veteran, there is one moment from the 2016 celebration that has stayed with her throughout the years.
“The most profound moment I will never forget is seeing thousands of youth on their knees in Blonia Park, Poland receiving the Eucharist at the celebration of Mass offered by Pope Francis,” she said. “The silence and reverence was palpable, and nothing else mattered in the world while everyone silently approached the presence of our Lord and Savior to receive him and stayed on their knees to pray.”
Father Christopher Ford, the diocese’s director of vocations and seminarians, was another delegation leader. Like Baldwin, this will be his third World Youth Day, having attended previously in Panama City and Krakow.
Father Ford first experienced World Youth Day in Krakow as a seminarian. One memory that sticks out to him is the day he had the opportunity to visit both the Auschwitz concentration camp and the Divine Mercy Sanctuary, where Christ appeared to St. Faustina Kowalska.
“To put those two experiences together, the power of mercy triumphing over the power of evil, set a tone for the rest of the journey that would not be soon forgotten,” he said.
His second trip to World Youth Day in Panama City occurred on the precipice of his priestly ordination. And seeing people from all over the world really reinforced his desire to be a part of the Church as a Catholic priest.
“As I stepped into the final phases of my preparation for priesthood, I did so with a new energy that came from knowing that all around me and all around the world, people’s hearts are yearning for Jesus – something that I experienced firsthand surrounded by thousands of young adults from all around the world united in prayer and adoration,” Father Ford said.
Young Adult Profile: Paola Pena
FAIRFIELD—Small groups are becoming the name of the game in the Diocese of Bridgeport. And there’s perhaps no bigger proponent of them around than Paola Pena.
Pena is the Director of Evangelization at St. Pius X Parish. She originally worked in youth ministry for the parish, but noticed there was a lack of outreach to Catholics over the age of 18. And so she began her current work, making sure people could find smaller groups within their parish community.
Within this adult demographic, of course, are young adults in their 20s and 30s. And thanks to Pena’s work with the parish, young adults in the greater Fairfield area are being spiritually nourished through the Young Adult Ministry in Fairfield.
“I really believe that young adults were looking for community, but in a more intimate space, giving them the space to really feel known and vulnerable,” Pena said.
There are two main flagship events for the young adult ministry. It offers an Adoration and fellowship event on the second Friday of each month, where they can gather for praise and worship. It’s an ideal environment for young adults who want to gather with people their age, but might not be ready for a small group environment yet.
Plus, Pena added, Adoration might be an ideal place for young Catholics to be rejuvenated in a world that is draining and constantly demands their attention.
“The world is exhausting and you just need a space to realize that there’s more,” she said. “The draw, honestly, is that it’s just you and Jesus. When you can place yourself before him, everything in your life seems to make a little bit more sense. And you recognize you’re not alone.”
The Young Adult Ministry in Fairfield also offers biweekly small groups devoted to studying books about Catholic spirituality or with Catholic themes. These small groups give people the opportunity to draw closer to each other, sharing their desires, vulnerabilities and fears in a safe, faith-based setting.
The idea of leading a small group might be daunting, but Pena encourages anyone who even has a remote desire to lead one to jump headfirst into it.
“If you’re passionate about a particular topic or a book, just go with it, and chances are someone else is interested in it,” she said. “I really leave it up to the group leader to pray through what God is doing in their heart right now, and how he wants them to move in a particular space, and invite others to walk with them on that journey.”
In her own faith life, Pena is particularly drawn to sacred Scripture. She says studying the Bible helps combat “spiritual amnesia,” and when we read Scripture, we often recognize God has already been talking to us.
“The Sacrament and the Word need to go together,” she said. “And when I allow myself to be fed through the Word of God in Scripture and through private prayer, it actually really increases my own experience at Mass.”
Young adult ministry continues to grow in the Diocese of Bridgeport. And that trend is extremely encouraging to those both serving and being served by those ministries—including Pena.
“What I love about what’s happening is seeing the diversity of the Holy Spirit moving,” she said. “All these different groups are kind of niched to a very particular kind of outreach, but when you look at it as a whole, I’m like, ‘Whoa, this is the Holy Spirit.’ It’s really awesome to see how the Holy Spirit is given the opportunity to move, and also how diverse he is, inspiring all these different groups across the diocese to lead people to the Father.”
Young Adults Come Together in Faith and Fellowship at Annual Retreat
Young Adult Profile: Dr. Sarita Soares
NEW HAVEN–Catholic education can lay a moral foundation that will last a lifetime. And no one is a truer testament to that than Dr. Sarita Soares, an internist and addiction medicine specialist at Yale New Haven Hospital.
As a doctor, Soares’ educational journey was longer than most, starting in Danbury at St. Peter School. She continued her Catholic education at Immaculate High School in Danbury and at the University of Scranton, a Jesuit college in Pennsylvania.
Soares then attended the University of Connecticut Medical School and did her residency at Yale University, joining its faculty afterwards. But even in a secular school and work setting, her foundation in Catholic education remained strong.
“We have a responsibility to use the gifts that were given to us by God to really try to foster community (and) reach out to those who are in our surroundings to help them in different ways,” Soares said. “We all have different gifts, and we are called to use them to help the people around us.”
Soares had been interested in pursuing medicine since she was young, but had doubts about that path as well. She attributes the decision to become a doctor to her participation in an Ignatian retreat while she was in college.
“I really felt like it was the Holy Spirit saying, ‘You know you have an interest, you have the talents, why are you fighting this?’” she said. “That, I think, really prompted me into applying to medical school. And even throughout the process, there were many times when I had doubts. And every time I had those doubts, I felt like something above me facilitated me being successful.”
Originally, Soares wanted to be a pediatrician because she loved children, but then found herself drawn to the problem-solving aspect of internal medicine.
“One of the gifts that was really fostered, especially through college, was the use of our God-given intellect to reason through problems,” she said. “I also felt like it was an opportunity to demonstrate some of those (Catholic) virtues, in terms of compassion and outreach.”
However, Soares did not necessarily see herself pursuing an addiction medicine specialty. But in the midst of an opioid epidemic in a facility with a robust addiction medicine program like Yale, she gradually began pursuing that additional specialty.
According to Soares, many of the patients she works with in her addiction medicine specialty can be particularly vulnerable and marginalized, and are in particular need not only of physical healing, but care and kindness as well.
‘They’re a population that people try to shy away from, and yet they are some of the people that need the most help,” Soares said. “If I could get some tools by educating myself, that’s a population of patients I can show empathy and compassion, using the gifts God has given me to help a group of people I wouldn’t necessarily run into on a day-to-day basis.”
Every new day at work gives Soares the opportunity to put her faith into meaningful action, especially in her interactions with patients. Each day will almost definitely involve practicing both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
“In addiction medicine, it’s a lot of helping people who are struggling with mental health crises, struggling with a sense of depersonalization and fragmented families, helping people who may have been imprisoned, helping people who are homeless, helping immigrants and refugees,” she said. “I think (helping) a lot of the populations that we’re called to help is very much a part of what I do.”
Catholic education was an integral part of Soares’ path to becoming a doctor. And while she is thankful that her family chose Catholic schooling for her K-12 education, it was nevertheless a decision with a certain sacrifice for her family. And because of the role Catholic education played in her own story, Soares is particularly enthusiastic about “paying it forward” for future generations to be educated and formed in the faith.
“There’s definitely the opportunity for us who have been graduates of Catholic schools to remember that even though paying tuition to a Catholic school might mean you can’t go on a glamorous vacation, the things that really matter in the future (are) those foundations of faith and virtue that will have long-lasting impacts in children’s lives,” she said.
Soares continues growing in her faith with other young adults and is the interim president of Young Catholic Professionals’ Fairfield County Chapter. YCP is an interdisciplinary mentorship and networking professional group rooted in Catholic virtue, social justice and virtue.
Dr. Soares’ statements in the above article are her own opinion, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Yale New Haven Hospital, Yale School of Medicine or Yale Medicine.